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02.06.2017, 17:00
FINAL4 debutants Vardar face veterans Barcelona
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SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW: Vardar face a difficult task in their semi-final against Barcelona: The Macedonian side have never defeated the Catalonian side in a Champions League match.
 

FINAL4 debutants Vardar face veterans Barcelona

The Champions League record winners against the FINAL4 debutants: While FC Barcelona Lassa will be making their sixth appearance at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, HC Vardar are on their maiden voyage to the LANXESS arena.

Despite this difference between the two teams, their performances the 2016/17 season so far has been very similar: both Barcelona (Group A) and Vardar (Group B) won their respective groups. After this, both teams eliminated former German VELUX EHF Champions League winners in the quarter-finals.

While Vardar defeated Flensburg in a dominant way in both matches, Barcelona had to turn an away defeat at Kiel around to win on aggregate in the second match. On Saturday, Vardar will be looking to keep the momentum from the quarter-final going in their match against the FINAL4 veterans Barcelona.

  • It is Vardar’s first time participating in a FINAL4.
  • Barcelona have won the EHF Champions League eight times, and have the chance become the first team to win a FINAL4 for the third time.
  • Barcelona have been defeated only two times this season, whereas Vardar have been defeated four times.
  • Barcelona have never lost a Champions League match against Vardar.

VELUX EHF FINAL4, SEMI-FINAL:

HC Vardar (MKD) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)
Saturday 3 June, 18:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com.

Overall, Barcelona seem to have had a more successful season than Vardar. They suffered only two defeats, against Kiel and PSG, while Vardar were defeated four times in the group phase.

One Spanish coach will definitely make it to the final from this duel, either Barcelona’s Xavi Pascual, who steered his team to two Champions League trophies at Cologne in 2011 and 2015, Or Raul Gonzales, who was part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 three times as assistant coach to Talant Dujshebaev, while he was coach for Ciudad Real and Atletico Madrid.

“It proves the quality of Spanish coaches – and the good old Spanish handball school,” said Pascual on Friday, while Gonzalez added: “This is more than by incident. All three of us wished us good luck – and now we await what will happen on Saturday,” said Gonzalez, who was voted “Best coach of the season”.

While Vardar can count on the full squad at their maiden voyage, Barcelona will have to replace Danish left back Lasse Andersson.

Vardar’s Arpad Sterbik, and Barcelona’s Victor Tomas and Viran Morros are triple Champions League winners who will be on the court in this semi-final. Captain Tomas is the only player who has won three trophies with Barcelona.

Vardar’s right wing Ivan Cupic is the only player on the court who has the chance to win the  competition two years running: He raised the trophy last year while playing for Kielce.

The top-scorers of the teams are separated by only two goals: Kiril Lazarov scored 76 times for Barcelona, while Alex Dujshebaev has 74 goals on his tally for Vardar.

Dujshebaev, who was voted best right back of the season, can continue a family tradition, as his father Talant won the EHF Champions League once as a player and four times as a coach – including last year with Kielce.

“Of course, Papa gave me some advice, as I am at Cologne for the first time. The most important one is: Keep your focus only on handball, when the referee had blown the starting whistle. Don’t lose your concentration.”


 

Barcelona’s formidable record

Barcelona have won  the EHF Champions League eight times, and they can become the first team to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for a third time.

They have participated in the FINAL4 five times, and have made it to a final four times. The bad news for Vardar is that when Barcelona lost matches in Cologne, it was only against German teams, never teams based in other countries. Indeed, Barcelona defeated Atletico in the 2011 final and Veszprém in the 2015 final.

Further, Barcelona have never lost an EHF Champions League match against Vardar. In ten matches, the Catalonian team took nine wins and only tied once, in a match in the group phase of the 2013/14 season in Skopje. However, this will be the first time the two teams clash in a knockout match.

On domestic level, Barcelona just won their seventh straight Asobal title and won all Spanish cup competitions, while Vardar recently became the first team to win the SEHA League for a third time, after a victory in the final against Veszprém.

Barcelona remain cautious

“Vardar are an ambitious and strong team. We have to be aware. Everything is decided within 60 minutes, so we know what we have to fight for”, said Barcelona’s goalkeeping legend David Barufet, who now works on managing the team, adding: “To be at Cologne is a special motivation, especially as we had missed last year’s edition.”

Last year, Barcelona and Vardar were eliminated in the quarter-final by Kiel and Veszprém, respectively.

“After our huge celebration that finally we booked the ticket to Cologne for the first time, we will intensely prepare for Barcelona. The whole country stands as one behind us,” said Vardar’s manager Davor Stojanovski.


TEXT: Björn Pazen/kc
 
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