PREVIEW: Berlin aim to become the first EHF Cup-winning hosts as Velenje relish the role of underdogs
Fast wasps or snappy foxes
Never before have the hosts of the EHF Cup Finals gone on to lift the trophy.
But Füchse Berlin’s ambition is to buck that trend.
EHF Cup Semi-Final: RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO) vs Füchse Berlin (GER)
"We are obliged to end this series," said Füchse manager Bob Hanning prior to his club hosting the event for a second time.
In 2013, HBC Nantes lost in the final against Rhein Neckar Löwen, before the Foxes were beaten semi-finalists against Pick Szeged a year later.
This year, Gorenje Velenje, nicknamed the Wasps, stand between Berlin and that elusive, historic prize.
"Füchse are the favourites, but we like to be in this underdog role and we are eagerly looking forward to facing top teams in Berlin," said Gorenje coach Gregor Cvijic, who only succeeded Ivan Vaidl in the job last month.
Cvijic’s side must first overcome their injury problems before they can think about taming the Foxes, however.
Klemen Ferlin, Stas Skube and Jernej Papez have all missed matches in recent weeks due to injury
EHF Cup top scorer Skube (75 goals) was back on track again last weekend – although Velenje, like Berlin, failed in their domestic dress rehearsal for the EHF Cup Finals.
Gorenje lost the first leg of their play-off semi-final in Slovenia against Maribor Branik, while Berlin’s defence of the German cup ended in the semi-final against Magdeburg.
Velenje are still in the race for the Slovenian title, but Berlin’s last chance to end this season with a trophy is the EHF Cup.
Iker Romero, Konstantin Igropoulo and coach Dagur Sigurdsson will come under close scrutiny during the event, with the EHF Cup Finals set to mark the end of their time with Füchse.
Igropoulo is due join to Danish side KIF Kolding while Romero is calling time on his career and Sigurdsson will focus solely on his job as German national team coach.
"We are ready to win the trophy," said Romero, a Champions League winner with Barcelona in 2005 and 2011.
In contrast to Berlin, Velenje have already been part of an EHF Cup final, in its previous format.
In 2009, they gave VfL Gummersbach a tough fight before eventually losing both matches, 28:29 and 22:26. The only Velenje player remaining from those matches is right wing Rok Golcar.
On their way to Berlin, Gorenje were the only team to win both legs of their quarter-final (28:27, 31:30), and lost only twice in 10 matches – both defeats came at the hands of their potential opponents in Sunday’s final, HSV Hamburg.
But the Slovenian side’s plan for reaching Sunday’s showpiece is clear.
"It is all about speed, as we do not have those tall shooters," said Gregor Cvijic.
Berlin will be without long-term injury absentees Bartlomiej Jaska and Denis Spoljaric.
But for Hanning, history is the motivation.
He said: “We all hope to go all the way to the biggest success in the history of our club. Never before have we won an international trophy.
"I hope the time has come for it."
TEXT: Björn Pazen / jh
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