Bus trouble, but no hands on the trophy this timeArticle
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FEATURE: The four teams gather for the media day prior to the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals in GETEC Arena, sharing their last thoughts before throw-off on Saturday.

Bus trouble, but no hands on the trophy this time

Sometimes travelling to handball matches by bus can be an adventure. Two of the four participants in the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals arrived with bus stories prior to the event in Magdeburg.

While French side Saint-Raphael Var Handball waited two hours at the airport for their transfer, as the driver had misunderstood the day of arrival – Friday instead of Thursday – EHF Cup Finals hosts SC Magdeburg were hit by a theft from their bus.

During their Bundesliga match on Thursday in Hüttenberg, someone stole laptops, wallets and other devices from the team bus – but as one of the tablets could be remotely located, the police found the thief quite quickly and returned all belongings to the Magdeburg players.

On Friday, the bus stories were no longer the focus, as all four teams arrived for the media call and their first training session in the arena where they will play their semi-finals on Saturday. It was all about the matches, favourite roles and the expected atmosphere.

Hoping for a whole arena in green and red

In the first semi-final (14:15 local time, live on ehfTV.com), hell will break lose in GETEC Arena, as SC Magdeburg aim to reach their first international final since they won the EHF Cup for the third and last time in 2007.

“Playing at GETEC Arena is really special. It is a great arena and for tomorrow I hope that I will see the whole arena wearing our club colours, green and red,” says Magdeburg’s Danish back Michael Damgaard prior to the semi-final against Saint-Raphael. “This is our court, we are at home here. Nobody is able beat us here, hopefully.”

The French side are eager to avenge their defeat against Magdeburg in the 3/4 placement match one year ago:

“We really want to win this trophy. Although I know it is hard to win against Magdeburg in their own arena, we are really motivated to win. Especially, after we have lost against this team after the dramatic penalty shoot-out in the tournament last year,” says Geoffroy Kranz, who will finish his career at the end of this season.

Danish line player Alexander Lynggaard has a broad view, from the French handball perspective:

“It is a big achievement for us to be here and to be among the best four teams of this competition. We want to represent France in the best possible way. To have the chance to win the trophy here and have three teams at the Champions League FINAL4 shows how the French league progressed in the last years.”

“There is a title to win, and we are two steps away”

The second semi-final (throw-off at 17:00, live on ehfTV.com) will bring the 2017 finalists together. Defending champions Frisch Auf Göppingen are out for their third straight (and in total fifth) EHF Cup trophy, while Füchse Berlin want to make up for last years’ final defeat.

Like Magdeburg, Berlin played a Bundesliga match on Thursday – and like Magdeburg, they were victorious, beating Hannover. “We are tired, but you forget that your head is empty and that your body is weak when you play for reaching a final,” says Füchse left back Paul Drux.

“Göppingen have the advantage that they had a nine-day break in contrast to us,” adds Danish right wing Hans Lindberg. With 67 goals, last season’s EHF Cup top scorer is leading the ranking again, but: “I don’t have any thoughts about this ranking or becoming top scorer. There is a title to win, and we are two steps away.”

22 EHF Cup matches unbeaten

On the other hand, Göppingen’s line player Jens Schöngarth has a special match ahead, as he previously played for Magdeburg: “It feels like coming home. We stay at the same hotel I used to live in when I played for SC Magdeburg. Hence, I feel really comfortable being here.”

Winning the trophy in Magdeburg is the only chance for Göppingen to be part of the EHF Cup next season. But the defending champions see themselves in a kind of underdog role:

“We are not the favourites, as we were not the favourites last year, despite our home advantage. In two days everything can happen, regardless if you are favourite or not,” says Serbian left back Zarko Sesum, who has won four EHF Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup trophies.

“We have achieved a great series of 22 unbeaten matches in the EHF Cup, and of course we want to extend it.”

After Saint-Raphael made the mistakes of touching the coveted trophy during the photo shoot in the media call last year, no team wanted to give themselves the potential for bad luck in 2018. “‘Never touch the trophy before you have won it’ is the golden rule in any competition,” says Magdeburg coach Bennet Wiegert.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg