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23.05.2018, 15:50
Third try to win a record fourth title
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25 YEARS OF THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: If Paris Saint-Germain win the VELUX EHF FINAL4 on Sunday, one player will add another stunning chapter to the history books of Europe’s top-flight competition
 

Third try to win a record fourth title

Already in his childhood he had everything to become a top player. Especially his dad: born in Croatia, he went to France in the 1980s to persue a handball career.

The late Branko Karabatic and his family moved to the south of France in the late 1990s. Branko’s two sons, Nikola and Luka, were soon to follow his career path. Nikola, the older of the two, made his professional debut in 2001 with Montpellier, aged 17, and scored his first goals a couple of months later.

It all went quickly from there. A spot in the first team of Montpellier. A first call-up for the French national team. And then that EHF Champions League Final in 2003.

While some handball fans had not been too familiar with him yet, everybody knew Nikola Karabatic after the first leg of that final.

Everybody was talking about that young centre back

Against the 2001 champions, Portland San Antonio, Montpellier lost by eight goals (27:19) but everybody was talking about that young centre back: Karabatic scored 11 of his team’s 19 goals, an early step towards becoming one of the sports’ greatest players of all time.

“We were outsiders. Portland had a massive team, with Jackson Richardson and all the stars. I think I played superb in the first leg, I am proud of it, but in the meantime, we lost by so much that everybody thought we were done already,” Karabatic later told French sports daily L’Equipe.

But backed by, what Karabatic called, “the incredible support” of their fans, Montpellier turned the tables in the return leg with a resounding 31:19 victory to lift the trophy.

Two more Champions League titles were to follow for Karabatic: with THW Kiel in 2007, the same team he lost the final with in the two following seasons, each time against Ciudad Real; and with FC Barcelona in 2015.

After finishing third with Barcelona a year before, it was Karabatic’s second visit to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2015. He was magnificent and also collected the MVP award. “I am really happy, because I have won with a bunch of friends by my side,” he said in the mixed zone of LANXESS arena after the final. “I was distraught last season by losing but I am equally satisfied this time.”

Four trophies with four different clubs

Montpellier in 2003, Kiel in 2007, Barcelona in 2015: if Karabatic, now with PSG, adds a fourth title on Sunday, he will become the first player in the 25-year history of the competition to lift the EHF Champions League trophy four times with four different clubs.

He has had two chances so far to set that record as he led Paris to the VELUX EHF FINAL in 2016 and again last year. But the French side came up short both times, finishing third and second, respectively.

Will it be third time lucky for Karabatic this weekend?


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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