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25.05.2018, 23:20
All-French fireworks to open VELUX EHF FINAL4
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SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW: Nantes aim to continue their fairy tale when they take on PSG, who are looking to reach their second straight final, in the opening match in Cologne
 

All-French fireworks to open VELUX EHF FINAL4

For the third time in the history of the VELUX EHF FINAL4, two teams from the same nation face in a semi-final. After two all-German pairings (Kiel vs Berlin in 2012 and Hamburg vs Kiel in 2013) it is a French connection this time when Nantes face PSG.

HBC are regarded the underdogs at their first appearance in Cologne, while Paris are the most experienced of all teams with their third straight participation.

  • Gensheimer vs Klein is a duel between the two remaining German players in the competition

  • Both teams meet for the fifth time this season - but for the first time outside of France

  • Lazarov becomes the all-time FINAL4 top scorer if he finds the net five times

SEMI-FINAL

HBC Nantes (FRA) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Saturday 26 May, 15:15 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Hamburg in 2013, Flensburg in 2014, Kielce in 2016 and Vardar in 2017: in recent years it have not always been the favourites who raised the trophy at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

Now it is the big hope of the ‘Big H’ to continue this series of underdog victories and extend their Cinderella story at least until the final.

“I am not going to Cologne to buy perfume for my grandmother and just be a character in the party. Now that we have qualified, we are going there to win,” coach Thierry Anti says full of optimism and confidence.

In their second ever VELUX EHF Champions League season, Nantes have made it to the final destination after beating top sides such as defending champions Vardar and record champions Barcelona on the way to the knockout stage. They remained undefeated in the Last 16 (against Meshkov Brest) and quarter-final (Skjern Håndbold) to book their first ticket to Cologne.

On the other hand, Paris were the only side to win both quarter-final legs. After skipping the Last 16 as Group B winners, they eased past 2016 champions Kielce. So far, PSG have lost only two matches in this international season: in Flensburg and - after already locking up the top spot - in Brest.

This season Nantes and PSG have already duelled four times in three competitions

Last season both French teams also met in the Champions League, when they played to a draw in Nantes before Paris won the return game on home court in the Last 16.

This season both sides have already duelled four times in three competitions. First, Nantes beat Paris 32:26 in the Trophée des champions at the start of the season. In the French League, they tied at Nantes (27:27) before Paris won 31:29 on home ground. And Paris also defeated Nantes by two goals (35:33) in the Coupe de la Ligue.

Now it is the first time both sides lock horns on neutral ground - with PSG in the role of favourites because of their international experience, not only from their four IHF World Players of the Year: Nikola Karabatic, Thierry Omeyer, Daniel Narcisse (all France) and Mikkel Hansen (Denmark).

The three French stars all have a different story this event: Narcisse will end his career after this season, Omeyer can win his fifth Champions League trophy (just like Vardar goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik), and Karabatic can become the first player to win the title with four different clubs after his earlier triumphs with Montpellier, Kiel and Barcelona.

Coach Noka Serdarusic, who will be succeeded by current Vardar coach Raul Gonzalez, can become the third coach after Alfred Gislason and Talant Dujshebaev to win the Champions League with two different clubs. And left wing Uwe Gensheimer, who is the second best scorer of the competition going into the VELUX EHF FINAL4, is likely to finish as the competition’s leading scorer for the third time after 2011 and 2017.

"Everybody regards us the favourites, and we can take this role"

But first, PSG need to leave Nantes behind, as manager Bruno Martini is well aware: “We know that everybody regards us the favourites, and we can take this role. But still, we need to win both matches to win the trophy.”

On Nantes’ side, three non-French players are in the focus. Eduardo Gurbindo can crown a dream season: after winning the EHF EURO 2018 with Spain, he is after his second Champions League trophy after winning it with Barcelona in 2015.

Also, two-time Champions League top scorer Kiril Lazarov hopes for his second triumph in Cologne after 2015, while he could also become all-time top scorer of the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Currently on 51, he needs a handful of goals to catch up with Filip Jicha and Momir Ilic, who share the lead in this ranking with 56 each.

Finally, in his seventh participation in the finals tournament, German left wing Dominik Klein hopes to end his career with his fourth trophy after winning it with Kiel in 2007, 2020 and 2012.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew
 
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