HC Vardar - FC Barcelona (INGLÉS)
The second semifinal will face HC Vardar and FC Barcelona at 18.00h on Saturday, June 3rd. It will be a match between two teams with a different history. On the one hand, HC Vardar, the rookie of this Champions League Final Four, since it is the first time the Macedonians reach this stage. On the other, the most prize-winning team of the competition history, FC Barcelona Lassa.
HC Vardar has qualified for the first time to a Champions League Final Four with a team full of great players, with four Spanish among them: Álex Dujshebaev, Joan Cañellas, Jorge Maqueda and Arpad Sterbik. They aren’t the only Spaniards in the team, since the coach is Raúl González and the assistant is David Davis. They have achieved the so-called “Spanish Vardar”.
Raúl González’s men won their group in the group stage, where they only lost in four matches: against KS Vive Tauron Kielce, Zagreb,Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Meshkov. Despite winning the group, these losses, especially the ones against Zagreb and Meshkov, raised some doubts around the consistency of the team in life-or-death matches, and also showed some irregularity.
As group leader, they didn’t play the last 16 and went directly into quarterfinals, where they faced Flensburg, which is always a tough squad. In this tie, they proved to be a serious team chasing the Champions League and succeeded in winning both legs. They won 24-26 in Germany and achieved a broader, solid win in Macedonia (35-27).
In addition, they have performed well in the Macedonian league and the SEHAleague, which makes them arrive in top form to the F4 in Cologne. They are the “rookies”, but also a team that will complicate things to historic squads and that dreams of winning their first Champions.
Their rival will be the greatest team in Europe, the one with more European champion trophies. It is the historic par excellence and reaches the Champions League F4 once again. The Catalan side did not qualify last season for the F4, after being defeated by THW Kiel in quarterfinals.
Xavi Pascual’s team suffered a huge renovation at the beginning of the season, with players like Dani Sarmiento, Eduardo Gurbindo, Sigurdsson or Saric leaving the club. Some top players, but younger and with less experience (in some cases) have signed for the club, like Lasse Andersson, Dika Mem, N’Guessan and Valero Rivera. With a mix of youth and experience, they have won ASOBAL league once more and, the most important for the Catalan side, they have reached again the EHF Champions League Final Four.
In this F4, they are not as favorites as in previous editions for the reasons mentioned above: too many young players in a team with not enough experience in the roster to be considered favorite, but, all in all, a team that is difficult to beat and that will fight for the European throne. If this youth might also mean lacking some experience, it also provides them more ambition and famine to show themselves to world, what makes FC Barcelona a very competitive team that can defeat every other squad in the competition, as proves in the group stage with a win against the favorite to lift the trophy, PSG.
In this group stage they topped their group, not winning only two matches (a draw and a loss). The draw was against THW Kiel in Germany, whereas the defeat was against PSG in France. After getting the first position in the group, like their semifinals rivals, they skipped the last 16 and went directly into the quarterfinals.
They played THW Kiel in this stage, a repetition of last season’s quarterfinals when the German team defeated them. This fact must definitely have come to mind to some Barcelona fans after losing 28-26 in Germany in the first leg of the tie. However, Xavi Pascual’s men came back in the second leg of the tie after winning 23-18 at Palau Blaugrana.