Hungry Foxes and Spanish "campeones of the hearts"

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EHF / Björn Pazen

The EHF Finals Men have come to an end with a dominant win of Füchse Berlin in the final against Granollers, while Göppingen finished third ahead of Montpellier. Here are seven talking points at the end of the European League Men season.

Füchse Berlin: Unstoppable from the start to the end

The international season of Füchse Berlin was like Swiss clockwork – precise, no breaks, no delays. But funnily enough the only problem for this “Swiss clockwork” occurred in Switzerland, when Füchse lost the first leg of the quarter-finals 33:37 and were close to elimination! But by turning around the result on home court, Füchse were the big favourites for the trophy in Flensburg. Finally they played their role in style, a bit shaken in the first halves of the semi-final against Montpellier and the final against Granollers. But when it counted, the star-studded squad from the German capital was unbeatable.

Wining 15 of 16 European League matches shows the masterclass of the Foxes – who have composed a squad which would definitely fit in the EHF Champions League. Goalkeeper Dejan Milosavljev ended his downswing of the last matches with a bang against Montpellier, Mijajlo Marsenic and Marko Kopljar are a human wall in defence, the wings Hans Lindberg and Milos Vujovic run and score and score and run, while the Danish back court axis with Mathias Gidsel, Jacob Holm and Lasse Andersson combines several world championship trophies. And do not forget tournament MVP Fabian Wiede, whose six goals paved the way to the trophy. This team is built for future success, in the German Bundesliga and maybe in the Champions League. “Winning the European League hopefully was the start of a great journey in the hunt for titles,” said Gidsel.

Granollers are the "Campeones of the hearts"

“Unbelievable.” This was the top answer, when asking all Granollers players and staff about the EHF Finals and the whole European League season. They started from zero, lost both home matches in the last 16 and quarter-final, but eliminated Skanderborg and Flensburg. The 31:29 in the semi-final against Göppingen was the icing on the cake for the Spanish underdogs, and though their fairy tale ended in the final against Berlin, they celebrated with their fans in Campushalle. “We are the happiest ever loser of a final,” said coach Antonio Rama, “we have reached much more than anybody expected from us. I hope the experience we gained in Flensburg will be crucial for the development of the team.” The fans in the arena were singing “campeones, campeones”, and definitely Granollers were the “champions of the hearts”.

Young guns such as Jan Gurry (20), who netted eight times against Göppingen, or Faruk Yusuf (19), on loan from Kielce, characterise the squad, with many more talents are on the rise. In terms of saves, Rangel Luan de Rosa was the number 1 of all European League goalkeepers. And one veteran mastermind showed his class despite being 39 years of age: Antonio Garcia Robledo was top scorer for his side with 94 strikes, finishing in third overall. “This was a dream coming true, simply unbelievable”, said Garcia – and hopes his side might write another fairy tale in future.

Göppingen show two faces

Four times, Frisch Auf Göppingen have won the EHF Cup and by winning the trophy at Flensburg, they could have become the outright records winners in the second-tier competition. But after winning all knock-out matches in the Last 16 and the quarter-finals, they showed their weakest international performance of the past month when it counted – in the semi-final against Granollers. Göppingen were outrun by the young Spaniards, committed a huge number of mistakes in attack, and their goalkeeping duo were not at their best. Losing 29:31 against the Spanish underdogs was the logical consequence. 

But on day two, Göppingen showed their abilities – fighting spirit, a powerful defence, combined with the strong goalkeeping of Marin Sego in crunch time and efficiency in attack. They turned the match around in the last ten minutes and made their fans happy, knowing that next season they will not play on the international stage.

Montpellier’s dream ended in defeats

History repeated for Montpellier HB: Like in 2014, when they made it to the final of the EHF Cup, they missed this historic moment. Still, no French team has won the second-tier competition in men’s European club handball. Finishing fourth was a setback for Montpellier’s huge hopes – but twice the team of coach Patrice Canayer let matches slip through their fingers after the breaks.

Despite great performance of the youngster Janis Lenne, Kylian Villeminot or Julien Bos, Montpellier returned home with two defeats. Missing two top stars – Diego Simonet and Hugo Descat – was too tough a burden for Montpellier, though Stas Skube was a perfect replacement for Simonet. But still, they have another chance next season, either in the European League again or even in the Champions League.

German dominance

After a one-year break – Magdeburg lost the 2022 final in Lisbon to hosts Benfica after extra time – the second most important European cup trophy is back in Germany. Since 2013, the winner of the EHF Cup/European League has been determined in EHF Finals, and with the exceptions of 2022 and 2014 (Pick Szeged from Hungary), the winners have always come from the German Bundesliga: Rhein-Neckar Löwen as the inaugural winners, twice each for Berlin and Göppingen (2016/2017), then Kiel (2019) and finally Magdeburg (2021). Since 2004, 17 of the 19 title holders have come from Germany – a real dominance. And the Füchse triumph in Flensburg also means that Germany has an additional place in the starting grid of the European League in the 2023/24 season.

Fan support

There were some worries about the attendance, when EHF Finals hosts SG Flensburg-Handewitt were eliminated by Granollers in the quarter-finals. But finally, the Campushalle was almost sold-out with four great groups of fans in the four corners. Granollers’ fans made the biggest noise and started a big party, even as their team lost the final. Füchse had the biggest number of fans in Flensburg while Göppingen support was easily to spot with their green heads and Montpellier’s fans caused a great atmosphere too. The neutral fans, too, enjoyed two great days of handball. “You could see that EHF Finals are highly successful even if the hosts are not part of it. Flensburg did a great job as organisers”, said EHF Executive member Xavier O'Callaghan.

Future changes in the Men’s European League

From the 2023/24 season on, the field of participants in the first group stage of the Men’s EHF European League will increase from 24 to 32 teams (eight groups of four teams). Only one qualification round will be played, from which the 16 aggregate winners will proceed to the group stage, joining 16 automatic qualifiers. The teams ranked first and second in each group advance to the main round, which consists of four groups of four teams, while results from the group matches will be carried over. The winners of the four main round groups proceed to the quarter-finals; the teams ranked second and third meet in a play-off round for the remaining four quarter-final spots. Finally, the EHF Finals remain the pinnacle event of the competition.

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