Six quarter-final rivalries to look out for
120 minutes of handball separate the remaining eight teams from the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne and while the quarter-final stage is usually action-packed and dramatic enough as it is, here are six rivalries we hone in on to add a bit of spice to the storylines.
From fellow countrymen and former teammates to red-hot players in the same positions, keep these subplots in mind while you watch the action over the next two weeks.
Clash of the titans
In years to come, handball nerds will be arguing over who was the greatest player of this era – Mikkel Hansen or Sander Sagosen.
This is the first time since Sagosen left PSG that the pair is set to face off, in one of the most highly anticipated quarter-final pairings. Sagosen collected his first EHF Champions League winners medal just months after joining THW Kiel, while Mikkel Hansen’s chances of claiming the crown with the French club are running low. If Sagosen, who will miss Wednesday’s first leg due to illness, recovers in time for the second leg, expect a spectacular shootout.
Germany’s most Scandinavian team face the club gunning to be the Scandinavia’s biggest team in a match which feels like a bit of a derby.
Flensburg have 12 Scandinavian players in their wider squad and it would not be a huge surprise to see five or six of them on the court at the same time. Facing them is Aalborg’s all-Scandinavian outfit and a whole lot of familiar faces with national teammates and regular opponents. Flensburg come into this encounter as firm favourites but the familiarity between the two sets of players could make it a much tighter affair.
Coaches with unclear futures
Xavi Pascual has confirmed on the club's website that this is his last season at the helm of Barça and that he will leave the club a season earlier than planned this summer.
His opponent in the quarter-finals, Raul Alonso, recently confirmed that he would be leaving Brest this summer, with Germany his likely destination.
Both will have no problems putting this news to one side, however, as they prepare for a clash which Barça will see as a potential banana skin and Brest see as an amazing opportunity.
“I have full respect for this club and mainly their outstanding coach Xavi Pascual — but still, we can hope for the icing on the cake: the ticket to Cologne, to the EHF FINAL4,” Alonso said last week.
Teammates face off on the sideline
Another all-Spanish coaching battle sees former Ciudad Real teammates collide in Nantes vs Veszprém.
Alberto Entrerrios and David Davis are the same age and played alongside each other for club, winning three EHF Champions League titles, and country, winning European, world and Olympic medals together.
Davis has the edge as a coach thus far in terms of titles won and will come into this tie with the favoured side, but Entrerrios’ Nantes relish the underdog role and have already taken a few scalps this season.
Lazarov’s old flame
Facing former teams is nothing new for Kiril Lazarov, given his 20 seasons in Europe’s top flight, though his five seasons with Veszprém must be special in his fans’ eyes as this was the period we saw him hit world-class status.
During that time, he and Veszprém fell at the quarter-final stage three times and the semi-finals twice. Painfully falling short was a theme for King Kiril as it took him 15 years to lift the trophy. 15 long years of waiting, sometimes patiently, and sometimes not.
Veszprém have been waiting even longer and Lazarov will not mind playing a part in prolonging his old team’s agony.
Wickedly good wings
It comes as no surprise at this stage of the competition that we will see some of the world’s best players clash in certain positions but if we focus on the wings, there are two matches which stand out.
Left wings Sebastian Barthold from Aalborg and Flensburg’s Hampus Wanne have been two of the most in-form men in their position in 2021.
While Barthold appears to thrive when he gets a bit of confidence on his side, Wanne goes on relentless runs of goals, particularly in the first half, when his counter-attacking ability catches everyone off guard.
On the right wing, the fortunes of Mikita Vailupau and Aleix Gomez from will tell a lot about how Meshkov Brest vs Barça goes.
Both have been prolific this season with Vailupau third on the top scorers list on 75 goals and Gomez on 66 and you would have to think that the Belarusian leftie will need to be close to the 90-goal mark by the end of the round for his side to reach their very first EHF FINAL4.