A reunion of stars as Magdeburg eye fourth EHF Cup titleArticle
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FEATURE: SC Magdeburg aim to add to the list of victorious German EHF Cup Finals hosts, but coach Wiegert is aware of the class of semi-final opponents Saint-Raphael.
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A reunion of stars as Magdeburg eye fourth EHF Cup title

All the big heroes of SC Magdeburg’s long and successful history will all be there – regardless whether they are German or French. Frenchmen Christian Gaudin and Joel Abati will travel to the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals, as will German Stefan Kretzschmar. Together, they were part of the SCM team that became the first non-Spanish side to win the EHF Champions League, in 2002.

Even older generations of Magdeburg stars will also have a reunion in GETEC Arena this weekend, including some who have an anniversary to celebrate: SC Magdeburg won their first international trophy exactly 40 years ago, in 1978, by beating Wroclaw in the final of the Champions’ Cup, forerunner of the EHF Champions League.

Former goalkeeper Gunar Schimrock now works in the marketing department for the hosts of the EHF Cup Finals 2018, while retired line player and 1980 Olympic champion Ingolf Wiegert will be in the arena as a TV expert.

Ingolf Wiegert will have a special eye on his son Bennet, who has followed in his footprints: first as a Magdeburg player (one of the 2002 Champions League winners) and then, since December 2016, as SCM coach.

A strong chance to reach the final

The weekend could end with a combined celebration of history and the present, as the hosts are the favourites to win their first international trophy since the EHF Cup in 2007.

The first hurdle is the only non-German participant of the event, Saint-Raphael from France. “I am sure we really have good chances to make it to the final – and when we make it there, we want more of course,” says coach Bennet Wiegert.

“If we manage to play on the level we have been in the previous weeks, I guess SC Magdeburg’s chances to win the EHF Cup Finals are some percentage higher than for the rest of the teams.”

In 2017, SCM failed in the semi-finals against hosts Frisch Auf Göppingen, but then defeated Saint-Raphael in the 3/4 placement match. For Wiegert the re-match of this duel is anything but easy:

“It is no walkover, what we can expect against Saint-Raphael. Besides, in this final four playing system, anything can happen. I have been to many final tournaments with two matches in two days and most of the time, it was the daily form or the weekend form that decided everything. In general, all four teams can raise the trophy, but I hope that the home advantage will be our major asset.”

A once-in-a-lifetime chance on home ground

Immediately after they left Göppingen without the trophy one year ago, the idea grew to host the EHF Cup Finals 2018 – and SCM were successful. Now, Magdeburg hope to continue the series of victorious German hosts after Berlin in 2015 and Göppingen in 2017.

“Since our club was awarded as hosts of the EHF Cup Finals, this event has been the number one priority for us. First, we were happy to be part of the event; now we are under a certain pressure. We want to make the most of the tournament, as maybe you only have the chance to play such an event on home ground once in a lifetime,” says Wiegert.

The SCM coach will have to replace young wing Lukas Mertens, who tore his ACL in the German Cup semi-final Magdeburg lost against Rhein-Neckar Löwen. The EHF Cup Finals hosts will have a dress rehearsal on Thursday night as they play a Bundesliga match in Hüttenberg, before the focus turns to their dream to raise the trophy on Sunday.

“This tournament will be an exceptional highlight for all of us. Everybody could see the role the home advantage can play in Göppingen one year ago. Now we hope for huge support from our fans. It will definitely be loud in GETEC Arena,” says SCM’s Slovenian back Marko Bezjak.

For Austrian right wing Robert Weber, who is by far the top scorer for Magdeburg: “a dream would come true if I win my first international trophy with Magdeburg.” Weber believes Füchse Berlin are their main challengers for the title – but first, he eyes Saint-Raphael.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg