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.
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).
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.
After some exciting matches including two draws the latest batch of Champions League fixtures ends today. Below are previews and links to Sunday’s matches. All being well a full review of this round will appear tomorrow morning. Please correct any errors in the comments.
Group B: THW Kiel v IK Savehof (3.15pm UK, live stream)
Kiel will win.
Group C: Bjerringbro-Silkeborg v Chambery (4pm UK, live stream)
Two teams who lost their opening matches. The Danes were late entrants to the Champions League, taking the place that had been allotted to AG Copenhagen, who they now (in resurrected form) trail in the Danish league having blown their own 100% domestic record last time out. In France, Chambery are unbeaten and are broadly keeping pace with Paris so it was something of a surprise that they lost at home to Metalurg in the Champions League. I’m backing the French team to win today.
Group A: RK Partizan v SG Flensburg-Handewitt (6pm UK, live stream)
Flensburg shared 74 goals with Montpellier in the opening round of fixtures with the match ending in a tie. If they share 74 goals today it’ll only because they’ve won 54:20. Their only enemy is surely cockiness. Partizan lost by 7 to Medvedi last week and lost nine times out of ten last year. The earth would tilt slightly off its axis if they did anything other than lose again today.
Group A: Montpellier v Reale Ademar Leon (6pm UK, live stream)
Match of the day as the embattled Montpellierians take on the Spanish dark horses. With the scandal breaking around them Montpellier drew with Flensburg but the next time out in the French League they lost to Toulouse which is something that just doesn’t happen. With this group becoming so tight – 5 of the 6 will be legitimately after the 4 places – they can’t afford to slip up in their home matches. I can’t really call this one.
No time this morning for a proper review of the three games so far – one wild encounter and two draws – but that’s okay because there are a chunk more coming up, including the first live game on Premier Sports in the UK. Here they are – and, as ever, correct me in the comments!
Group D: Barcelona v Fuechse Berlin (3.15PM UK, live stream)
The Catalan Powerhouse (TM) barely had to get out of second gear in registering a massive victory in their opening match in Switzerland whereas the 2012 Final 4 reps had a fiddlier victory at home to Dinamo Minsk. They will need a major step up in performance if they are to get something out of their visit to Spain but obviously are more than capable of rising to the big occasions. It was the Foxes, after all, who halted THW Kiel’s 40 match winning streak in the Bundesliga. Berlin’s top scorer from last season’s Champions League Sven-Sören Christophersen was quiet in the Minsk match so they’ll want a bit more from him and need to combine that with smart defence. Simple.
Group B: Celje Pivovarna Lasko – BM Atletico Madrid (3.30PM UK, live stream)
The bottom two in Group B meet in Slovenia and anything other than a big win for the Spanish giants over their hosts will be a shock so severe French authorities will want to investigate the betting. Madrid were far from coherent in their game against Kiel but five wins from five in the Asobal (with an average win of +5) show that they have little problem getting past weaker outfits. Celje will have to wait until the visit of IK Savehof before they a realistic chance for a home win.
Group C: St. Petersburg – Vive Targi Kielce (4pm UK, live stream)
A match only a mother could love. St Petersburg got a handball lesson from Gorenje Velenje in the last match whereas the nine-time Polish champions eased past the second-best team in Denmark. They did so on the back of a combined 16 goals thrown in by Ivan Kupic and Zeljko Musa who both practically doubled their tally in European competition in one game. Presumably St Petersburg will be tougher nuts to crack, especially at home, but you’d have to back an away win here.
Group D: Pick Szeged v Kadetten Schaffhausen (4.15pm UK, Live on Premier Sports)
The first Match of the Week to be broadcast in the UK on Premier Sports and it’s not exactly the one you’d be rushing to tell your mates about. The Hungarian hosts fought back well in Zagreb last week but were still comfortably beaten and for the Swiss there was only the inevitable home defeat to Barcelona. They will both have marked this game as being a possible win but the bookies make the home team firm favourites. That may be unfair on Schaffhausen but given that even Montpellier came unstuck in Szeged last year (no comments please) it’s probably wisest to back the Magyars.
Group C: HC Metalurg v Gorenje Velenje (5pm UK, live stream)
Two teams that won in their first matches will be looking to further strengthen their chances of qualifying out of the wide-open Group C. Metalurg caused a bit of a shock by beating Chambery in France in the opening game and are comfortable favourites here. The boys from Skopje aren’t top of their regional league but that’s possibly because they’ve only played one game in it so far – but they did win that 31:19 – and it took a strong Zagreb performance to knock them out last year with Metalurg winning the home leg but losing on aggregate. Two-time champions of Slovenia, Gorenje Velenje are unlikely to be winning today.