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27.05.2016, 08:18
Karabatic in the town - with a new jersey, new teammates and a new special fan
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FEATURE: Can the only reigning champion in Cologne break the spell of LANXESS arena and become the first player to lift the trophy here twice in a row?
 

Karabatic in the town - with a new jersey, new teammates and a new special fan

The international handball stars the likes of Thierry Omeyer, Filip Jicha, Daniel Narcisse or Domagoj Duvnjak have several things in common. They have all been awarded the IHF Player of the Year award in the past or they have won the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne at least once.

But another point is that they have never been able to lift the trophy in the LANXESS arena twice in a row. The reason? While some say it is difficult to retain the title because of a top-level quality of the tournament and of the European top flight in general, others like to name the arena's spell as the reason.

Not only none of the six previous winners were able to defend the trophy, but also individual efforts have been shattered. The most recent example was Steffen Weinhold last year, who tried to grab the trophy with Kiel after cheering with Flensburg in 2014.

The new edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 will see a new attempt to break the curse. The defending champions FC Barcelona Lassa were eliminated in the quarter-finals against Kiel, but their former player and the 2015 MVP, Nikola Karabatic will be coming to the LANXESS arena this weekend with a new jersey on his shoulders.

"Nothing makes me confident about winning the title again this year," he said on Thursday after arriving with Paris Saint-Germain Handball in Cologne.

"It's a big competition and we fought all year long to come to Cologne and it was very tough. All the teams are great teams, there are four strong contenders. We hope we still have the chance to lift the trophy but nobody feels confident."

The end of one part, the beginning of another

This is, secretly at least, what Nikola Karabatic's been signed for last summer. To finally fulfill PSG's ambition to reach Cologne, after stumbling twice in a row on the quarter-finals hurdle.

"It means a lot to me to go to the FINAL4 with this team," the French centre back said already after winning the last knockout round against Zagreb.

"This is the club's first time, it will be also the first for a French club. But we also know that the hardest part is just beginning. Once you reach that FINAL4 stage, all teams want to win the trophy."

And there, in the boiling LANXESS arena, they will meet with three teams they've already thought against this season. "When you see that Kiel and Veszprem have also qualified, it shows us that the group we were in was strong. It's been a tough campaign, going to Cologne at the end of it gives us even more credibility. But the FINAL4 is not the end of everything, it's the end of a part and the beginning of another exciting part."

Statistics are on his side

In his quest he will be able to count on his teammates. Some of them have already won the Champions League, some of them are still waiting, but all will be pulling in the same direction come Saturday.

"Even though it's our first time as a team, players like Thierry Omeyer, Mikkel Hansen, Luc Abalo or Igor Vori already played the FINAL4," counted Karabatic on Thursday.

"We told the other ones that they have to give everything because it's a great opportunity to play at a FINAL4. It's really hard for the bodies, two games in two days," he added.

Even if he does not know how his new teammates will behave, Nikola Karabatic can at least count on statistics to help him out for now. Among all players, PSG count the most Champions League winners of all teams present in Cologne this weekend, along with Veszprem. But Nikola Karabatic is still on another level, with the possibility to win the competition for the fourth time with a fourth club.

A new fan in the stands

On the court, Nikola Karabatic looks like he could not be helped better than he already is, but he will count on a new fan to help him reaching new heights.

His son Alek, born at the beginning of April, will be present in Cologne this weekend and that looks like another motivation for the PSG superstar.

"My son will come to his first FINAL4, I'm very proud. He won't understand what it means but I'm really happy he'll be here. It will be a great support for me that we can be in Cologne as a family," he emphasised.

Will this be enough for the new dad to break the spell and become the first king crowned in Cologne two seasons in a row?


TEXT: Kevin Domas, Maike Elger / br
 
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