FC Barcelona Lassa have made it again: By eliminating THW Kiel in the clash of handball giants, the record EHF Champions League winners booked their sixth ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne and their 14th Champions League semi-final in total.
• Eight-time champions Barcelona beat three-time winners Kiel 23:18 to finish three goals (49:46) ahead on aggregate after the 28:26 defeat away in the first leg
• Goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas is Barcelona’s match winner with 23 saves. Valero Rivera Folch top scores with seven goals
• THW Kiel fail to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for only the second time in eight years – and just like when they last missed out, in 2011, they are knocked out by Barcelona
• For the first time ever, no German club will be part of the pinnacle event in Cologne – and there will be no Icelandic coach on the bench at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.
• After Raul Gonzales (Vardar), Xavi Pascual is the second Spanish coach to book a place as part of the FINAL4 2017
• The previous 21 times Kiel won the first leg of a Champions League knock-out stage they proceeded to the next phase. 2017 is the first time they have not made it after a first-leg win
QUARTER-FINAL, SECOND LEG FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs THW Kiel (GER) 23:18 (13:9)
After FC Barcelona’s football and basketball teams failed on their way to the semi-finals of their Champions League competitions, handball struck back and saved the club’s honour.
Boosted by an incredible audience on another magic night at Palau Blaugrana, FC Barcelona Lassa continued their series of success on home ground. It was their 54th win in 58 home matches since the implementation of the current playing system – and the third time they eliminated a German side in this stage after Kiel in 2011 and Löwen in 2013.
In the last two seasons, Barcelona won all their home matches in the Champions League.
In what was their 25th duel, Barcelona claimed the 12th win against Kiel – and are now the only former FINAL4 winner to make it to the 2017 edition in Cologne.
“We withstood the pressure and profited from the home advantage,” said Barcelona’s former THW left back Filip Jicha, adding: “I would have loved to see this great match as the final at Cologne, not in the quarter-final, but this is sport. We showed a great fight and deserve to book this ticket to Cologne.”
Perez de Vargas on fire from the start
The reasons Barcelona were ahead by four goals at the break and five at the end were quite simple: The Catalans were highly efficient when at a one-man-advantage (scoring five goals in these situations in the first half), while Kiel made too many mistakes in attack and could not adapt their style of play against the extremely offensive Barca defence.
“We made too many mistakes and missed too many chances, as we were too nervous – and Perez did a great job. We gave a great fight, but the number of mistakes was simply too high,” said THW coach Alfred Gislason after the match.
Both goalkeepers – Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Niklas Landin – were on a similarly high level, though the Spaniard had a clearly better performance toward the final whistle. Barcelona were not overly stable in attack but, in contrast to the German side, took their counter attack chances and found the gaps.
Early lead for the hosts
The fans put a lot of pressure on Kiel and it took only 10 minutes for the hosts to claim a lead at 6:3. Kiel stayed close, but when their defensive specialist Ilija Brozovic received a suspension it provided an opportunity for Barcelona to create their first five-goal advantage at 12:7, which lasted almost until the break.
THW coach Alfred Gislason recognised the weaknesses: In the second half, he constantly changed the defensive formation from 6-0 to 5-1 and back – and for some minutes Barcelona lacked the means and ideas to score those easy goals they had in the first half.
But attack remained Kiel’s problem, as they scored only one goal in the first eight minutes of the second half and thus could not reduce the gap.
The noise in Palau reached its climax when Danish line player Jesper Nöddesbo netted for 16:11. Barcelona’s defence stood like a wall of concrete and THW were always close to passive play as they were kept searching for gaps.
Despite clear advantages, Barcelona could not force an earlier decision, as the record champions also lacked some precision in attack and had trouble against Landin.
Open to the final whistle
Even Perez de Vargas’ 20th save seven minutes before the final whistle when the score board showed 21:16 did not seal the deal. Kiel soon had a one-man-advantage and scored twice for 21:18 – but the clock was ticking against them.
Finally, it was three more saves from the Spanish keeper, along with goals from Nöddesbo and Rivera, that opened Barcelona’s gate to the FINAL4.
Barcelona can also keep in mind some positive news along with the quarter-final win: The three times they played the FINAL4 but did not win the trophy were against German teams.
They lost the finals in 2010 against Kiel and 2013 versus Hamburg, and the semi-final against Flensburg in 2014. In 2011 and 2015, Barcelona claimed the trophy.