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18.05.2015, 15:50
When Hamburg’s Cinderella story turned into reality
«Go back »Print Version


FINAL4 LOOKS BACK: The series on the previous editions of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 continues with 2013, when Martin Schwalb became the first German coach to win the trophy

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Men's CL
»Final Four
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When Hamburg’s Cinderella story turned into reality

Thousands of fans were celebrating their heroes, standing on the balcony of the City Hall in Hamburg. Dressed in traditional fishermen’s clothes and wearing black sunglasses, the players of HSV Hamburg chanted, sung and enjoyed their time in the spotlight to the full after they had become the most surprising VELUX EHF Champions League winners to date in June 2013.

Two years after they had their debut at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, but missed the final, the team of head coach Martin Schwalb stormed the competition and turned their fairy tale into reality.

“Maybe I was the only one who did not expect that we were the clear underdogs at the 2013 event, but that we had the chance to do something big in Cologne,” says Schwalb says, who became the first (and so far only) German coach to win the EHF Champions League.

Hamburg had won the all-German duel in the quarter-finals against Flensburg to set join the previous winners of the VELUX EHF FINAL4, THW Kiel (2010, 2012) and FC Barcelona (2011), in LANXESS arena.

Best match in club history

Most of the neutral experts had expected a dream final of THW and Barca, as the Germans faced HSV in the semi and Barcelona played against the Polish debutants from Kielce.

While the Catalans were untroubled in their dispatch of Kielce 28:23, the second semi turned into a battle of goals.

When the final buzzer went, 20,000 fans had seen the incredible amount of 72 strikes and witnessed one of the major sensations of VELUX EHF FINAL4 history, Hamburg won 39:33, including 11 goals for Domagoj Duvnjak on his 25th birthday.

“We had quite high expectations when we arrived at Cologne, but nobody, but really nobody could expect that finally we would raise this trophy,” says coach Martin Schwalb, who had led HSV to the German title in 2011, leaving Kiel behind for the first time.

“Most people said that in contrast to Kiel and Barcelona we were the great underdogs. But when the day of the semi-final came, we were so focussed – and it was not only Dule Duvnjak, but players like Pascal Hens, who played an extraordinary match. This semi – in my opinion – was the one of the best matches in the history of HSV Handball,” Schwalb added.

The longest 70 minutes of my life

And due to a long list of interviews, the head coach even missed the team bus back to the hotel – and then was stunned again: “I came to our meeting room, where we had our dinner – and nearly none of my players were there. I expected them to celebrate the victory, but then I was told they were either in physiotherapist treatment or had already taken the videos to prepare for Barcelona. This was a perfect preparation and they were so eager to go all the way.”

On the other hand, Barca coach Xavi Pascual had a short and stressful night, as he unveiled later that he had focussed on Kiel as potential final opponent in the preparation for Cologne. “We had videos from all potential opponents, and we were proud on this hard work of preparation – and that we were happy to use them for the final against Barcelona,” Schwalb says.

There was one HSV player Pascual could not prepare his team for, Michael “Mimi” Kraus, as he did not play a single minute in the semi-final. “Right after the win over Kiel I went to Mimi and told him: “Don’t be sad that you did not play today, because tomorrow will be your big day!”

And Kraus, 2007 World Champion, had understood, playing one of the best matches of his life and scoring six crucial goals against Barcelona.

The final was something of an emotional roller coaster. “Intermediately I was sure that we would take the trophy when we were ahead by four goals and Torsten Jansen was running a counter-attack, but he missed, Barcelona bridged the gap and we had to go through extra-time, until finally our dream had come true,” Schwalb looks back on “the longest 70 minutes of my life”.

And Hamburg even started to celebrate too early, Schwalb ran onto the court and was sent off as still one second was to play. Even on the podium he did not realise what had happened: “It took me at least one week to understand what we had done. It was the biggest success of our club and for me it was a film.”

In general, Schwalb – who left the club in 2014 – looks back on the event as “a simply incredible weekend. Only a rare number of coaches and players have the chance to be part of an event like the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and even less win this trophy. In the end, our team won thanks to quality and will.”

No underdog this year

This year, Martin Schwalb will attend Cologne in a different capacity, as expert commentator of German TV broadcaster Sky. His view on the event is clear: “Never before have the four participants been on a more equal level. There’s no underdog, like we were in 2013.”

In Schwalb’s opinion, Kielce and Veszprem have clearly improved and are used to being part of the FINAL4 now, but if he has to decide on his personal favourites, he says: “Barcelona are slightly better than the rest. They lost in 2013 against us and were not clever enough to keep focussed in the 2014 semi-final against Flensburg, so I believe their time has come.”


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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