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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Barcelona of handball, against a curse

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Ben Ali against Flensburg’s goalkeeper Benjamin Buric in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.FOCKE STRANGMANN (EFE)

The scorching heat is also oppressive in North Rhine-Westphalia, Central Europe, one of the most prosperous regions in Germany. There, on the banks of the Rhine, one fights with handball wishes (and several liters of beer per capita) this weekend. Thousands of fans, mainly from Veszprem (red shirts) and Kielce (yellow), consumed the final hours before the Champions League Final Four. In this landscape, Barcelona are looking for what no one has achieved since the tournament was decided with the Final Four format: defending the Champions League crown. Also, no champion has returned the year after the final and only three repeated themselves in F4 the next year (Kiel 2012-13, Vardar 2017-18 and this year’s Barça team).

It’s the challenge presented in the huge Lanxess Arena (18,000 spectators) to a team that last season hoisted the crown with overwhelming authority after winning every game, but that has changed in this one heavily changed. Xavi Pascual has been replaced (by Earthquake) by Carlos Ortega and Raúl Entrerríos, Kevin Moller, Aron Palmarsson and Casper Mortensen, among others, are no longer in the squad.

That campaign, his European tour, wasn’t nearly as flawless. In the group stage they lost three games and drew two; However, the competitive model does not address past lawsuits. It’s here and now. Two games, one master. On several occasions he appeared as a top favorite at the event and slipped at the first change. This time not such a tail arrives and the distance to the top remains the same.

Kiel, Veszprem and Kielce complete a very balanced list of candidates, although if you look at the past few weeks the only one who hasn’t received bad news is Barça. Kiel, the Catalans’ rival in the semifinals this Saturday (6 p.m., all duels on Dazn), suffered two major setbacks: the injury losses of Sander Sagosen, their star player, and Hendrik Pekeler, voted the best defender on the course and MVP in the Final Four 2020 that the German team beat against Barcelona.

These two absences inevitably favor Carlos Ortega’s boys to reach the final. However, goalkeeper Niklas Landin (chosen among the top seven of the year), Harald Reinkind and Domagoj Duvnjak remain in the team of former Barcelona player Filip Jicha (only 40 years old). things of the first order. “With Sagosen and Pekeler out, they will play in a new style. It’s a dangerous game for us,” warned Aitor Ariño, who, like Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas, is out for his fourth Champions League race.

A million for the champion

In the other semi-final (15.15), after a few days of disappointment, Veszprem and Kielce end up in Cologne, led by the former, who lost the Hungarian league at home and in the last second against his nemesis pick Szeged. One of his speakers, Rasmus Lauge, prefers to look further back to lift his spirits. “Last season the team was in a state of chaos. We turned it around completely. We’ve had an outstanding season so far,” he said last season. Kielce, cooked by the Dujshebaevs, fell to Wisla Plock in the Polish Cup final.

After a messed-up season, the champion will also collect one million euros in the top handball competition because of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Motor Zaporizhia, 250 kilometers from the conflict region of Donbas, suspended the competition for obvious reasons on the last two days of the group stage and because of the sponsorship of one of the main brands, Nord Stream 2, the producer of the gas pipeline between Russia and Germany and a subsidiary of the Russian energy company Gazprom withdrawn.

This Friday evening, before the four teams solve their sporting problems at the Lanxess Arena (again with the public after two bubble issues), all the players sleep in the same hotel.

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Source elpais.com

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