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20.04.2017, 12:20
Five reasons why Flensburg and Kiel will make it to Cologne
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Experience, history, competitions, tactics and some special situations will provide both German sides with a ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 - according to a German ehfCL.com journalist.
 

Five reasons why Flensburg and Kiel will make it to Cologne

On 03-04 June 2017, the seventh edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 will take place in Cologne. Despite the increasing international feel to the event, there has never been a men's FINAL4 without a German team.

Here are five reasons why both German quarter-final contenders, THW Kiel and SG Flensburg-Handewitt, will book their tickets to Cologne, despite facing strong opposition in FC Barcelona and Vardar Skopje, two teams that qualified for the quarter-finals directly from the group phase.

The history of the pairings

It is very easy to motivate the players - simply show them the outcome of the previous quarter-final duels between the sides. In 2014, Flensburg defeated Vardar thanks to the away-goal rule, while in 2016 Kiel sensationally and unexpectedly knocked out Barcelona to qualify for that year's VELUX EHF FINAL4.

Both non-German opponents will have the pressure on their side, not only as group winners, but also having in mind that they lost those crucial duels in the past.

The experience

Kiel have made it to Cologne six times from seven attempts, sometimes from situations when it looked quite tough. Even losing a home match in the first leg of a knockout stage does not mean anything, as proved by Kiel's second leg comeback in this season's Last16 against Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

Kiel have the ability to win this way in their DNA. Even though they have already lost eight of 16 VELUX EHF Champions League matches this season, including the worst ever defeat in club history (42:24 at Paris Saint-Germain), they are at the top of their game when it counts.

Flensburg have only qualified once for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, but made the most of their sole appearance by winning the trophy in 2014. Last season, they were one goal short against eventual champions Kielce, and now they will want to avoid the same outcome against Vardar.

Whenever they have faced Macedonian sides at any stage of the Champions League, they have beat them and then gone on to at least make it to the final. Also, Vardar have another fact in the back of their heads - they have fallen at the quarter-final stage three times in a row, meaning they have never seen the LANXESS arena or the Cologne Cathedral.

In general, both German sides have proven, in various competitions, that they can stand the heat in away matches against Europe's top clubs.

The parallel competitions

FC Barcelona have no true opponent in the Spanish league. Although it might be to the advantage of the record champions that they can rest their players for the Champions League, the players lack the toughness you need to go all the way and the experience of giving it all in every match.

In addition, Barca’s rhythm has been broken without playing in the Last16, although they say that this extra time to recover was excellent.

Vardar just won the SEHA League in style, crowning their best ever season in this multi-national league with their third trophy. But also playing in the SEHA League is not comparable with playing Bundesliga handball, as only five or six teams are at the highest level.

So, although Kiel and Flensburg complain about the tough calendar they have, to play every week in a league like the Bundesliga, where the 18th-placed team can beat the top side, hardens and strengthens every player.

The tactics

Flensburg hope to play their high-speed, counter-attacking strategy against Vardar. Against Brest's concrete defensive wall, including a highly-efficient reverse gear, they had enormous problems, but Vardar will play more offensive, which will make things easier for SG.

If Vardar want to go the same speed, a flood of goals can be expected - and the more goals scored, the bigger the advantage for Flensburg.

Kiel and Barcelona know each other so well - and one can think that none of them could surprise the other with any tactical strategy. Flensburg thought the same in the German Cup final - and were beaten by Kiel's tactic to use left wing Rune Dahmke as playmaker, which confused the Flensburg defence.

Especially because spiritual leader Domagoj Duvnjak will be out against Barcelona, coach Alfred Gislason will implement a tactic that will put responsibility on many more shoulders, like on those of Nikola Bilyk and Lukas Nilsson. The varieties of attack for THW are huge, and also include line player Patrick Wiencek being back in top form.

The special situation of both sides

Kiel had been under full pressure after a quite shaky season so far, particularly on international ground. The fans were booing and coach Gislason had been criticised as never before since taking over at THW in 2008 - though he has taken 19 titles with Kiel since his appointment. The fans at Kiel are spoilt by success and they could forgive one season without a trophy, but not two.

Now, THW are extremely boosted by winning the German Cup two weeks ago, ending a 46-month trophy drought and making their fans extremely happy. All pressure is gone, and the Zebras are unleashed.

The turning point of the whole season was booking their VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final spot with a Last 16 second leg win at Mannheim, followed by a highly strong cup weekend. Kiel are back to winning ways, and based on past experiences when the steam train is running, you cannot stop it.

Flensburg are on a farewell tour for coach Ljubomir Vranjes. Players and management will do all they can to sweeten the end of his eleven years at the club. They can do this by doing two things - winning just their second ever German championship, and booking a ticket to Cologne in their tie against Vardar.

Their determination to end on a high will have been boosted after missing their first chance to win a domestic trophy, in the German Cup final against Kiel.

So, see you in Cologne SG and THW. Looking forward to meeting you there again!

Björn Pazen has huge experience in reporting for handball. Since 2005, he has covered all major handball events from European to World Championships, and Olympic Games to all top club competitions.

Björn started his career as a newspaper journalist in Germany, becoming editor in chief for the sports desk.

He reported for German and international handball magazines alongside his other duties.

He is part of the EHF media team for club and national team competitions and member of the AIPS Handball Commission.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing he was the IHF media representative, at the 2012 London Olympic Games he was the Sport Information Specialist for Handball at the Olympic News Service.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap
 
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