A historic day as a lucky charm for Wiegert
27 April 2002 was a historic day for German handball. Teams from West or East Germany had won the Champions’ Cup, the forerunner of the EHF Champions League, 13 times, but had never lifted the Champions League trophy since its implementation in 1994.
The 2002 final was a rematch between two teams who had already met in the group phase: Fotex KC Veszprém and SC Magdeburg. In the group stage, both sides won their home matches – 24:20 in Veszprém and 25:22 in Magdeburg.
The first leg of the final was played on Hungarian ground.
“It was this old arena in Veszprém, completely overcrowded, with an incredible atmosphere. We played at Celje in the quarter-finals, and it was loud, but the final was much louder, the people were so close to the court,” says Bennet Wiegert.
The left wing – son of SC Magdeburg legend Ingolf Wiegert – was 20 years old, and had the biggest matches of his young career ahead.
“Veszprém had an exceptional team, with Arpad Sterbik in the goal, the two Cubans Ivo Diaz and Carlos Perez, Zlatko Saracevic in the back and Mirza Dzomba as a wing, this team really stood out from the rest at this time,” says Wiegert.
And Veszprém profited from their home strength and the atmosphere to take a 23:21 victory in the first final. But on 27 April, Magdeburg struck back, steered by seven goals from Olafur Stefansson, five from Oleg Kuleshov, Joel Abati and Nenad Perunicic, and three by Stefan Kretzschmar. And in defence, Steffen Stiebler stood like a wall.
The whole arena and even the whole city went crazy when the final whistle was blown and SCM, then coached by Alfred Gislason, finally took the trophy. On the next day, more than 20,000 fans came to the official reception, when the team presented the trophy on the balcony of the city hall.
Six month later, the two sides clashed again in Magdeburg in the final of the EHF Champions Trophy, and again Magdeburg were the victors, winning 31:30 in the final. In November and December 2002 Veszprém won two group phase matches in the Champions League.
It took 20 years for the two clubs to lock horns again in an official match, as SC Magdeburg did not qualify for the Champions League between 2005 and 2022. In October 2022, they tied 35:35 in Veszprém and on Thursday the re-match in the round 12 Match of the Week in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League will be Veszprém’s first visit to Magdeburg in more than 20 years.
The arena will be the same as on that historic day, 27 April 2002. Remarkably, three people who were on court in that final are again involved: former Veszprém goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik is the visitors’ goalkeeper coach; former SCM defence boss Steffen Stiebler is the head of the SCM office; and Bennet Wiegert is the coach.
“I still remember those trips to Veszprém as if they were yesterday, it was always a tricky journey, because most of the time we went by bus,” Wiegert looks back.
Looking ahead he also knows that the significance of Thursday’s MOTW (20:45 CET, live on EHFTV) is eerily similar to 2002.
“If we win this match, we still have the chance to finish in second place in our group and to skip the play-offs; if we lose, this race is over for us,” Wiegert notes.
Currently Veszprém are two points ahead of Magdeburg. If SCM win, they are level on points, but have won the direct encounter against the Hungarian record champions. Mathematically , it would still be possible for Magdeburg to finish second after a defeat, but only if Veszprém take zero or one points from their two last group matches.
“We do not think like this. We have to win, and that’s all,” says Wiegert.
In general, the coach is surprised that his side is still in the race for the direct spot in the quarter-finals.
“We had not played in the Champions League for more than 15 years. We did not know how we would adapt to those strong opponents and how we would manage the burden of 14 group matches besides being the hunted in the German Bundesliga,” he says. “We managed to do much better than many people had thought. So I am more than happy to be in the current situation, when we talk about points.”
In the current situation, when talking about injuries, the emotions of Wiegert are rather different. Within four days, SCM lost two key players: Icelander Ómar Ingi Magnusson, top scorer in almost all competitions last season, needed to undergo heel surgery right after the World Championship. Meanwhile one week after winning the gold medal with Denmark, line player Magnus Saugstrup tore his cruciate ligament in the victorious cup quarter-final against Kiel. Both are out for the rest of the season.
SC Magdeburg have managed to sign Swede Oscar Bergendahl (best defender at the EHF EURO 2022) from TVB Stuttgart and Montenegrin right back Vladan Lipovina from HSG Wetzlar on an immediate basis and both are eligible to play for SCM in all competitions.
“But losing two of your cornerstones means for you as a coach that you have to rebuild and re-structure your team completely. We started almost at zero now,” says Wiegert.
The shock after Saugstrup’s injury was the reason why his side lost their first Champions League match of the year, last week at Plock (24:25), thinks Wiegrert.
“Plock played well, we under-performed and played far below par. But this is normal after such an injury,” the coach adds.
As Veszprém lost at home against GOG, nothing changed in the ranking, except that Paris Saint-Germain are now number 1.
“PSG are the only truly constant team in our group, which was full of surprising results throughout the season,” says Wiegert.
But still, his side has their fate in their hands – and hopes for a frenetic support from the stands.
“I am sure more than 5,500 fans will come on Thursday, and the arena would be sold out if the match was not that late, as then many families cannot attend the game. But I am sure that our fans will carry us on their wings in this crucial match against Veszprém,” he hopes.
Photos © pekaroland.hu