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19.05.2015, 17:20
O’Callaghan: No favourites in Cologne this year
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FEATURE: Barcelona’s manager says it is impossible to predict the finalists and expects a close VELUX EHF FINAL4 where anything could happen
 

O’Callaghan: No favourites in Cologne this year

Once the first two balls were opened at the VELUX EHF Champions League FINAL4 draw on 24 April in Cologne, it was clear that FC Barcelona would not meet three-time champions THW Kiel in the semi-final.

Barcelona manager Xavier O’Callaghan allowed a little smile on his face to show with this news, but says ultimately he would not have cared either way if his team was drawn against the German side.

Barcelona will play Polish champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce – a team they faced at the same stage in the 2013 edition of the event – in their semi-final. In 2013 Barcelona came out on top, making it to the final with a 28:23 win. 

“I was completely relaxed during the draw. There was definitely not any pressure on me or the club because all teams that made it to Cologne are equal,” O’Callaghan told ehfcl.com. 

“Kielce are experienced. They have a good coach and powerful players.”

In general, O’Callaghan (five-time EHF Champions League winner as a Barca player) expects a balanced VELUX EHF FINAL4. 

“The event has never been more equal than it is this year. You cannot predict any result – and nobody should talk about a Kiel vs Barcelona final before the first matches have been played.” 

Stronger than a year ago

Barcelona have learnt their lessons from their previous two participations.

“We know we need to put on two top performances within 24 hours and that matches are only finished at the final whistle,” says O’Callaghan. 

Looking back on 2013, when Barcelona were defeated by HSV Hamburg in extra-time in the final, and 2014, when they let a six-goal advantage end in a loss in their semi-final against Flensburg-Handewitt, beaten after the first penalty shoot-out in the history of a EHF Champions League semi-final, O’Callaghan warns against picking favourites.

“Two teams that were not big favourites won the trophy in previous years, so in my opinion there is no favourite this year – or there are four favourites.”

After already confirming themselves as Spanish champions for the 22nd time after winning 29 of 30 matches so far, the Catalan team can focus fully on the VELUX EHF FINAL4. 

“We are very, very strong this season – maybe stronger than one year ago. But we have to keep this level until the end of May,” says O’Callaghan.

Barcelona have won all their domestic matches this season and were the only FINAL4 participant to win all their matches of the VELUX EHF Champions League knock-out stages (Last 16 against Aalborg and quarter-finals against Zagreb).

“But anyone that expects an easy-going match against Kielce should take a look at their results. Kielce took more points in this Champions League than we did. 

“We need to fully focus on this match and should not think about potential final opponents or trophies because it is not the so-called favourite that will end up on the winner’s podium, but the team fit for two matches in two days.”

FC Barcelona are not only in the headlines because of their success this season, but also because of their future squad. Rumours are spreading throughout Europe that current IHF World Handball Player of the Year Nikola Karabatic is close to a transfer to PSG and that Veszprem’s Momir Ilic might replace him in Spain.

“We all have heard those rumours and read those articles, but nothing is decided yet and until the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne is over we only focus on handball, nothing else,” says O’Callaghan.

“Of course we will check the market if Nikola leaves us, but the number of players who can replace Karabatic are very, very limited.”


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg
 
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