Semi-final previews of the two big clashes.
Dunkerque vs. Germany
Since the start of the EHF Men's Cup in 1993 German teams have won the trophy 13 times and including the 2011 title won by Frisch Auf Göppingen, German teams have won the last eight in a row since 2004.
Again this year, three German teams are among the four semi finalists, with Dunkerque being the only non-Bundesliga outfit.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs. Frisch Auf Göppingen (GER)
The only clash with teams from one league in all the EHF European Cup semi-finals will see the derby of Löwen and Göppingen, situated only 150 kilometres away from each other. Frisch Auf Göppingen are the defending champions in the EHF Men's Cup, while Rhein-Neckar Löwen are still waiting for their first ever national or international title.
In 2011 the Göppingen dream became a reality: 49 years after winning the Champions Cup (the forerunner of the EHF Men's Champions League) they raised their next international trophy by winning the finals against German side TV Großwallstadt. The last time the southern German side won the national title was 39 years ago. Five years ago they reached the final of the EHF Men's Cup, but missed the title in another German-German duel against TBV Lemgo.
Now Göppingen face another German opponent, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, who won both their encounters in the Bundesliga 30:29 and 30:25. Göppingen were nearly knocked out in the EHF Men's Cup quarter-finals when they lost 23:27 away at Dinamo Minsk, but then secured the semi-final berth by a clear 34:27 victory on home ground. The team of Serbian coach Velimir Petkovic can count on experienced players like Bosnian goalkeeper Enid Tahirovic or Serbian EHF EURO star Momir Rnic.
On the other hand Rhein-Neckar Löwen have never won any trophy in their club’s history: They failed several times in the German Cup final and lost the 2008 Cupwinner’s Cup final against Veszprem. This season they failed in the VELUX EHF Champions League wildcard tournament after being part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2011. Thanks to players like German wingers Uwe Gensheimer and Patrick Groetzki or the Polish shooters Bielecki and Lijewski, Löwen are one of the top European teams. And they want to give a farewell present to players like Fritz, Bielecki, Lijewski, Gunnarsson or Cupic (who will leave the club after this season) by winning the EHF Cup trophy. "It will be tough against Göppingen, but I hope we can secure the final," coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson said. In the quarter finals his team took two close victories (27:25, 30:29) against Gorenje Velenje from Slovenia.
SC Magdeburg (GER) vs. US Dunkerque HD Grand Littoral (FRA)
Three-time EHF Men's Cup and former EHF Men's Champions League winner SC Magdeburg face former EHF Men's Challenge Cup finalist US Dunkerque HD Grand Littoral in the second semi-final. SC Magdeburg, winner of the EHF Men's Champions League in 2002, have won the Men's EHF Cup three times in 1999, 2001 and 2007 and were finalists in 2005.
Magdeburg are one of the most traditional handball clubs in Germany and former GDR, especially on international ground, Magdeburg is a synonym for success including the current team which includes a mix of young German players like Andreas Rojewski and internationally experienced stars like Slovenian EHF Men's Champions League winner Ales Pajovic, Icelandic top goalkeeper Björgvin Gustafsson or Polish international Bartosz Jurecki. Coach Frank Carstens is also assistant coach of the German men’s national team.
In the last two rounds of the Men's EHF Cup Magdeburg had to fight hard to break the resistance of Nexe from Croatia and Tatran Presov from Slovakia to reach a European Cup semi-final for the eighth time in club history.
In contrast, Dunkerque’s qualification for this semi is the biggest international success in club history after reaching the final of the EHF Men's Challenge Cup in 2004 (and losing against Skövde from Sweden). In two all-French quarter-final matches Dunkerque first lost at home against Saint Raphael 33:37, before winning away 31:23. Dunkerque (ranked third in last season’s French league) missed out on qualifying for the VELUX EHF Champions League in the wildcard tournament in Kielce and are participating for the fifth time in the Men's EHF Cup. Their top players include French international Baptiste Butto and Hungarian Cornel Nagy.
TEXT: Björn Pazen
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