“Always great to be back”

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EHF / Björn Pazen

Everything is set for the EHF FINAL4 Men at LANXESS arena, with the main actors having checked in: After Barça arrived in Cologne on Wednesday evening, the three remaining participants made their journeys on Thursday. And right when entering the lobby of the hotel, they saw the object of desire: the EHF Champions League trophy, which will be handed over on Sunday.

“We wanted to be here as early as possible, so this is why we flew earlier,” said Barça goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas. On Thursday, the record winners and defending champions had their first session in the training venue. “All players look fit. We are ready for this event. We hope to go all the way, but in Cologne, you never know what happens.”

Barça are making their 10th participation in Cologne since the premiere of the event in 2010.

Lomza Vive Kielce were the second to arrive in Cologne, travelling from their hometown to Warsaw airport on Wednesday, staying overnight and taking an early flight on Thursday. In contrast to some previous years, all luggage arrived with them.

“We are happy to be back and we are ambitious. Let’s wait and see,” said coach Talant Dujshebaev, who steered the Polish champions to their only EHF Champions League trophy, in 2016. Like Barça, Kielce already had their first training session in Cologne.

THW Kiel took a charter flight from Kiel to Cologne and were the third team to arrive. “When you see the team hotel and the logos of the clubs and the event, your anticipation definitely rises. Finally, then you know, you are back,” said Viktor Szilagyi, manager of THW, adding: “Compared to our last stay here, it is much hotter and we can see people.”

In 2020, when Kiel took their fourth trophy, the event was rescheduled to late December and no fans were allowed in the arena due to Covid regulations. In contrast, this Saturday, temperatures around 38°C are forecast for Cologne.

For one THW player, the trip to Cologne was even more special than for the rest of the Kiel squad: Bjarte Myrhol. The 40-year-old Norwegian line player had retired from handball in June 2021, but has now signed by Kiel as replacement for injured line player Hendrik Pekeler. “If someone told me three weeks ago that I would restart playing handball and would be part of the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, I would have laughed out loud,” he said.

When Telekom Veszprém checked in at the team hotel close to LANXESS arena at around 19:30 local time on Thursday after a short delay in their journey, the arrival of the four teams was complete. “We had something like a little sightseeing trip from the airport to the hotel,” said manager Zsolt Sewinger.

For Veszprém coach Momir Ilic, the arrival was something like a homecoming: “It is always great to be back in Cologne. I played so many matches here at my second home; now I made it as a coach. We wanted to pass from the group stage. Now we are among the four best teams of the season — simply unbelievable, but we deserve to be here. And everybody knows, in Cologne everything is possible.”

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