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18.04.2016, 19:50
The mother of all club handball battles
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NEWS FEATURE: For the 20th time, THW Kiel and FC Barcelona Lassa will face each other in an official match on Sunday – a history of joy, frustration and two magnificent teams.
 

The mother of all club handball battles

10,285 electrified fans in Kiel’s Sparkassen-Arena will be part of a special anniversary on Sunday: The first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final against FC Barcelona Lassa will be the twentieth battle of the two European powerhouses.

Both sides shaped the premier club competition like no others in the previous years – and on Sunday and the following Saturday at Palau Blaugrana, the final outcome of this clash of the titans will be a ticket for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne on 28/29 May.

The long history of the brilliant duels of the European titans, combining eleven Champions League titles (eight for Barcelona, three for Kiel) started back in April 2000. Kiel, on the one hand, managed to qualify for the EHF Champions League Final as the first German team after the competition's inauguration in 1993.

On the other hand, Barcelona had already four straight trophies on their account – from 1996 to 1999, with coach Valero Rivera at the helm and their golden generation on court.

Unlucky Zebras

But in the first leg of the final, Barcelona were defeated by THW in their den by 28:25, with players like Handball Player of the Century Magnus Wislander and Noka Serdarusic as their coach.

Kiel had one hand on the trophy when they and 500 fans travelled to the Palau Blaugrana. Until five minutes before the end, THW could hope for the title, but then the Catalans struck back, won 29:24 and made their dream of the fifth straight EHF Champions League title become reality.

"Those were the toughest finals ever, no doubt," said Rivera, after leaving the winners’ podium. Line player Christian Schwarzer became the first German ever to win the EHF Champions League in his first season for Barcelona. Not one of the Catalans could imagine at that moment that the next elite club competition trophy would be five years away.

But until this next title, six more duels with THW Kiel took place. Only one year after this dramatic 2000 final, both sides clashed again. And history repeated itself in the 2001 EHF Champions League Semi-finals: Kiel won the home leg 28:24 and it was not enough again, as Barcelona won the second leg 33:28.

Anyone who thought that surely history could not repeat itself once again, was wrong again. In the 2005 quarter-finals, the draw brought the pairing Kiel vs Barcelona and once more THW had to play the first leg at home.

After a three goal win in 2000 and a four goal win at 2001, they were sure that this five-goal victory (30:25) would be enough for the first time – but they were wrong: Barcelona needed to win the second leg by six goals and exactly this result was on the score board at Palau Blaugrana after 60 minutes: 33:27.

Battle of the giants

But this series of Kiel’s unlucky EHF Champions League eliminations was interrupted by an aggregate final win for THW in the 2001/02 EHF Cup. Kiel won 36:29 at home and did not fail in Barcelona, as the 24:28 defeat was enough this time to win their second EHF Cup title.

Also in the EHF Champions League Kiel managed to turn the tide, but needed eight years after the first "battle of the giants". One year after winning the trophy for the first time by beating Flensburg in the 2007 final, Kiel made history against Barcelona. The 41:31 semi-final victory in April 2008 was so far the biggest Champions League defeat for the Catalans.

But despite this double-figured margin, nothing was decided: Kiel were shaken heavily in the rematch and finally the 37:44 (biggest number of goals ever in a CL semi-final) defeat was enough to make it to the finals again, where they lost to BM Ciudad Real.

During the next two seasons, Kiel and Barcelona faced each other in the group matches and main round. And after both sides had won all their previous home matches since 2000, goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer made Kiel’s dream of conquering Palau Blaugrana come true for the first time thanks to a 31:28 win on 19 October 2008.

More than one year – and another final defeat against Ciudad Real – later, Barcelona hit back to take their first ever win at Sparkassen-Arena (32:30 in February 2010).

Then the most impressive and spectacular match ever of both sides took place in Cologne: Who else but Kiel and Barcelona should face each other in the first ever VELUX EHF FINAL4 Final in the LANXESS Arena? And despite 8,000 Kiel fans in the arena, Barcelona were on the winners’ way, leading 24:19 with 20 minutes to go on the clock.

When THW coach Alfred Gislason changed all his tactics, involving "second row" players, when Thierry Omeyer closed his goal and when nowadays Barca player Filip Jicha scored an overall of 11 goals, Kiel turned the match around and won 36:34 – and to end their Spanish curse, as for the first time (and in the fourth attempt) they won an EHF Champions League Final against a Spanish club.

Eleven months later, Kiel’s dream to defend their title ended against Barcelona, as they did not even make it to Cologne. Barcelona won both quarter-final legs (27:25 and 36:33), their first ever knock-out match win in Kiel, to make it to the showpiece event – and to their seventh EHF Champions League trophy after beating Ciudad Real in an all-Spanish final.

Now the powerhouses clash again – and still no team managed to defend their title in Cologne until now. Maybe a bad omen for Barcelona in their 20th duel against Kiel, even though the balance is fully equal with nine wins each and one draw.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / es, cor
 
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