Five talking points after Magdeburg’s magic triumph
That is a wrap. After 132 games, the 2022/23 edition of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League is done and dusted. The four teams at the TruckScout24 EHF FINAL4 in Cologne closed the season in style with four enthralling matches. Here are five talking points after the weekend that saw SC Magdeburg return to the throne after 21 years.
Magdeburg’s fairy tale lasted all season long
It had been 17 years since SC Magdeburg last played in the EHF Champions League, and 21 since they won the trophy. And you can say that the German side celebrated their comeback in style, as SCM defied the pre-season odds by qualifying for the EHF FINAL4 in their first season back. They did get the scalp of many powerhouses along the road, including Telekom Veszprém HC and Paris Saint-Germain Handball.
But as their line player Magnus Saugstrup pointed out, Magdeburg did not come to Cologne just to enjoy the show. They first ended two-time defending champions Barça’s unbeaten run of 25 matches with a breath-taking shootout in the semi-final, before beating Barlinek Industria Kielce after extra time in the final.
Magdeburg’s unlikely run to the trophy was personified best by Gísli Kristjánsson, who recovered just in time from what looked like a season-ending ankle injury, then had another unbelievable recovery from the shoulder dislocation he sustained on Saturday before playing the final on Sunday and being named MVP.
Aleix Gómez makes history
At the age of just 26, Barça’s Aleix Gómez has already made EHF FINAL4 history by becoming the best scorer of all time in the EHF FINAL4. In five visits to Cologne, Gómez has now racked up 70 goals, two more than the previous top scorers, Mikkel Hansen and Kiril Lazarov.
Gómez netted 12 times in total this weekend, including eight in the semi-final against Magdeburg and four in the third place match against PSG.
Gómez’ first participation in the EHF FINAL4 was in 2019; he lifted the trophy twice, in 2021 and 2022. Last season, Gómez was the best scorer of the EHF Champions League with 104 goals, but he missed too many matches this season because of injury to be able to come close to that total again.
The top scorer did not make it to the EHF FINAL4
For the first time since the EHF FINAL4 was implemented in 2010, the top scorer of the competition did not travel to Cologne. Emil Madsen is one of the three players that crossed the 100-goal mark this season, along with PSG’ Kamil Syprzak and Kielce’s Arkadiusz Moryto. But Madsen was the only player who was not in Cologne last weekend, since GOG did not get past Barça in the quarter-finals, but the Danish side’s offensive power helped the right back to the top position. In the end, Madsen’s tally of 107 remained out of reach for Syprzak (103) and Moryto (100).
By the way, two more GOG players made the top 10 of the goal scorers list: Simon Pytlick scored 94 goals, and Lukas Jørgensen 84.
Paris’ EHF FINAL4 curse goes on
The 2023 edition of the EHF FINAL4 was the sixth to include PSG. The French side is third on the list of teams with most visits to LANXESS arena since the inaugural EHF FINAL4 in 2010, trailing only Barça and THW Kiel – who both lifted the trophy on multiple occasions.
That is the difference with PSG: out of their six attempts, they only once managed to win their semi-final while stumbling the other five times. In 2017, PSG played for the title but were defeated by Vardar. In 2023, the dream was already over after the semi-finals, losing to Kielce by a single goal (24:25).
The show was off and on the court
As has become a tradition at the EHF FINAL4, fans did not only witness four matches of great handball, but also a proper show both on and off the court. Debbie Schippers came to the LANXESS arena to perform three songs, including a rendition of We Are The Champions while Magdeburg were handed the trophy by EHF President Michael Wiederer.
The main show, though, took place on the court. A total of 255 goals were scored across four games, two of them went into extra time. 2023 will be remembered as the year when Magdeburg won the trophy on their first visit to Cologne – just like SG Flensburg-Handewitt, Vardar, and Montpellier HB have done earlier. There is a saying that that the underdogs are the favourites at the EHF FINAL4, and it has been proven right once again.
Photos © Uros Hocevar & Axel Heimken / kolektiff