So who had HSV Hamburg for the title then? Not just when the Final 4 was drawn and it was clear they would have to beat the big beasts of THW Kiel and FC Barcelona but back in September when they only just edged the Wild Card tournament final (coming from behind to beat hosts Saint-Raphaël Var) and then pitched into a group that included Flensburg-Handewitt, Montpellier, Reale Ademar Leon and Chekhovskiye Medvedi. But, despite all those obstacles, HSV have earned the right to be called European champions.
The Velux Final 4 had a bit of everything in the end. It had the relatively easy semi-final that showcased the grit of the victors: Barcelona on the back of 8 from Rutenka always had the edge over the Poles of Vive Targi Kielce. It had the semi-final with the result you didn’t see coming: Domagoj Duvnjak inspiring his Hamburg team-mates with 11 goals and Hamburg emerging victorious from a goal-fest. The Zebras almost unable to work out what had gone wrong. And then, in the third-place play off it had a confusion of names Kiel/Kielce (just me?) and the underdogs almost but not quite throwing away a 9 goal lead but hanging on – Kielce thus finished 3rd, Kiel 4th. And the main drama still to come.
If Hamburg’s semi-final had been a goal-fest the first half of the final was a defence-fest and one that looked like going the way of the Catalans. But with the first five minutes of the second half having more drama than the entire first the game swung. Twice Barcelona were pegged back only to take the lead again. Across the court were contests – not least in the goal. Sterbik in the Barcelona goal proved almost impossible to fire past whereas the athletic Bitter for Hamburg found his blocking limbs. Heading into the final stages Hamburg somehow had a four goal lead with a fast break that could have made it five … but Jansen missed and within the blink of an eye (it seemed) we were all tied. With the score at 25:24 Rutenka had a shot saved by Bitter but the rebound went straight back to him rather than the defence and making no mistake a second time we moved to extra time.
This was the first final to be decided in extra time and by now the crowd had discovered its German patriotism. I doubt there was a neutral across Europe wanting any result other than a victory for Martin Schwalb’s men. All were to get their wish but not before ten minutes of tension were played out.
As always seems to happen the scoring slowed. Neither side wanting to allow the other to dictate the pace. Hamburg caught a break when awarded a 7m penalty for a phantom foul and when Lindberg (the tournament’s top scorer) hit it to put HSV in front that was that. Just the small matter of a Bitter save, a Barcelona steal, a shot over the top and a final attempt after time up to cram into the remaining 120 seconds. Hamburg had earned the right to cling on. Their joy was unconfined, Barcelona looked shell-shocked.
“So much drama …” said ehftv commentator Tom O’Brainnagain. He was right. This was a final that reminded you of the straightforward magnificence of sport in general and the brutal beauty of handball in particular.
Want to see it again? Oh, go on …
If you haven’t already done so locate the a full replay of the Fuechse Berlin v Barcelona match and don’t answer the phone for the next two hours. Your life will be much better for it.
Having done that, let’s look over this weekend’s results in the men’s and women’s Champions League – and also see the fixtures for this week’s matches. Starting with the men …
The leadership of Group A switched hands following the draw between Chekhovskiye Medvedi and HSV Hamburg – their second tie in the group stage. The lack of winner opened the way for SG Flensburg-Handewitt who took advantage by overwhelming Partizan Belgrade. Those three have qualified. The fourth place is between Ademar Leon of Spain and Montpellier. In their head-to-head it was the Spaniards who emerged victorious 30:28. Both teams now sit on five points with two matches remaining.
Group B remains tight with only the super soaraway leaders of MKB Veszprém and the annoyingly consistent THW Kiel assured of qualification. They both won again at the weekend – by a combined margin of 21 goals. Atletico Madrid did their qualification chances no harm at all with a win over Celje Pivovarna Laško – realistically with 8 points they are now through. The other three can scrap amongst themselves for the final qualifying berth.
Two teams in Group C have a solitary win to their name but at least one of those, Chambery, can also say they have known only victories in 2013. They will need two more wins and a lot of luck to overturn the team they beat, Bjerringbro-Silkeborg of Denmark, but at least they are still alive. Gorenje, Metalurg and Vive Targi Kielce are already through.
In Group D we had the aforementioned belter between Fuechse Berlin and the Catalan Supermen. It ended with victory for the Germans. Somehow. Elsewhere, Croatia Zagreb have appealed the result in their defeat to Dinamo Minsk based on a player returning prematurely in the 2 minutes and Kadetten Schahffhausen smashed Pick Szeged. It’s one from Zagreb, Szeged and Schaffhausen for the final spot.
We’re into the Main Round (Second Group Stage) in the women’s Champions League. In Group A, the powerhouses are looking powerful. Larvik have now won two from two and this time out edged a tight one in Buducnost. Gyori Audi had an occasionally tough and always noisy game in Denmark in Randers but took the points. It’s looking good for Gyori and Larvik to progress.
Similarly in Group B, two teams have two wins: Krim Ljubljana beat Romanian opponents Oltchim Ramnicu Vâlcea 28:24 and Ferencvaros (they’re called FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria for sponsorship kicks) edged a very close one (but not defensively great) against the Russians Zvezda Zvenigorod.
