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25.05.2018, 19:03
Sunny start of a hot weekend in a relaxed mood
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NEWS: More than 100 journalists and 30 TV crews meet the players at the media call of the VELUX EHF FINAL4

»EHF CL Channel »2017-18 Men's CL
»Final Four
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Sunny start of a hot weekend in a relaxed mood

It is a hot Friday in Cologne, the sun heats like a huge oven from above, when players and journalists meet for the media call on the day prior to the start of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

Originally, the media call with the four participating teams started as an indoor event.

When the room in the team hotel Radisson Blu became too narrow due to the high media interest, some interviews were taken open-air some years ago. Now it is already a tradition to talk outside.

More than 100 journalists and almost 30 TV crews took the opportunity to get the latest news and statements of players, coaches and managers. And all players were in a good mood, maybe because of the sunny weather, maybe because of the anticipation they have, maybe as they were proud to be part of this major event.

For some, like for most of the Nantes and Montpellier players, it was the first time to experience the media call, for others, it is already a routine. Like for PSG star Nikola Karabatic, who was awarded best centre back of the 2017/18. His side was the first to arrive at the media call – and as always he was surrounded by the biggest crowd of journalists, not only as he can become the first ever player to win the EHF Champions League for the fourth time with the fourth different club: “Even having qualified for this weekend for the fourth time makes me proud. But I do not consider us to be the favourite. We are not that outstanding this year.”

His teammate Daniel Narcisse will quit playing handball after this season – the VELUX EHF FINAL4 is the last highlight of his career, but: “I need to fade out that personal aspect for the two days ahead. Sure I will think of it and realise on Sunday evening - but first of all, I want and need to help my team with all my experience.”

Like Karabatic, he does not rate PSG as the main favourites: “When looking on FINAL4 history, it was mainly the underdog to win at the end - so it would be better not to announce a favourite.”

On Saturday, PSG will face HBC Nantes in the first all-French semi-final at Cologne.

All players and staff of HBC were already impressed by what they experienced so far at their debut at Cologne. “It is not easy to channel all these small new elements that we are not used to. It is a new and impressive experience for many here and that is the point where the staff and the experienced players intervene and help to stay concentrated,” says former French international Olivier Nyokas.

The two non-French players were in the focus of the international media in particular: Macedonian right back Kiril Lazarov, who is only six goals short of becoming all-time record scorer of the VELUX EHF FINAL4, and German left wing Dominik Klein, who will finish his career after this season. Klein’s whole family – wife Isabell, a former German international, and son Colin, were at the media call. And of course, the duel with his compatriot Uwe Gensheimer (PSG) was in the spotlight: “I have never been interviewed so often in my whole career like in the last two weeks,” said Klein.

To complete the French story of success in this VELUX EHF Champions League season, Montpellier HB were the third Starligue side to attend the media call. For MHB right back Valentin Porte the fact that for the first time ever one nation is represented by three teams at Cologne proves the improvement of the league: “It is a bit bizarre and funny that the FINAL4 is so French this year but every team deserves it. It's fantastic for France and for the whole league, as well as for the teams of course.”

While Patrice Canayer, who was awarded best coach of the EHF Champions League 2017/18 season, is extremely proud to make it to Cologne for the first time, one of his young guns can make a special history: Melvyn Richardson. Like Alex Dujshebaev, son of Talant, did in 2017, he can step in the footprints of his famous father Jackson by winning the Champions League: “For sure my parents, my whole family play a huge role for me and my sports. My father even played the biggest role for handball at all. I am proud to follow that tradition. But these are big footsteps,” Melvyn said.

The last to arrive at the media call were the defending champions HC Vardar. The biggest story on the Macedonian side is not only the fact that they can become the first team in nine years to defend the trophy at Cologne, but that their coach Raul Gonzalez will join PSG next season – their potential final opponent. Before, Vardar face Montpellier in the semi-final.

Besides, many players will leave Vardar – but this is no subject in the team. “We are going to change our team but the atmosphere is very good and we would like to say goodbye as friends and colleagues in the best manner and win again,” said Ivan Cupic, who can become the first player since 2000 to win the Champions League for three straight times after 2016 with Kielce and 2017 with Vardar. “I am as excited as it was my first time. This is the largest event in the Champions League. We worked hard and long for the whole season and this is a reward and we are happy to be here,” Cupic added.

For his fellow Croatian teammate Igor Karacic “there is no pressure, as we have players with a large experience and they played numerous big games. We are at the level where FINAL4 without Vardar wouldn’t be FINAL4. We are ready and we can’t wait for this to start.”


TEXT: Björn Pazen / br
 
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