Do or die in the temple of handballArticle
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FACE-TO-FACE: Teammates before, opponents now - Filip Jicha and Marko Vujin talk about the MOTW FC Barcelona Lassa vs THW Kiel and the shoot-out duel between them.

Do or die in the temple of handball

After SG Flensburg-Handewitt’s elimination by HC Vardar last night (Thursday 27 April) only one former VELUX EHF FINAL4 champion will make it to Cologne for the 2017 edition.

FC Barcelona Lassa (2011, 2015) and THW Kiel (2010, 2012) are the two former champions left and tomorrow night (Saturday 29 April) both Men’s EHF Champions League titans clash in the second leg of the quarter-finals for the Match of the Week (MOTW) at the Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona (18:30 hrs local time, live on, with English commentary).

Kiel won the first leg 28:26 and Marko Vujin was top scorer with 10 goals in that match. At the other end of the court, THW left back Filip Jicha had a season-high score of four goals.

Before their match, talked with the teammates from 2012-2015 about the clash. Filip, had you expected to score one less goal (4) in one match than you had before over the whole season (5)?

Filip Jicha: Most of the time in this season I have played in defence and this is the reason why I only scored five goals ahead of the quarter-final first leg so far in the Champions League this season.  Therefore, it was surprising to me that I netted four times, but three goals were steals followed by counter attacks, one into the empty goal but I could help my team with the goals, so it was OK.

I do not count goals anymore - it makes no sense to score eight times and lose a game. Marco, you seem to be flying high now after scoring 10 goals against Barcelona and then a further eight on Wednesday as when Kiel won their Bundesliga match at EHF Cup winners Göppingen?

Marko Vujin: Like Filip, I do not count my goals - it is about the team and we showed character in Göppingen like we had shown character against Barcelona last Sunday. If we - not only I - play like we did in Göppingen, then we have a chance there. History is repeating as Barcelona and Kiel faced each other at this stage a year ago, how does that feel?

Filip Jicha: Two of the best teams in the world clash for one spot in Cologne. It is a pity that we again do not face each other in Cologne, but one round earlier unfortunately. Both sides represent world class and both teams belong to Cologne.

Marko Vujin: But this is sport, you cannot choose your opponent. Last year, we sensationally made it to Cologne, now we get another chance, but it will be much harder to stand the heat this year.

We will give our all and definitely all the fans can expect another great match between two top sides. Does the first leg result have any relevance to the second game for you?

Marko Vujin: Definitely not. It doesn’t matter if you win by two, five or eight goals difference, if you completely fail in the second leg. To make it to Cologne in a quarter-final against Barcelona takes 120 minutes of full speed, passion, fight and enthusiasm.

Filip Jicha: I fully agree. The match is a classic 50:50 matter. After the first ‘half’, we are down by two goals, but two goals mean nothing in modern handball. Kiel vs Barcelona in my opinion is the ‘El Classico’ in international team handball.

The first leg was truly intense and tough, so I hope that we will have a fair match on Saturday. Both sides know each other so well, therefore only little things, some details, will decide it. And to find those crucial details and use them, when it counts, was the biggest part of our preparation for the match. So, it is truly a ‘do-or-die’ encounter?

Filip Jicha: This is the biggest and most important match of the season for us, this is the one we have been training for since the start of our season preparation last summer.

Marko Vujin: Correct. For matches like these you train so hard. This match on Saturday for us is like the German Cup final against Flensburg we had some weeks ago. Within 60 minutes it is decided whether you rate a season positive or negative, if you win something or lose everything. Filip, you already won the Spanish championship and all possible Spanish cups - but did you also expect to have such a strong international season, winning your ‘Group of Death’ in the Group Phase?

Filip Jicha: I was not surprised that we played so successfully and strong in this Champions League season because I know and see how hard we train for this success. OK, sometimes - like in Veszprem or the group match in Kiel - we were lucky, but in the moments when it counted, we showed our strength. What will be Kiel’s tactic on Saturday, more defensive or offensive?

Marko Vujin: You cannot play on a certain result like a draw. Our clear goal is to win the second leg and this is our mentality. Barcelona will have to go with full throttle too Filip?

Filip Jicha: The times when you could start with a foot on the brake to wait what happens are over in handball now.

Nowadays it is all about putting the pedal to the metal for 60 minutes; full power, full speed. One thing you should never forget before such a match - it is not only about the fight and respect, but it is also about joy - this is what you are living for as a professional handball player, these days are the pay-off. Filip, you know both arenas Kiel and Barcelona very well. What impact on the game will the atmosphere have on Saturday?

Filip Jicha: It will be more than crucial. I have played so long for Kiel and I know this atmosphere at Sparkassen-Arena, but the Barcelona fans will not lose this battle compared with Kiel on Saturday night.

Palau Blaugrana is a temple of handball and Sparkassen-Arena is another temple of handball - and the fans are on the same great level. Can Marko again compensate for the absence of injured THW mastermind Domagoj Duvnjak with his goals?

Filip Jicha: Marko is a real shooter. In some periods of the current season, he had some problems, but now he is back on the big stage. The young guns Nikola Bilyk and Lukas Nilsson are currently the ones to compensate for the loss of Domagoj Duvnjak and they have grabbed their chances they have been given now.

When you know Duvnjak and his style of playing, you know that it is nearly impossible to compensate for him for 100%, he plays an incredibly important role for the team.

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc