Füchse fired up for rematch of 2017 finalArticle
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FEATURE: Aiming for a place in the Men's EHF Cup Final again, last year's runners-up take on defending champions Göppingen in an all-German semi-final in Magdeburg
»2017-18 Men's News

Füchse fired up for rematch of 2017 final

Playing his former side Frisch Auf Göppingen is nothing special anymore to Velimir Petkovic. The Füchse Berlin coach will do so for the fifth time this weekend, in the second semi-final of the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals on Saturday at 17:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com).

Petkovic led Göppingen to two EHF Cup trophies under the old format in 2011 and 2012.

Füchse have beaten Göppingen three times since ‘Petko’ took over in 2016, and they lost only once - but that defeat came in last year’s EHF Cup Final when Göppingen hosted the event.

Füchse arrive in Magdeburg full of confidence after a bitter-sweet 29:23 win over Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the Bundesliga last Sunday.

Sweet, as “this was one of our best matches in the last 10 years” (manager Bob Hanning); bitter, as another key player might be ruled out for the EHF Cup Finals. German international Steffen Fäth picked up a knee injury against his new club, and could miss the season’s pinnacle event, just like Croat Marko Kopljar, among others.

“But we are still not without a chance if we play like we did against Löwen,” Hanning says.

On Thursday evening, Füchse will have their domestic dress rehearsal with a crucial Bundesliga match in Hannover as they still have an outside chance to become German champions. But from Friday, the focus will be on Göppingen.

“Our chances are fifty-fifty. Göppingen have a long, successful tradition in this competition and they are the defending champions, so it will not be easy,” coach Petkovic says.

Qualifying for the finals tournament in Magdeburg was the result of another great Füchse comeback. In 2011, they turned an 11-goal deficit against Ademar Leon in the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final into a ticket to Cologne in their maiden Champions League season.

This time, they lost the first leg of the quarter-final against Croatian side Nexe 28:20 before winning the second leg on home court 25:16.

Petkovic knows how to come back from what appears to be a lost position. In 1991, when he coached his home club Banja Luka in the Champions’ Cup, they lost the first semi-final leg against Tusem Essen 24:17 in Germany, but won the return leg 19:12 on home court to advance to the final, where they ultimately beat CSKA Moscow.

“This was my first major triumph as a coach, and maybe this is a good omen for Magdeburg,” Petkovic says.

Füchse are part of the EHF Cup Finals for the fourth time. One year after their debut in 2014, when they hosted the event but lost their semi-final against Montpellier, they took the title: again hosting the event, they beat Hamburg in the final. And last year they were denied the title by hosts Göppingen.

“The home advantage is a crucial asset in handball, therefore, my favourites for winning the trophy are Magdeburg,” Petkovic says. “But if we manage to keep our level high twice within 24 hours, we have a chance.”

The ‘Foxes’ will be accompanied to the EHF Cup Finals by 300 to 400 fans, who also have the chance to cheer for another Füchse team playing at Magdeburg. The Under-20 side, coached by manager Hanning, will play Magdeburg’s youth team in the second leg of the German juniors championship final in the famous Gieseler Arena, where SCM won the Champions League in 2002.

But of course the main focus is on the EHF Cup: “Any international title means a boost for the image of our club so I hope we can retain our rhythm from the last matches,” Petkovic says.

One Füchse player is also targeting a personal award: Danish right wing Hans Lindberg, who was top scorer in the EHF Cup last season, enters the event in Magdeburg as the best scorer again, with 67 goals so far, five clear of his closest challenger, Saint-Raphaël left wing Raphaël Caucheteux.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew