Familiar faces and new kids on the block
Following the last quarter-final match on Sunday afternoon, all four teams for the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals in Kiel on 17 and 18 May have been found.
Two of the teams, THW Kiel and FC Porto Sofarma, are completely new to the EHF Cup Finals.
Of the two other participants, TTH Holstebro have been there once before, while Füchse Berlin are participating for the fifth time, having won the competition twice – including last year.
Before Tuesday’s draw, here are five observations from the second leg of the quarter-finals.
Gade’s fantastic entry
Grundfos Tatabanya KC were well on their way to their first final tournament in history, leading 22:16 at home against TTH Holstebro after losing the first leg 24:29.
The Hungarian home team seemed to be completely in control at this point, when Holstebro coach Patrick Westerholm sent Simon Gade in to replace Sebastian Frandsen in the Danish side’s goal.
This changed the game completely.
Through one magnificent save after the other, young Gade brought the visitors back in control. By limiting the defeat to 23:26, the Danish team celebrated their second finals berth – the first being in 2013, when they finished third in Nantes.
Lindholt’s thrilling birthday
Holstebro line player Niels Lindholt celebrated his 24th birthday in probably the best way he could dream of, as his team qualified for the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals with a two-goal aggregate win.
Successfully managing a huge workload in defence in particular, Lindholt contributed well to giving himself this welcome birthday present.
Porto finally broke the tie
After a completely level first leg between FC Porto Sofarma and Saint-Raphael Var Handball, which ended 30:30, the equality seemed to continue when the two teams met in Porto for the second leg on Saturday evening.
It was almost a sensation, as two goals were separating the teams at half-time when Porto were leading 17:15, and it did not take Saint-Raphael long to pull even again after the break. In the last 20 minutes of the match however, Porto finally broke away and took a relatively clear 34:30 win.
The victory sends Porto to the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals for the first time ever. In fact, it is the first time in history that a Portuguese team reached the EHF Cup Finals.
Third triumph for Andersson?
Porto’s AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals berth also means that Magnus Andersson has the chance to win the EHF Cup for a third time as coach.
The 52-year-old former playmaker for the Swedish national team and several top German and Swedish clubs won the competition with Frisch Auf Göppingen in 2016 and 2017.
Now, he has the chance to make it three – this time with EHF Cup Finals debutants Porto.
Will the German teams dominate again?
Leading by eight goals after winning the first leg 34:26 away against TSV Hannover-Burgdorf, Füchse Berlin finished the job as expected in the all-German tie. They won the second-leg clash in Max Schmeling Halle 30:28 and booked the ticket for their fifth EHF Cup Finals, thereby maintaining their chance to repeat their victory from last year.
Together with THW Kiel, Füchse form this season’s German representation. Alongside Porto, Kiel are debutants – but the EHF Cup is no new experience for the German club, of course. In fact, they won the competition three times in the past, but this will be their first EHF Cup Finals under the current format, which was introduced in 2012.
Not since 2014, when MOL-Pick Szeged won the competition, has a team outside Germany won the EHF Cup. An exciting question will be whether the German clubs’ dominance continues this year or if either Porto or Holstebro can take the title.Author: Peter Bruun / cg