Saint-Raphael prevent all-German final with one-goal winArticle
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SEMI-FINAL REVIEW: Goalkeeper Popescu and top scorer Caucheteux shine as the French side end Magdeburg’s hopes for a fourth EHF Cup title
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Saint-Raphael prevent all-German final with one-goal win

For the fourth time in the history of the new format of the EHF Cup, a French side has made it to the final – but it is not the first time a French team eliminated the hosts. In the opening semi-final of the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals on Saturday, Saint-Raphael sensationally beat SC Magdeburg in their lion’s den to qualify for their first international final ever.

"Today is a great moment of handball. It is a pleasure to be here to have a match like this with great fans in this arena. It was a great attitude of the Magdeburg people, they only support their team, no bad words against us," said Saint-Raphael coach Joel Da Silva. "Magdeburg were under pressure. Our plan was to take the opportunity of this pressure. We are lucky, as we achieved our plan. It was fantastic, it was really what we wanted. The guys made a very good job tonight."

• Saint-Raphael Var Handball qualify for their first European cup final after a one-goal win
• With 11 goals, Raphael Caucheteux is the top scorer of the match
• SC Magdeburg lose their second straight semi-final in the EHF Cup after being defeated by Göppingen in 2017
• For the third time after 2013 (Nantes vs Löwen) and 2016 (Nantes s Göppingen), a French-German final will decide the title

Saint-Raphael Var Handball (FRA) vs SC Magdeburg (GER) 28:27 (13:13)

Former SC Magdeburg star, French-born Joel Abati, crossed his fingers for his old club rather than his compatriots – and in the end needed to console the current Magdeburg squad.

Saint-Raphael truly shocked the hosts in the first 10 minutes: While SC Magdeburg had enormous problems in attack, causing many turnovers or failing against goalkeeper Mihai Popescu, the French side profited from the goals of an outstanding Raphael Caucheteux. The tall left wing scored five of the first six for Saint Raphael, as they forged ahead 6:2.

But when goalkeeper Dario Quenstedt saved his first shot in minute 10, it was the wake-up call SCM needed. Matthias Musche was on fire in the duel of the top-scoring left wings: With five strikes in his tally at the break, he was only one goal behind Caucheteux.

Magdeburg scored five unanswered goals to turn the match around at 7:6 and finished a 7:1 series with a 9:7 lead – within ten minutes the tide had turned completely. Saint-Raphael were under pressure but managed to come back to level again. At the break, everything was open at 13:13.

Saint-Raphael kept the match equal through the opening of the second half, while on the other side, Musche was usually the one to score. But after his seventh strike, the German international intermediately had to leave the court with an ankle injury. He was replaced by SCM legend Yves Grafenhorst, who had ended his career last year and was originally the assistant coach of Bennet Wiegert.

On SCM’s side, the back-court aces lacked efficiency, but the wings stepped up – like Musche, right wing Daniel Petterson was strong, scoring an overall of six goals. The best back player on court – not only because of his five goals – was Saint-Raphael’s Spanish EURO champion Daniel Sarmiento. His side stayed ahead for most of the second half and took the first two-goal advantage at 23:21 after Caucheteux netted his 10th goal.

Boosted by the fans, some Quenstedt saves and a double strike from Zeljko Musa, Magdeburg struck back, taking the lead again 80 seconds before the end when Marko Bezjak scored into the empty goal for 27:26.

But that was the last goal for the hosts, while Arthur Vigneron and Karalek netted for Saint-Raphael. When Petterson’s last shot was saved by Popescu, the deal was sealed – the SCM fans among the 6,209 spectators were shocked, and the yellow-dressed dozen Saint-Raphael supporters started their party.

"To make it to the final was a big goal for us. We did not start the match in the best way. We came close, we passed them, then we made too many easy mistakes in the end of the first half, missed to enter the locker rooms with an advantage," said Magdeburg captain Christian O'Sullivan. "In the rest of the match, we could not score the deciding goals. We were not sharp enough and missed many good chances. We had a really, really had a great chance today but missed too many shots."

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg