Machulla: “We need to keep cool and clever”
SG Flensburg-Handewitt are on the brink of yet another quarter-final exit in the EHF Champions League, after their 26:21 defeat in Aalborg in the first leg last week.
On Wednesday at 20:45 CEST, Flensburg need an outstanding performance to have a chance of making it to the EHF FINAL4 on 12/13 June.
“It is not fifty-fifty anymore. Aalborg have the upper hand and they have the match ball right in their hands,” Flensburg coach Maik Machulla said on the eve of the second leg.
“Five goals are a huge margin for the second leg. And as we scored so few goals at Aalborg, we definitely need to win by six.”
Flensburg are in the Champions League quarter-final for the 13th time since 2004. However, they have advanced to the semi-final on just four occasions – most recently in 2014, when they went on to win the trophy.
The ninth quarter-final exit is looming.
“We will include those great moments from Cologne in our preparation, some of our players have never been there, others have been part of this huge success in 2014,” said Machulla, who was assistant of head coach Ljubomir Vranjes in 2014 and was even listed as a player on the official match report of the final.
Flensburg had an outstanding group phase, which included two wins over Paris Saint-Germain Handball and ended with the top position in group A.
Now, the pressure is on.
“We didn’t play clever enough in Aalborg, we missed too many 100-percent chances,” Machulla said. “Aalborg have a top team, I was aware of that, but now we have to strike back. We proved in Bundesliga matches that we can make up a six- or seven-goal deficit.”
“A mixture of putting the pedal to the metal and pulling the hand break. We do not need to be ahead 5:0 after 10 minutes, but we have to put a constant pressure on Aalborg when it counts,” the coach said.
“We shall play as quick as possible, as high-speed handball is in Flensburg’s DNA, but still we need to have the heads up and keep cool and clever.”
Machulla’s mission is “to save power by running”: any easy goal will allow the players to save energy for the crunch time of Wednesday’s game.
“It is only half-time,” said back court player Mads Mensah, who played for Aalborg in the past, like Simon Hald.
Another factor coming into play Wednesday is the number of injuries Flensburg are suffering from, with even more players getting hurt in a Bundesliga game at Coburg (29:25 win) last Sunday.
Mainly the back court has been hit: Franz Semper has already been out for a month with torn ligaments, Simon Rød overstretched the inner ligament of his right knee in Aalborg, and the third right back, Alexander Petersson, could not play on Sunday because of an Achilles tendon issue.
And even mastermind Jim Gottfridsson is in doubt. The Swede has a bruised calf and skipped training on Monday.
“We still have some hope that Jim can play, but we will only know on match day,” said Machulla, who will use Mensah or Gøran Johannessen in Gottfridsson’s role if the MVP of the EHF EURO 2018 and the World Championship 2021 All-star Team member doesn’t recover in time.
This season is like a marathon and we are approximately at kilometre 37 now. There is still power for the last five kilometres, having in mind that we still can make it to Cologne and still can become German champions.
Machulla was disappointed with the will and attitude his team showed in Aalborg, and with the lack of cleverness in the final stages. After Flensburg were only 21:20 behind, they let the hosts easily pull away to 26:21 in the Danish side’s first quarter-final appearance.
Still, Machulla believed his team is still fit enough.
“We trained so hard in the season preparation to have the power to run for 60 minutes in the middle of May,” the coach said.
“This season is like a marathon and we are approximately at kilometre 37 now. There is still power for the last five kilometres, having in mind that we still can make it to Cologne and still can become German champions - our main goals of the season.”
Flensburg have lost their last three Champions League matches against Aalborg but did beat the Danish side in a pre-season test match – by eight goals, which would be more than enough on Wednesday to advance to the EHF FINAL4.