This week’s fixtures which will all be covered live (and legal) by ehftv.com – over on Premier Sports it looks like ice hockey is being shown when the match of the week would be on so we’re internet-only in the UK – are below:
Wednesday 6pm (UK): SG Flensburg-Handewitt – Reale Ademar Leon
Thursday 7pm – Kadetten Schaffhausen v Fuechse Berlin
Saturday 3pm – St Petersburg v Metalurg
Saturday 3.15pm – Barcelona v Croatia Zagreb
Saturday 3.30pm – Celje Pivovarna Lasko – HCM Constanta
Saturday 4pm – Vive Targi Kielce – Chambery
Saturday 4.15pm – Pick Szeged v Dinamo Minsk
Saturday 6pm – Partizan Belgrade – HSV Hamburg
Sunday 4pm – Atletico Madrid v IK Savehof
Sunday 4pm – Bjerringbro-Silkeborg – Gorenje Velenje
Sunday 6pm – THW Kiel – MKB Veszprem (Match of the Week – Commentary in English)
Sunday 6pm – Montpellier – Chekhovskiye Medvedi
Saturday 4.45pm – Larvik v Gyori Audi
Saturday 5pm – Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea v Zvezda Zvenigorod
Sunday 2.15pm – Krim Liubljani v Ferencvaros Rail Cargo Hungaria
Sunday 6pm – Randers v Buducnost
Blimey … you wait for months for some Champions League handball and then three matches come along at once. If this was US primary season they’d be calling it Super Thursday. As it is, we’ll just direct you to the three games you can see today via the good people at EHF TV (free, uninterrupted but no commentary).
(A recap: this is match round 8 of the group stage. As there are six teams per group there are ten matches and four qualifiers. Quite a lot of the qualification, if not placings, has already been decided).
We start at 2.45pm with Chekhovskie Medvedi at home to HSV Hamburg. The two teams top their group and drew 27:27 in Hamburg back in October. The “Chekhov Bears” (and indeed HSV) have lost to German opposition in the Champions League this year – away t0 Flensburg-Handewitt. Providing the two teams play to their best and field first teams this should be a close one.
That’s followed at 6.30pm by another match from Group A. Partizan Beograd (Belgrade) recorded a home win over Spanish opposition in October but haven’t collected a single point away from home so far. Today they are at Flensburg-Handewitt whose two drawn matches prevent them occupying top spot. This one should not be close.
Finally, at 7pm, a match that could mean a lot for qualification. Pick Szeged have four points, Kadetten Schaffhausen have 2. In their previous encounter in Hungary, Szeged won by the odd point in 59. Schaffhausen’s sole win was at home and if they repeat that today they will be back in the mix for the fourth and final qualifying spot in this group.
Live handball returns to our legal internet streams again this weekend with the final three games of Matchday 1 of the Main Round of the EHF Women’s Champions League. This is where the competition gets properly serious and there’s a lot to look forward to.
Saturday sees what is probably the Match of the Week as Györi Audi play host to Buducnost in a rerun of last season’s final. Buducnost have not travelled particularly well on their Champions League travels this year losing to both Thueringer and Zvezda Zvenigorod in the previous group round. Györi qualified from the group with six wins from six and in Anita Görbicz have the poster girl for the women’s Champions League (at least as far as every EHF advert ever produced is concerned). You’d probably back Györi today but without going too far out on a limb there’s a reasonable chance that as well as their return fixture these two will meet again in the knock out stages – although Larvik, who won last week, may disagree.
Sunday in Group 2 sees, happily enough, two matches. at 2pm UK it’s the Russians of Zvezda Zvenigorod against the Slovenians of Krim Ljubljana. Ljubljana needed a last-match win to come through the previous grouop stage whereas their opponents, who had to come through a qualifying tournament to reach the Champions League won five matches for an easy progression. Let’s assume that at home they will do so again.
The second group 2 match is between CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea (that’s easy for you to say, etc etc) and the team that the EHF and the listings call FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria but that wikipedia wants to call Ferencvárosi. Either way, both these teams have pedigree: the Hungarians are twice Champions League finalists and current EHF Cup Winners Cup holders; the Romanians are likewise previous finalists and have also won their domestic title eighteen times in the past twenty-four years. The hosts will have to do without Cristina Neagu, the world’s best player in 2010, who following a return in the autumn from a 20-month lay-off has now torn her ACL and will play no more this season. As for who will win today: CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea are so far unbeaten in the Champions League and “FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria” dropped only the match away to Larvik, and that was after they’d qualified. Which means I haven’t a clue but it should be close.
Links to all the matches – as well as some in the EHF Cup and other tournaments – can be found here.
Tomorrow sees the return of the EHF Women’s Champions League with the first match of the main round. The ‘Main Round’ is the second group stage of the competition wherein the eight remaining teams slug it out for the semi final spots. This weekend, oddly(*), sees only the one match but it could be a good one: the Scandinavian ‘derby’ between the Norwegians of Larvik and the Danes of Randers.
Randers finished second in their group with a three wins, three losses record and were dependent on a final game victory over Hypo Niederoesterreich to progress. Larvik were Champions League winners in 2011 but were overwhelmed by winners Buducnost in the semi finals last year. The bookies make Larvik 1/8 favourites and in their two previous Champions League meetings (in 2010) they were indeed comfortable winners. But if for no other reason than it’s good both to have the Champions League back and handball available in the UK via decent streams let’s hang on to the idea that it might be a bit closer than all that suggests.
(* = It’s because the Larvik arena is double-booked next weekend).
If you’re a fan of Kiel or Atletico then you’re in luck today because if you’ve got two chances to see your boys on British TV.
The lovely folks at Premier Sports will be showing today’s EHF Champions League group match in full at 4.15pm UK (Sky Channel 428) whereas British Eurosport 2 (Sky 411) will be showing highlights at 11.30pm.
British Eurosport 2 is also your home for the Euro 2012 Daily Show. Throughout the tournament at midnight and 5.45am they will be showing an EHF-produced review of the day’s events. No live coverage that I can see – for that you’ll need to head over to the EHF Euro YouTube channel.
Fun though the EHF TV commentary is let’s enjoy Szeged’s last-gasp glory against Schaffhausen all over again – only this time with the local commentators subtitled in French.