Four nations involved in three finals
Three teams from Germany and each one from France, Switzerland and Greece form the final line-up of the Men’s European Cup competitions for the 2011/2012 season. The first leg matches in the EHF Cup, EHF Cup Winners’ Cup and EHF Challenge Cup will take place on Saturday and Sunday, while the second leg will follow from 24–28 May.
Cup Winners’ Cup:
VfL Gummersbach (GER) vs. SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
First leg: Sunday, 19:00 hrs local time
Second leg: Friday, 25 May, 18:45 hrs local time
German teams have won the Cup Winners’ Cup 11 times – but 2012 will be the first time that two teams from the Bundesliga have faced each other in the final of this competition. VfL Gummersbach won the trophy in 2010 and 2011 and are hoping for the hat-trick, while SG Flensburg-Handewitt last won the title 11 years ago and are waiting for their first national or international title since 2005.
But the Northern Germans will start with a boost of confidence as they just secured qualification for next season's VELUX EHF Champions League season. The paths followed by both teams in the German league has been completely different: Flensburg are currently second and had reached the German Cup final, while Gummersbach had to fight hard not to be relegated to the second league. But since interim coach Emir Kurtagic took over, success has returned to the former record German champions.
Flensburg won both encounters in the Bundesliga and should start as favourites. "This final is another highlight and our players deserve their chance to fight for the trophy," Flensburg manager Holger Kaiser said, although his team will have to replace injured world champion Holger Glandorf.
In Gummersbach it only took four hours for the first leg of the final to sell out. "To be in the final is the reward for our team after a tough season. We might be the underdog, but we will fight for our chance," VfL manager Axel Geerken said.
Grand Litoral HB (FRA) vs. Frisch Auf Göppingen (GER)
First leg: Saturday, 17:45 hrs local time
Second leg: Thursday, 24 May, 19:00 hrs local time
Like in the Cup Winners’ Cup last season, a French-German encounter will decide where the trophy goes. St Rafael missed their chance in 2011 against Gummersbach, and now Dunkerque is aiming to bring the EHF Cup trophy to France for the first time ever. Dunkerque destroyed the hopes of German side SC Magdeburg in the semi-finals, and now hope to eliminate the next Bundesliga team.
But the EHF Cup has been won by German teams 17 times – most recently in 2011 by Frisch Auf Göppingen in the all-German final with Großwallsadt. And now the team from the Stuttgart region hope to defend the title. "Dunkerque is a top opponent and we have reached nothing until now," coach Velimir Petkovic said – and shows great respect for the work of his counterpart on Dunkerque side, former world champion Patrick Cazal. "We hope that the re-match on home ground is an advantage for us. But Dunkerque have showed their strength in away matches by their clear victory in Magdeburg", Petkovic said.
EHF Challenge Cup:
Diomidis Argous (GRE) vs. Wacker Thun (SUI)
First leg: Sunday, 18:00 hrs local time
Second leg: Monday 28 May, 17:00 hrs local time
Which team will follow in the success of Cimos Koper from Slovenia? And: Will a Greek team win an EHF European Cup competition for the first time ever? – those are the big questions before this final. After Diomidis Argous had eliminated Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semi-finals the tension and the euphoria is rising in Greece. Nine years after Fillipos Verias had reached the finals of the EHF Challenge Cup (but lost against Skjern from Denmark), Argous have the great chance to write history.
But Wacker Thun is very much aware of their opponents after their thrilling semi-final success against Lisbon from Portugal. After winning the Swiss Cup Wacker can finish this season as the most successful year in club history. Thun is still the one and only Swiss club which had won the Challenge Cup (in 2005 against Braga/Portugal) and now hope to repeat this title.
TEXT: Björn Pazen