|20.04.2017, 12:20||◄ last page|
FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Experience, history, competitions, tactics and some special situations will provide both German sides with a ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 - according to a German ehfCL.com journalist.
Five reasons why Flensburg and Kiel will make it to Cologne
On 03-04 June 2017, the seventh edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 will take place in Cologne. Despite the increasing international feel to the event, there has never been a men's FINAL4 without a German team.
Here are five reasons why both German quarter-final contenders, THW Kiel and SG Flensburg-Handewitt, will book their tickets to Cologne, despite facing strong opposition in FC Barcelona and Vardar Skopje, two teams that qualified for the quarter-finals directly from the group phase.
The history of the pairings
It is very easy to motivate the players - simply show them the outcome of the previous quarter-final duels between the sides. In 2014, Flensburg defeated Vardar thanks to the away-goal rule, while in 2016 Kiel sensationally and unexpectedly knocked out Barcelona to qualify for that year's VELUX EHF FINAL4.
Both non-German opponents will have the pressure on their side, not only as group winners, but also having in mind that they lost those crucial duels in the past.
Kiel have made it to Cologne six times from seven attempts, sometimes from situations when it looked quite tough. Even losing a home match in the first leg of a knockout stage does not mean anything, as proved by Kiel's second leg comeback in this season's Last16 against Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Flensburg have only qualified once for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, but made the most of their sole appearance by winning the trophy in 2014. Last season, they were one goal short against eventual champions Kielce, and now they will want to avoid the same outcome against Vardar.
Whenever they have faced Macedonian sides at any stage of the Champions League, they have beat them and then gone on to at least make it to the final. Also, Vardar have another fact in the back of their heads - they have fallen at the quarter-final stage three times in a row, meaning they have never seen the LANXESS arena or the Cologne Cathedral.
In general, both German sides have proven, in various competitions, that they can stand the heat in away matches against Europe's top clubs.
The parallel competitions
FC Barcelona have no true opponent in the Spanish league. Although it might be to the advantage of the record champions that they can rest their players for the Champions League, the players lack the toughness you need to go all the way and the experience of giving it all in every match.
Vardar just won the SEHA League in style, crowning their best ever season in this multi-national league with their third trophy. But also playing in the SEHA League is not comparable with playing Bundesliga handball, as only five or six teams are at the highest level.
So, although Kiel and Flensburg complain about the tough calendar they have, to play every week in a league like the Bundesliga, where the 18th-placed team can beat the top side, hardens and strengthens every player.
Flensburg hope to play their high-speed, counter-attacking strategy against Vardar. Against Brest's concrete defensive wall, including a highly-efficient reverse gear, they had enormous problems, but Vardar will play more offensive, which will make things easier for SG.
Kiel and Barcelona know each other so well - and one can think that none of them could surprise the other with any tactical strategy. Flensburg thought the same in the German Cup final - and were beaten by Kiel's tactic to use left wing Rune Dahmke as playmaker, which confused the Flensburg defence.
The special situation of both sides
Kiel had been under full pressure after a quite shaky season so far, particularly on international ground. The fans were booing and coach Gislason had been criticised as never before since taking over at THW in 2008 - though he has taken 19 titles with Kiel since his appointment. The fans at Kiel are spoilt by success and they could forgive one season without a trophy, but not two.
Flensburg are on a farewell tour for coach Ljubomir Vranjes. Players and management will do all they can to sweeten the end of his eleven years at the club. They can do this by doing two things - winning just their second ever German championship, and booking a ticket to Cologne in their tie against Vardar.
So, see you in Cologne SG and THW. Looking forward to meeting you there again!
Björn Pazen has huge experience in reporting for handball. Since 2005, he has covered all major handball events from European to World Championships, and Olympic Games to all top club competitions.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap