Stars in the sun and a family gatheringArticle
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FEATURE: Journalists from around Europe mingled with coaches and players from the VELUX EHF FINAL4 teams to get a feel of their expectations a day before the tournament throws off in Cologne

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Stars in the sun and a family gathering

Summer has started in Cologne, one day before the tenth edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 gets underway. Under a bright morning sun the players and coaches of the four semi-finalists attending Friday’s media call seemed to be infected by this summer mood - they were relaxed, laughing and smiling.

More than 125 journalists from all over Europe including many TV crews had gathered in the courtyard of the Radisson Blu hotel in Cologne, enjoying the mixture of sun and interviews.

“Even the weather fits perfectly in the world’s capital of club handball,” says EHF President Michael Wiederer, who officially opened the media call.

Almost all the players attending have been to Cologne before, but they all had different memories on returning to the hotel and the LANXESS Arena.

“When you make it here, you belong to the best four handball teams in the world, which is a great feeling,” Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual says, making his seventh appearance with his team at Cologne. Despite ending the group phase at the top of Group A, from which all four teams qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, Pascual is cautious in assessing his team’s chances.

“When you are here at Cologne, there is no favourite role anymore,” he notes.

His coaching colleague David Davis of Telekom Veszprém is always excited to return to the city with Germany’s most famous cathedral. He was part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 as a player of Ciudad Real and later on as part of the coaching staff of Vardar Skopje.

“The best memory is the atmosphere. Here in the hotel it is like a big family meeting of so many people in the handball world. You can talk to the guys you otherwise don’t meet the whole year, have a coffee with them,” Davis says. “And on the other hand, it is that arena, that just lets you feel like 'wow'. All those fans cheering and celebrating their teams, you cannot describe.”

 

 

Two Veszprém players, Momir Ilic and Laszlo Nagy, will finish their long and successful handball career in Cologne.

“I feel so proud to be back again, and I am here to win the trophy,” says Nagy, while Ilic adds: “I am here for the eighth time, and every time had been a special experience for me. I won the trophy here twice and of course I hope my last match will be crowned with another trophy.”

Veszprém will face Kielce in the first semi-final on Saturday, and the Dujshebaev family’s affairs are in the spotlight. Five-times Champions League winner Talant (four times as a coach, once as a player) and his son Alex (one trophy with Vardar in 2017), are crucial to the chances of the Polish champions.

“Of course, we want to win together. It would make this weekend even more special and the family party afterwards would definitely be memorable,” says Alex.

His father adds: “We have a long way to the top, and we are just about to start.”

In the second semi-final record winners Barca Lassa face 2017 champions HC Vardar. The club from Skopje count on their superstition due to the same composition of the semi-final against Barca like two years ago.

“We arrived with the same plane, we have the same shirts and face the same opponents, so it should work,” says Christian Dissinger, who is the one and only German player on court.

“I don’t know whether German fans will cheer for Vardar because of me or not, but I know that the three teams with the best fans of the globe are in Cologne, which definitely will create a great atmosphere,” he says.

His teammate Igor Karacic is confident.

“This year we are coming without pressure to Cologne. Last year, as we were coming as winners, we had more weight on our shoulders and thus more pressure. So this year I am really taking pleasure and am very happy to play this FINAL4,” Karacic says.

Victor Tomas, Barca’s team captain, is sure that “we know what we need to do”, but is also aware that in the previous years the favourites never made it to the winners’ podium. All four teams still have everything to play for.


TEXT: Björn Pazen/jh
 
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