SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW: Saint-Raphael Var Handball are out for their fourth victory against a German team in this season, while Berlin are eager to reach their second final
German tradition or a French debut to grace the final
Saint-Raphael Var Handball are the only non-German club at the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals in Göppingen. In their first international semi-final they hope to cause a sensation against the much more experienced foxes from Berlin.
SEMI-FINAL 2: Saint-Raphael Var Handball (FRA) vs Füchse Berlin (GER)
Both sides clashed already in the group phase, both sides are currently fourth ranked in Europe’s top leagues and both sides lost their domestic dress rehearsal against a top team narrowly.
While there are so many similarities, there are also so many differences between the two participants of the second semi-final of the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals.
Saint-Raphael put on a tough fight against the VELUX EHF FINAL4 participant and defending French champions Paris Saint-Germain, but were defeated 32:29, while Berlin had the chance to pass THW Kiel to take third spot in Bundesliga, but lost 32:28.
In the group phase, both sides each won their home match, but now they face on neutral ground in Göppingen.
“Due to their experience and the quality of their squad, Berlin are the favourites,” says outgoing Saint-Raphael coach Joel da Silva.
He steered his side to their first ever semi-final of an international competition after the 2016 French runners-up failed three times in quarter-finals of the EHF Cup.
Their home win against Berlin was one statement, the two clear victories in the quarter-final against another German team, MT Melsungen, have boosted the confidence of former EHF Cup winner Geoffroy Krantz (with VfL Gummersbach) and his teammates.
While the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals at Göppingen is a new adventure for the Saint-Raphael, Berlin hosted the 2014 and 2015 editions, and were part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne in 2012. In the quarter-finals they left Hungarian side Tatabanya behind in a dominant way after becoming winners of Group A.
Thus, Berlin play their third EHF Cup semi-finals: In 2014, they lost against Montpellier, in 2015 they finally took the trophy by beating Hamburg. Since then, the “Foxes” sensationally became IHF Super Globe winner twice.
One statistic help Saint-Raphael: the last two times, Berlin were eliminated in the EHF Cup was against French teams - in the 2014 semi against Montpellier, and in the 2015/16 qualification round by Chambery Savoie. Funnily enough, eventual Chambery eliminated Saint-Raphael in the 2016 quarter-finals.
And Saint-Raphael can make history next weekend because a French club has never won the EHF Cup either in the old or the new format (or the EHF Cup Winner’s Cup). Since the implementation of the new playing system in the 2012/13 season, three French sides had made it to the finals (Nantes twice, Montpellier once), but never took the trophy.
If, on the other hand, Füchse win, the second all-German final of a EHF Cup Finals would be completed. Berlin hopes that their top scorer Petar Nenadic will be ready to rumble at Göppingen after an ankle injury, he suffered in the match against Kiel.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc
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