Rivera Junior: A big name with even bigger hopesArticle
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FEATURE: After returning home last summer, Barcelona's left wing expects a unique debut in Cologne.

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Rivera Junior: A big name with even bigger hopes

In the summer of 2016, a huge rotation of world class left wings had started in the powerhouses of European club handball: Uwe Gensheimer transferred from Löwen to PSG, Dominik Klein from Kiel to Nantes, Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson from Barcelona to Löwen.

The remaining piece of the puzzle was Valero Rivera, who returned to where it had all started when he made the move from Nantes to his former club Barcelona.

Now, at the age of 32, Rivera will make his first appearance at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, having been on Barcelona's extended squad list when the Catalans took the trophy in 2005.

After that, the son of legendary coach Valero Rivera Senior started his handball journey. After some stops at Spanish clubs, he joined Nantes in 2010 where he spent six successful seasons.

Rivera was top scorer of the French league, was awarded best player of the league, made it to two EHF Cup Finals, and became a national team player.

International success

Under the leadership of his father Valero, in 2013 he took his biggest step forward as he became world champion in his hometown of Barcelona.

At EURO level, he took a bronze medal in 2014 and a silver medal at the 2016 event in Poland, where he was also the top scorer.

Now Rivera is aiming high in Cologne, as he looks to win his first "true" trophy with the Catalans.

"In 2005, my contribution was so small. I only played three matches in the first stage of the season. I was so happy to get that experience, but it was not my trophy," he says.

Father's influence

Of course, it was the input of his father, who steered Barcelona to five straight Champions League trophies from 1996 to 2000, which brought the younger Rivera to handball.

At the age of 16, Valero Junior already became part of the professional Barca team.

"My father taught me all I know about handball and which role I have to take as a handball player."

He is still proud of his father, and most of the time it was no special situation for him to be the son of a legend.

"When I was young maybe there was some pressure, as everybody was taking a closer look on you. When I grew up, it didn't matter at all."
By the time he left Spain, Rivera had grown as a person and a player.

"At Nantes, I gained experience, got mature and improved my physical condition. But in parallel I had recognized that the time was there to return home. I had worked hard to have the abilities to play again for Barcelona. It was more than a plan, it was my obsession to play for Barcelona again."

First FINAL4

Next weekend, Rivera will enter new ground when he makes his VELUX EHF FINAL4 debut.

"I have never been to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 at Cologne. I guess it will be different to all tournaments I had played before, even those EHF Cup Finals at Nantes. Cologne will be amazing. My teammates told me a lot about the event, which is unique in European sports," Rivera says prior to the semi-final against FINAL4 debutants Vardar Skopje.

He does not expect one side - not even his - to be a major favourite for the 2017 trophy. Whatever happens, there will be a large number of Spanish internationals, and there will definitely be a Spanish coach in the final - either Pascual of Barcelona or Gonzalez of Vardar.

Among those Spaniards there is the duel of big names - Rivera on the one hand and Alex Dujshebaev on the other. Dujshebaev's father Talant was once a Champions League winner as a player and four times as a coach.

So is it a special situation for Rivera to take on his national teammate?

"Alex and I never spoke about that situation. He's a good teammate in the national team and a real friend of mine, but we didn't talk about this duel."

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap