Five reasons why Kielce ascend the throneArticle
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: A mastermind on the bench, a titan between the posts, a concept and a strong belief on one side and a fatal mental mistake on the other caused one of the biggest handball miracles ever

Five reasons why Kielce ascend the throne

To delete a nine-goal deficit in 15 minutes is nearly impossible in handball - even more if the trailing team fails to convert two penalty throws. Still Vive Tauron Kielce have made it and even beat Veszprem 39:38 after extra-time and 7m throws shootout in the arguably most thrilling Champions League final ever. expert Björn Pazen looks back and tries to find the reasons for what had happened in the LANXESS arena on Saturday and Sunday.

The belief and the spirit

“We never give up, we never surrender, we don’t care about the result and we just fight until the end.” This motto could be tattooed on the arms of all Kielce players.

Already in the semi-final against Paris, the team showed an incredible belief in themselves and fighting spirit, one for the other. When they were down 19:28 in the final, the players seemed to be paralyzed, their face were pale and shocked, but then the part of the brain, responsible for motivation and will, said to all of them: go on, fight for your lives, fight for our fans in the arena and at home.

It was similar to Flensburg’s spirit two years ago, when they turned a minus six into a semi-final win over Barcelona.

The talent at the helm

After Talant Dujshebaev won his last EHF Champions League trophy with Ciudad Real, he had to wait for seven years to experience this moment again.

In those years, Ciudad and its successor Atletico Madrid became history. After the end of Atletico, Dujshebaev had so many offers he could have taken, but he decided to wait.

He patiently waited for the right one - for the offer, which would fit perfectly – until Kielce’s president Bertus Serwaas phoned him in January 2014: “Join our project!”

Talant came, saw and conquered. The composition of the team was quite similar to Ciudad Real.

Some older stars, some middle age players, a few young talents. He took over a team built by his predecessor Bogdan Wenta and gave it a fine-tuning in certain departments.

A tougher defence, typical for Spanish coaches, an attacking concept based on back court hammers and an incredible strong line player (Aguinagalde) and if possible some Croatian or German counter-attacks.

Exactly those weapons were ready after minute 45 of the final. But the biggest achievement of Dujshebaev was to make forget the EHF EURO immediately when it was over.

Except EURO champion Tobias Reichmann and some bronze-winning Croats, all players were completely down, mainly those from Poland, who missed the final weekend in Krakow.

Even Dujshebaev, that time coach of Hungary, was in a deep black hole - but all together managed to turn the focus on the club - successfully, as we all know since Sunday.

The structure of the team

“This is Kielce’s last chance to make a step forward.”

“The team is too old and urgently needs a rejuvenation.”

“They missed the right time for a transition.”

The club management and mainly the players themselves today will laugh about statements like those about the club and the team.

It were the veterans (see Szmal below), who made the dream come true. Despite a painful injury, Krzystof Lijewski fought like a lion. Karol Bielecki gave all he had, and even injured Grzegorz Tkaczyk had the role on the bench to motivate the rest of the team. And do not forget “Zorro” - the 36-year old Slovenian Uros Zorman was an absolute super-class in Cologne.

So age does not always matter.

The magician

Slawomir Szmal was like an octopus with eight arms and legs. Nearly 40 years of age, Kielce’s goalkeeper was the life insurance for the eventual winners.

In the semi-final against Paris he was brilliant, in the first half of the final he was replaced, as he did not save a single shot - but then the time had come for Phoenix Szmal.

In the final 17 minutes of the regular time, the “magician between the posts” conceded only one Veszprem goal. His saves were the initial ignition for the miracle. Whoever shot, the human wall was there. Without Szmal’s performance, the final would have ended as a disaster for Kielce.

Veszprem’s mental breakdown

When Andreas Nilsson netted in for 28:19, the players on the Veszprem bench started clapping their hands. They were sure, they made it.
They started celebrating and no wonder as their well-oiled engine seemed to be unstoppable and Kielce were on the floor and counted.

When the Polish side scored goal by goal, there was no one in the team - neither a player nor a coach - to stop this downswing.

Somehow it brought back memories on other traumatic moments of Hungarian handball, when the women’s national team gave away the gold medals at the 2000 Olympic Games (against Denmark) and the 2003 World Championship (against France) after squandering massive leads.

Finally the second penalty shootout in the second EHF Champions League final of the 2015/16 season proved, that Hungarian sides are resembling England in football as Györ had failed in the Women’s EHF FINAL4 just 21 days earlier.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br