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Cologne (Germany) (AFP) – Crowned European champion for the 10th time last season after several unsuccessful attempts, Barça, with its Frenchmen Dika Mem, Ludovic Fabregas, Melvyn Richardson and Timothey N’Guessan, is aiming for a double in the Final 4 of the Handball Champions League this weekend in Cologne.
Since the 2008/09 season and the introduction of the Final 4, a formula with semi-finals on Saturday and the final on Sunday, no club has managed to retain its title of European champion from one season to the next. other. And the last “back to back” goes back to Ciudad Real, a club that has since disappeared with the financial crisis of the early 2010s, crowned in 2007 and 2008.
“It hasn’t been an easy season, but here we are, with all our aspirations. The big goal was to be in the Final 4 and now we want to win the trophy,” explained Barca coach Antonio Carlos Ortega, who arrived on the bench in the summer of 2021, succeeding the legendary Xavi Pascual (12 seasons on the Barça bench).
“We had some physical problems recently, but we have already solved them. I think we can compete with any opponent. These players have a lot of experience in Final 4, you don’t have to motivate them, they motivate themselves,” added the Spanish boss.
The challenge for FC Barcelona, which has the most impressive squad in Europe, is taken up, but it approaches it in the position of favorite, with a shock semi-final against the Germans of Kiel, who emerged victorious from a superb quarter-final with suspense and panting until the end against Paris Saint-Germain (63-62 on the two-way confrontation) in mid-May.
Kiel without Sagosen
But in one month, the quadruple European champions (2007, 2010, 2012 and 2020) lost their Norwegian playing master Sander Sagosen in quick succession, a few days after their chief of defense, the German Hendrik Pekeler.
Very seriously injured in the left ankle on a game action against Hamburg in the Bundesliga, Sagosen will be away from the field between six and eight months, and Pekeler, victim of a ruptured Achilles tendon will also be absent for several months.
Without these two key elements, the mission seems very complicated for Filip Jicha’s men against Barça. “We are outsiders, that makes us even more unpredictable”, tries to positively the coach of the Zebras, who evolved in Kiel then in Barcelona during his career, and who has already played seven Final 4 of C1.
Both clubs have two of the best goalkeepers in the world, Denmark’s Niklas Landin for Kiel and Spain’s Gonzalo Perez de Vargas for Barça, for a revenge-shaped half of the 2020 final, played in December due to the Covid-19 pandemic and won by Kiel thanks to a huge performance from Landin.
In the other semi-final, the Hungarians of Veszprem will try to overcome the curse of Cologne. The Hungarian club have qualified for their seventh Champions League Final 4 in the last nine seasons, but have never managed to clinch the supreme title.
However, the task promises to be complicated against Kielce, trained by Talant Dujshebaev, in post in Poland since 2014 and who took the club to the top of Europe in 2016 (victory in the final against … Veszprem).
After two editions of the Final 4 at the end of December 2020 and in June 2021 behind closed doors or almost (1,000 people were authorized a year ago), the Lanxess Arena in Cologne will once again be able to vibrate with its 19,000 spectators for this last weekend. of the handball season.
(3:15 p.m.) Veszprem (HUN) – Kielce (POL)
(6:00 p.m.) FC Barcelona (ESP) – Kiel (GER)
Game for 3rd place at 3:15 p.m.
Final at 6 p.m.
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