Claar eying perfect end to a crazy and fun season
Almost seven years ago, on 16 October 2014, Felix Claar was first featured on eurohandball.com. Our beloved former colleague, the late Peter Bruun, spoke to the 17-year-old Swede after he caught the eye of the handball world with a five-goal performance for Alingsås against KIF Kolding København.
Danish newspaper JydskeVestkysten mentioned following that game that “KIF Kolding København might as well have taken that student with them in the bus back to Denmark.”
It took six years for Claar to finally be brought to Denmark and almost seven years to be featured on eurohandball.com again, having played a key role in bringing Aalborg Håndbold into their first EHF FINAL4.
“It feels like such a long time ago but, of course, I have plenty of memories from that season with Alingsås, it was special to play that first season in the Champions League but it is a very different experience this time around with Aalborg,” says the now 24-year-old playmaker.
Since that debut season in Europe’s top flight, Felix Claar has been patient in his development, remaining with the Swedish club until last summer, a move that sparked a series of events beyond his wildest dreams when he was packing for Denmark this time last year.
“I could not have imagined I would be playing in a World Championship, going to the EHF FINAL4 and enjoying so much success in Denmark as well. It has been a crazy year but a really fun one.”
“At my highest level”
Claar arrived at the club alongside Nikolaj Laesø, another young playmaker, making that vital position one of the big question marks for Aalborg before this season.
But the pair of them have risen to the challenge and exceeded expectations, scoring over 100 goals between them on the journey to an EHF FINAL4 ticket in one of the most remarkable campaigns in years.
“We have had our ups and downs this season in Europe but the more the season went on, the better we got and it is incredible to have come this far.
“It has been the same for me, personally, I had some good and some bad games at the beginning of the season but things have improved and now, towards the end of the season, I think I am at my highest level,” says Claar, who scored 14 goals in the two quarter-final legs against Flensburg.
The majority of Aalborg’s players will be experiencing this event for the first time, though they are not short on international experience, with seven players included in the Danish and Swedish squads which competed in January’s World Championship final.
The most experienced of all is Henrik Møllgaard, the former PSG player who has worked brilliantly in tandem with Claar and Laesø as the three of them have found a way to deliver the goods at left and centre back in attack.
We have had our ups and downs this season in Europe but the more the season went on, the better we got and it is incredible to have come this far. It has been the same for me, personally, I had some good and some bad games at the beginning of the season but things have improved and now, towards the end of the season, I think I am at my highest level.
“The three of us are very different kinds of players. Nikolaj is a real hard shooter and can give us a lot of easy goals, Henrik can do a lot of things, he can shoot from outside and play with the line player, while I am maybe more about going one against one and then find teammates, so I think we have found a good balance between the three of us.”
“Biggest moment in my career”
Unlike their three opponents this weekend in Cologne, Aalborg have had to divert their focus away from the EHF FINAL4 somewhat as they are in the middle of the Danish league final against Bjerringbro-Silkeborg.
A one-goal loss on Tuesday meant the final will go to a third and final game next week but thankfully for Aalborg, they have something to distract them from the painful defeat.
“We had a really hard loss on Tuesday, losing a three-goal lead, but there is nothing we can do about it now, we can only look forward to the weekend.
“This will be the biggest moment in my career, playing on the biggest stage against the best teams in the world. It will be nice to have some fans there and it will be amazing.”
Aalborg will take to the court first on Saturday, facing Paris Saint-Germain in the semi-final at 15:15 CEST, a side still in search of glory at LANXESS arena having struggled to deal with being the favourites.
“We are playing against Paris, who have a lot of stars and good quality players in every position. When they are playing well, they look really good so we will probably have to play our best game ever to beat them.
“They have a really strong defence but we all know that we have our weapons in attack. Our job for the next couple of days is to study them and see how we can find the goals to win the game.
“PSG are the huge favourites but we have seen before that anything can happen here,” concludes Claar.