Trophies and tears, goals and galas
Ten tournaments, seven different winners, 15 participating clubs and 2,313 goals – it has been a wild ride for the EHF FINAL4, the pinnacle event in club handball. What were the highlights since the event’s premiere in 2010? Who were the biggest stars? Here is everything you need to know.
2010: A record set which has yet to be beaten. Barcelona’s Juanin Garcia scored 13 goals in a single EHF FINAL4 match, but it still was not enough in the final as THW Kiel turned a six-goal deficit into a 36:34 win. Kiel became the first champions of the event and ended the German club’s curse against Spanish sides in the final. Previously, Kiel lost finals, in 2000 against Barcelona, 2008 and 2009 against Ciudad Real. In the semi-final, Filip Jicha and his teammates had taken revenge against Ciudad Real.
2011: “Those who thought an EHF FINAL4 only works with German teams, were proved the opposite is true in that match,” says EHF President Michael Wiederer, who was EHF Secretary General in 2011. 20,000, mostly German, fans in the LANXESS arena cheered for two Spanish finalists, and finally Barcelona had taken their first title at Cologne, after eliminating defending champions Kiel in the quarter-finals and beating Ciudad Real 27:24 in the final. It was the seventh trophy for Barcelona and they made a special double that weekend as for the one and only time, the same club won the UEFA and the EHF Champions League within the space of 24 hours.
2012: After losing the final as Ciudad Real in 2011, the club was renamed to Atletico Madrid – and again lost the final in Cologne, this time against THW Kiel 26:21. It was the end of an era as that summer, Atletico closed the handball team and after three EHF Champions League trophies as Ciudad Real, this Spanish powerhouse had come to an end. AG Kobenhavn, another debutant in 2012, fell to a similar fate. Kiel became the first club to win the trophy for the second time in Cologne, yet they wait to this day for the next title.
2013: The era of Cinderella stories began. On his birthday, Croat Domagoj Duvnjak almost single-handedly eliminated THW Kiel in the semi-finals, then Martin Schwalb became the only German coach to win the trophy after the first extra-time in a final at Cologne with HSV Hamburg winning the title as huge underdog. HSV’s Danish wing Hans Lindberg was the top scorer, helping his side become the third German club, after Magdeburg and Kiel, to win the trophy.
2014: In northern Germany, a new adjective was created: Flensational! For the first time, SG Flensburg-Handewitt made it to Cologne and again the biggest underdog flew home with the trophy, unfortunately for the defeated finalists THW Kiel, they were on the same plane. The final was not even the most remarkable match of this tournament, it was the semi-final. With eight minutes to go, Barcelona were ahead by six goals and SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes sent his young guns on court to get some FINAL4 experience. They levelled the scores at 32:32 after 60 minutes and 36:36 after 70 minutes. In the event’s first penalty shootout, young Swede Hampus Wanne scored the winner, finishing 41:39 – the highest-scoring game in Cologne. One day later, Flensburg were again were six goals down against Kiel but won 30:28 and took revenge for the 2007 finals.
2015: In his fifth attempt with his fourth club, Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson won the title for the first time alongside Kiril Lazarov, who needed four visits to Cologne to raise the trophy. Both took their one and only title, with Barcelona after beating Veszprém in a quite one-sided final. After a 13-year break, Nikola Karabatic won for the third time after 2003 with Montpellier and 2007 with Kiel, while Siarhei Rutenka became the fifth player in the history of the competition to raise the trophy for the sixth time, he did it with three clubs: Celje, Ciudad Real and Barcelona.
2016: Julen Aguinagalde ended the longest EHF Champions Final with a bang and a scream – and the rest was pure joy for Kielce, the first ever Polish club to win the competition. Kielce were down by nine goals with 14 minutes left on the clock and in his famous time-out, coach Talant Dujshebaev just said: “Boys, finish this match with style.” His players understood, sensationally turned the tide to take it to extra-time and eventually the first penalty shootout in a Champions League final. Aguinagalde scored the winning penalty and made history for his coach: Dujshebaev became the second coach after Alfred Gislason (Magdeburg, Kiel) to win the title with two different clubs.
2017: The sensations continued – and tens of thousands of people gave their heroes a frenetic welcome in Skopje. Vardar did it! They beat Barcelona with a buzzer-beater from Luka Cindric in the semi-final, then PSG in the final with a buzzer-beater from Ivan Cupic, who became the first player to win two years in a row after his triumph with Kielce the year before. Arpad Sterbik was the MVP and took his fourth title. 2017 was historic in another way as no German team qualified for the first time.
2018: "Ils parlent français" – they all speak French was the motto in 2018, when for the first time in the history of the EHF FINAL4, three teams from the same country took part. 15 years after beating Portland San Antonio in the 2003 final, Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer and left wing Michael Guigou took their second trophy, beating Nantes in the final of the first event without any Spanish or German teams. The first a non-European player was awarded the MVP: Argentine Diego Simonet.
2019: After Kiel and Barcelona, HC Vardar became the third team to win the trophy twice in Cologne – coach Roberto Parrondo became the second man in handball after Talant Dujshebaev to win as a player (under Dujshebaev at Ciudad Real) and coach. Ivan Cupic became the first player to win the trophy three times in Cologne, Igor Karacic capped his time with the club with a second title and the MVP award. The Vardar story reached a new height, while the river of despair continues to flow at Veszprém as they lost their fourth final and still wait for European glory.