FEATURE: The teams meet the press at their media calls one day prior to the start of the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals 2017 in Göppingen
Superstition or not: “now it’s crunch time”
When Gerd Hofele, manager of Frisch Auf Göppingen, unveiled the newly designed trophy in the media room of the EWS Arena in Göppingen on Friday afternoon, every player could see what is at stake at the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals.
When each team arrived for their media call, the selected players were pictured in front of or with the trophy. While the players of French side Saint-Raphael Var Handball wanted to feel their potential prize for Sunday and put their hands on the silverware, Magdeburg’s coach Bennet Wiegert immediately let his players know about his superstitious way of thinking: “Never touch a trophy before the award ceremony, this is bad luck.”
“We looked at it, but did not touch it of course. But we want to have it in our hands on Sunday,” Magdeburg’s defence specialist Finn Lemke said during the media call. The German EHF EURO 2016 champion “desperately wants to win this title” in his last international match for Magdeburg, before he joins MT Melsungen next season.
But before dreaming of the trophy and even the final, Lemke & Co. face the hosts and defending EHF Cup champions Frisch Auf Göppingen in the first semi on Saturday (15:00 CET): “This is a truly tough match. We beat Göppingen twice in this Bundesliga season – each by one goal, which means that they were extremely lucky wins. Therefore, statistics mean nothing. There is no favourite here, not for the trophy, not for any semi-final.”
On the other hand, Frisch Auf hope for the support from the stands: “To know that our fans are backing us, is extra motivation,” says Göppingen goalkeeper Primoz Prost, adding: “It is always great moment to be part of a final tournament in an international competition, but it is even greater to have this event at home.” For the Slovenian “Magdeburg are slight favourites.” Last season, Göppingen eliminated Magdeburg in the quarter-finals to become the eventual champions in Nantes.
In the second semi-final of the LIQUI MOLY EHF Cup Finals, EHF Cup winners 2015 Füchse Berlin will face EHF Cup Finals debutants Saint-Raphael Var Handball at 17:45 hrs. local time.
After he had won the VELUX EHF Champions League twice with his former club FC Barcelona, Spanish world champion Daniel Sarmiento hopes for another historic moment: “We have our debut at an international final tournament. But I am confident that we can make history to become the first ever French side to win this competition.”
But even Sarmiento sees his team as the underdogs: “We are the challengers as Berlin are the favourites due to their experience and their high quality in the squad. They won the EHF Cup two years ago, they are in good form.” In the group phase, both semi-finalists clashed, with each team winning their home match. “There is no space for any surprise packages,” adds Romanian Saint-Raphael player Alexandru Simicu.
For Füchse Berlin, the main questions are whether their top scorer Petar Nenadic will be ready to rumble after an ankle injury, which occurred last week in the Bundesliga match against Kiel. “We hope that he will be fit,” says Füchse German EURO champion Fabian Wiede.
His Danish teammate Hans Lindberg is extremely keen on the upcoming weekend: “You work all season long in preparation to win a trophy. Now it is crunch time, so we will know afterwards if it worked well or not. We are happy to be here, but we hope that after the semi-final it is not over already.”
“There is huge anticipation for the event in the whole town,” said club manager Gerd Hofele. The fan and entertainment programme for the weekend is fully packed. In front of the EWS Arena there will be live music and shows on stage – right next to the fan village, where fans can take part in games and entertainment. Even the German national team coach Christian Prokop will come on Saturday.
Before the first semi-final, the new trophy will be presented by Carina Vogt double Olympic champion in ski jumping. On Saturday night, a huge fan party will take place in the courtyard of Göppingen’s castle.
Though hundreds of fans will support Magdeburg, Berlin and Saint-Raphael in Göppingen, Hofele expects a special boost of Frisch Auf: “Of course, we hope for a home advantage, but all four teams have the same chances to win.”
So maybe superstition will be decisive to those who touched the trophy before the event or not.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc
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