Clash of the titans as Kiel host Barcelona
Which giant of the game will make it to Cologne again? After Barcelona were unbeaten in both matches against THW Kiel this season, the eight-times champions are in a strong position. But Kiel know how to surprise.
The first leg of the quarter-final will be the 24th time both sides clash
Each team has in the past eliminated the other at this stage of the competition
Barcelona’s left backs Wael Jallouz and Filip Jicha face their former club
Barcelona and Kiel have both qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 18 times - a record
QUARTER-FINAL, FIRST LEG
THW Kiel (GER) vs FC Barcelona-Lassa (ESP)
Sunday, 17:30 hrs. local time
What can be more motivational than to become national champions again right before the most important matches of the season? FC Barcelona Lassa extended their unbeaten run in Liga Asobal to 117 straight victories with a 39:25 win over Bidasoa Irun for their 24th title in the Spanish league on Tuesday. For coach Xavi Pascual and players Jesper Noddesbo, Víctor Tomás Raul Entrerrios, Cedric Sorhaindo and Aitor Ariño it was the seventh straight trophy.
Tomás is the last survivor of the Barca team which won the EHF Champions League in 2005 and has won the competition three times, just like THW Kiel's Christian Zeitz. Kiel have just become German cup winners for the tenth time.
Yet one of these giants, who have between them won the EHF Champions League 11 times, will miss the VELUX EHF FINAL4. As in 2011, when Kiel were eliminated by Barcelona, and 2016, when THW got their revenge on the Catalans, this duel is part of the quarter-finals.
Repeat of 2016
In the group phase this season the scores were close - Barcelona winning 26:25 at home and the sides drawing 27:27 when THW hosted.
As last year, Barcelona skipped the Last16 by becoming group winner. The Catalan outfit will be hoping for a different outcome to 12 months ago, when a 29:24 victory in Kiel’s best match of the whole season was the key for their sixth ticket to Cologne.
In the group stage this year Kiel had a tricky ride, losing or drawing their last six VELUX EHF Champions League home matches. On the other hand, Barcelona took 12 wins from their 14 group matches - besides the draw in Kiel they lost in Paris.
Kiel avoided their first ever Last16 elimination in the EHF Champions League by beating Rhein-Neckar Löwen 26:24 after losing 24:25 at home.
THW lose captain Duvnjak
Kiel have lost their team captain ahead of the first leg of the quarter-finals. Domagoj Duvnjak had patella surgery on Tuesday and will be out for at least six months. Meanwhile Barcelona's goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas is in question after his finger surgery some weeks ago.
“It will be hard to play those season highlights without Domagoj, but it did not make any sense to wait with this operation,” said THW coach Alfred Gislason.
Sunday's match will be the 24th time Kiel and Barcelona have faced each other. Although Barcelona have won 11 of those duels to Kiel's 10, with two draws, THW have won eight of the previous 14 matches played at the Sparkassen-Arena.
While Barcelona may be coming into this quarter-final as favourites, it will be weighing on their minds that the last time they were victorious on Thiel's home ground was in the 2011 Champions League quarter-finals. Six years on, the stage is set for another fascinating contest.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / jh