Host clash with a Danish side while defending winners meet familiar rivals in the semi-finals of the first ever final tournament in this competition
Semi-finals preview of the EHF Cup Finals in Nantes
It’s show-time in Nantes! The city, the arena, the club are fully prepared to host the first ever EHF Cup Finals and to become the centre of continental handball for one weekend. Four teams from three countries will meet 5,000 fans twice in the sold-out arena. And the only clear fact before the semi-finals on Saturday is that one German team will fight for the trophy on Sunday, either facing HBC Nantes or Team Tvis Holstebro.
On Friday all four teams will present their objectives and talk about their strategies in a pre-tournament press conference in Nantes, from Saturday on it counts only on the floor of the Palais du Sport de Beaulieu.
No French or Danish teams have ever won the EHF Cup trophy in the old format, while the last nine winners came from German Bundesliga.
Can the Holstebro men continue in the footprints of their successful female team? Last Sunday the Team Tvis women have become EHF Cup champions for the first time ever – and on French ground by winning at Metz. But the situation for the Danish side (with only Danish players in their squad) is not that easy, as their top scorer Michael Damgaard Nielsen (44 goals from Group Phase to quarter-finals) is not eligible to play after a one match suspension after his direct red card in the quarter-final rematch against KIF Kolding.
But Holstebro have good memories on matches against French clubs as they eliminated St. Raphaël in the decisive third qualification round before the start of the Group Phase.
On the other hand HBC Nantes never faced a Danish opponent in their in total twelve matches of European Cup competition history (it is currently only their second campaign on international floors). HBC hope for a frenetic support of their spectators and their series on home ground: They only lost one match in Beaulieu, a clear 20:27 against German side SC Magdeburg in the Group Phase. Led by their three Spanish world champions Alberto Entrerríos, Valero Rivera and Jorge Maqueda they hope for the “big deal” on home court.
As the pairing of Nantes vs. Holstebro has no history, the duel of the two Southern German teams has produced headlines very often – including the same constellation in the EHF Cup semi-finals in 2012, when Göppingen made it to the final and later-on to their second straight trophy in this competition.
22 times both teams faced each other, Rhein Neckar Löwen won 14 duels, Göppingen six and two matches including the last encounter in December ended in a draw. Löwen, currently second ranked in the Bundesliga, have won six of their last eight matches against Göppingen. Frisch Auf currently are ranked on 11th position in Bundesliga, so for them to win the trophy is the only chance to start in an European Cup competition in the upcoming season.
But in the EHF Cup Göppingen have continued their series of success from the past two seasons: They were only beaten once in ten EHF Cup matches, at La Rioja. Frisch Auf can count on the two top scorers of the EHF Cup, Momir Rnić (51 goals) and Žarko Marković (48), but Löwen playmaker Andy Schmid (47) is breathing down their necks.
Löwen are boosted by the comeback of their team captain Uwe Gensheimer, who was out since November, when hit by a torn Achilles tendon.
The placement match 3/4 will start on Sunday, 15:45 hrs local time, while the final will be thrown off at 18:00 hrs. local times. All matches will be streamed live on ehfTV.com.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / br
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