20 May. 2022
The EHF FINAL4 card is now complete after the quarter-finals ended on Thursday, with only one team, the reigning champions Barça, returning from last season’s line-up to the business end of the EHF Champions League Men.
Łomża Vive Kielce, Telekom Veszprém HC and THW Kiel are the other three teams that will fight for the coveted trophy, with the business end of the competition taking place on 18 and 19 June in the LANXESS Arena in Cologne, Germany.
The Spanish powerhouse, who underwent a major rebuilt, as Carlos Ortega took over the coaching position from Xavi Pascual, lost three games in the group phase, but still finished second to proceed to the quarter-finals.
With two wins in two games against SG Flensburg-Handewitt, 33:29 and 27:24, Barça had little trouble to qualify for the EHF FINAL4 for the fourth season in a row and for a record 10th time in 13 seasons since the current format of the competition has been introduced.
Tunisian line player Youssef Ben Ali, signed last November to cover for the injuries of Luis Frade and Ludovic Fabregas, scored 13 goals over the two legs, while French right back Dika Mem jumped to the first place in the top scorer standings of the EHF Champions League Men, putting 12 past Flensburg, to improve his overall tally in this season to 90 goals.
Last season’s finalists, Aalborg Håndbold, could not manage to repeat their performance, after falling short against Telekom Veszprém HC. The Hungarian side clinched a clear 36:29 win in the first leg, as Aalborg could not mount the comeback they wanted in the second game, despite a 37:35 win.
Slovenian right wing Gašper Marguč recorded 12 goals over the two games, as centre back Kentin Mahé added 11 goals for Veszprém, who qualified for the EHF FINAL4 for the seventh time over the last eight seasons. However, from the four teams that will vie for the trophy, Veszprém are the only one to have never won the European premium competition.
The most lopsided quarter-final was the one between Łomża Vive Kielce and Montpellier Handball, with the Polish side taking a clear 61:50 aggregate win, including a 30:22 home win in the second leg.
Despite losing four games in the group phase, Kielce proved once again that they are one of the teams to beat if injuries do not derail their end of the season, peaking at the right time, especially in defence.
Saving the best until last, THW Kiel and Paris Saint-Germain Handball offered one of the most dramatic double-headers in recent memory, especially after the first leg ended in a stalemate, 30:30.
As PSG took control of the game in the first half and led by as many as three goals, Kiel waited patiently to strike and they did just that early in the second part of the game, when they embarked on a 7:2 run that left PSG without an answer.
Norwegian right back Harald Reinkind and Danish left wing Magnus Landin Jacobsen combined for five goals over that run, as PSG looked out of sorts. However, the French side bounced back and even tied the game at 31:31 with two minutes to go.
Giving it their all on the court and risking everything with a seven-aggainst-six attack, Kiel scored two goals in a row to build a 33:32 lead, with Dutch centre back Luc Steins seeing his last-gasp shot saved at the buzzer by IHF World Player of the Year Niklas Landin Jacobsen.
The champions from the 2019/20 season, THW Kiel, are back in Cologne after a one-year hiatus, while PSG’s dream to win the European premium competition are once again shattered.
The draw for the semi-finals of the EHF FINAL4 will take place on 24 May, while the business end of the EHF Champions League Men is played on 18 and 19 June in the LANXESS Arena in Cologne, Germany.
For more information on the EHF Champions League Men, visit eurohandball.com.
Header photo: THW Kiel / Sascha Klahn