FINAL PREVIEW: After steering final opponent Göppingen to two EHF Cup trophies, now the coach is eager to win the title with Füchse Berlin
Will Petkovic’s dream become reality?
It is showtime in the EWS Arena in Göppingen: On Sunday, the 2015 EHF Cup winners Füchse Berlin and the hosts and defending champions FRISCH AUF! Göppingen will face in the final of the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals. Either Göppingen raise the trophy for the fourth time or Berlin grab their second title.
One is the defending champion, the other only made it into the competition via a wild card.
One will have their tenth EHF Cup match this season, the other their 14th, as they had to start in qualification Round 2 and did not skip the quarter-finals – but all those number mean nothing when on Sunday afternoon, LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals hosts and defending champions FRISCH AUF! Göppingen lock horns with their predecessors Füchse Berlin in the final.
Göppingen were the last club to defend a title in the old version of the EHF Cup, when they lifted the trophy in 2011 and 2012.
Now the side, steered by Swedish coach Magnus Andersson, can become the first club to defend their trophy in the new format after beating Nantes in the 2016 finals.
And Göppingen can become the first club in the history of the EHF Cup (since 1993) to win the trophy for the fourth time. Their extra motivation: only winning the final would grant them another international season, as the hosts are currently twelfth in the German Bundesliga.
On the other hand, Füchse are fourth, and still have the chance to overtake THW Kiel.
The duel Göppingen vs Berlin has never occurred in the EHF Cup, while in domestic competitions, Füchse have won 14 of 27 matches, tied four times and lost eleven times.
The last two Bundesliga duels ended with victories for the 2015 EHF Cup champions against their successors (28:24 away and 31:26 at home).
The last all-German final in the EHF Cup happened in 2015, when Berlin beat Hamburg to raise the trophy on home court.
Göppingen even were part of two all-German EHF Cup finals in the old version: in 2011, they took their first international trophy by beating Großwallstadt, in 2006 they were defeated by Lemgo.
Velimir Petkovic under the spotlight
Beside all those statistics, one person will be in the spotlight on Sunday: Velimir Petkovic. The Bosnian-born German citizen was the coach of Göppingen for nine and a half years from 2004 until December 2013 and was the mastermind behind the first two EHF Cup trophies in 2011 and 2012.
Since December, he has been the coach of Füchse Berlin: “When I signed my contract, this final – Göppingen vs Berlin – was my big dream, now it has become a reality. And I already told my players: it is not about playing a final but about winning it.”
It could be Petkovic’s first trophy with Berlin – and the fourth international title for the capital club after winning the IHF Super Globe in 2015 and 2016.
“We are hungry for success,” said Hans Lindberg. The Danish right wing and 2013 Champions League winner leads the top scorers' list with 85 goals after his impressive eleven goals in the semi-final against Saint-Raphael (35:24).
Top Frisch Auf scorer prior to the final is Marcel Schiller, who netted eight times in the 33:29 semi victory against Magdeburg to have 54 goals on his tally.
Even Petkovic was impressed by yesterday’s local support from the stands: “The fans were angry before due to the bad results, now they stood as one behind their team. It was like in the old times. These fans are a major strength of Göppingen.”
Göppingen can become the second ever host to win the EHF Cup Finals since the implementation in the 2012/13.
Funnily enough, the only host raising the trophy so far was Füchse Berlin.
Twice (2013 and 2016), French side HBC Nantes were in the finals, but twice were defeated by German teams, Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Göppingen.
Vast European cup experience
Three Göppingen players can make history on Sunday, as centre back Tim Kneule, left wing Christian Schöne and line player (and team captain) Manuel Späth can win their fourth EHF Cup trophy with Göppingen.
Right back Adrian Pfahl even has the chance to win his fifth individual EHF European Cup title after the EHF Cup twice (2009 with Gummersbach and 2016 with Göppingen) and the Cup Winners’ Cup twice (2010 and 2011 with Gummersbach).
Besides that, Zarko Sesum, top scorer by nine goals against Magdeburg, can raise the trophy for the third time after 2013 with Löwen and 2016 with Göppingen. The Serb would be the first player to have won the trophy three times in the new playing format.
On the other hand, goalkeeper Silvio Heinevetter also can become EHF Cup winner for the third time after 2007 with Magdeburg and 2015 with Berlin.
Füchse line player Kresimir Kozina is in the tricky situation that a win on Sunday would mean that he will not play internationally next season – as he will join Göppingen this summer.
The bad news for Göppingen so far: when Berlin – regardless the competition – reach a final, they win it.
Bjarki Mar Elisson of Füchse Berlin will be eligible to play after the disciplinary body of the tournament decided that his red card from Saturday does not deserve any further sanctions.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc
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