NEWS FEATURE: Hosts and last season’s semi-finalists Füchse Berlin are the first team to qualify for the EHF Cup Finals in the German capital
Berlin keeping their eyes on the European prize
It was anything but their best performance, but in the end it is only the result that counts. When the final whistle was blown the scoreboard showed a 25:20 win for Füchse Berlin against FC Porto last Sunday after a “terrible first half” - according to coach Dagur Sigurdsson.
This win secured their ticket to the EHF Cup Finals. Like in 2014 the current German cup winners were awarded the right to host the final event of the competition by the EHF and after only five of six group phase matches they made sure they would be taking part.
“We are absolutely happy that we are already through. To host a tournament and not to be part of it would have been the worst case scenario,” said Füchse manager Bob Hanning to eurohandball.com, adding: “It is not only sitting on the tribune to watch others play, but mainly the financial consequences. But now we hooked this subject and can increase our promotion.”
The EHF Cup Finals will be hosted by Füchse in the Max-Schmeling-Arena on 16/17 May. The remaining three participants will be decided in the quarter-finals in April.
So far, Hamburg, Melsungen (both Germany), Skjern and Holstebro (both Denmark) are confirmed participants. Velenje, Granollers and Guif fight for the remaining two spots for the quarter-finals, which will be drawn on Tuesday 24 March in Vienna.
“Of course we cross our fingers for our German compatriots,” Hanning said, but he also believes that he will see Skjern again in Berlin.
The Danish side was the only one to beat Berlin so far in the group phase and are level on points with Füchse. If the Germans win their final group match at Novi Sad, they are confirmed group winners.
Due to the EHF Cup regulations, Berlin can skip the quarter-finals if they finish as group winner or among the three best second placed teams and seeing as Granollers cannot pass Berlin anymore, they are safely through.
“We hope for a sold-out arena and therefore it would be important to have more German clubs,” says Hanning, who is satisfied with the performances to date: “We deserve to qualify, as we were quite dominant. Now we are simply happy.”
In 2014, host Berlin lost their semi-final against eventual champions Pick Szeged and Hanning can share two reasons why: “Szeged were better than us and we just had won the German cup, the first title of our club, one week before and were still in celebration mode, not ready to take the next challenge.”
This year the situation is the same for Füchse – as they have once again qualified for the German cup final tournament one week prior to the EHF Cup Finals.
“But this time we know how to deal with both events. 2014 was the right experience for us,” Hanning promises.
His big ambition is to go two steps further compared to last season: “We have won a domestic title in 2014, so we are hungry for our first international trophy.”
For two key players the EHF Cup Finals will be their international farewell from Berlin. Team captain Iker Romero, who retires after this season, and Konstantin Igropoulo, who will transfer to KIF Kolding Kobenhavn.
“After I had said goodbye already last year and then got the great chance to extend my stay in Berlin for one year, it is a brilliant opportunity for me to finish at another international top event,” says the two-time EHF Champions League winner Romero.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
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