Summary: Barça back on top of Europe after six years
Barça were the team to celebrate when the EHF Champions League Men 2020/21 season culminated in a thrilling EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. The Spanish side secured their ninth title in the top flight after defeating Aalborg in the final and Nantes in the semi-final.
- Photo with the winning team taken for the first time on top of LANXESS arena
- Barça take their third EHF FINAL4 victory, defeating Aalborg 36:23
- PSG win the 3/4 placement match, beating Nantes 31:28
- Aalborg beat Paris 35:33 in the first semi-final
- Barça stay in the running for a ninth EHF Champions League title with a 31:26 victory vs Nantes
- 2020/21 All-star Team, presented by Gorenje, announced on Friday. Read about the selection
Sunday 13 June
We finish up with a look at the performances of Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Valero Rivera, the two Spaniards who were named MVP and top scorer tonight. Their results ought to bring extra confidence to the Spanish team as they move into Olympic preparation.
Thanks for following the blog this weekend, and we hope you enjoyed every second of the EHF FINAL4 as much as we did!
I am very proud of the teamwork, of all the work we put through all the season. We work hard, during all the trainings, all the matches, and we deserve to be here. The chance to end my career with this trophy is very special, I will never forget it
If you missed any of the action today, watch the highlights on YouTube and check out the match reviews.
Several players are leaving Barça this season, but none have had such an impact as Raul Entrerrios. His success has been linked to that of coach Xavier Pascual (moving to Dinamo Bucuresti) and the team is likely to look very different next year.
Entrerrios is due to retire after the Tokyo Olympic Games, where he will be hoping to collect yet another medal for Spain.
Head over to Twitch now for post-match analysis from Markus Floth and Dominik Klein!
The awards for MVP of the tournament and top scorer of the EHF Champions League season were presented a little while ago.
Gonzalo Perez de Vargas, who made 14 saves tonight and scored three goals, was named MVP, while Nantes' Valero Rivera topped the scorer's list with 95 goals across the season. He edged out Barça's Dika Mem and Brest's Mikita Vailupau.
19:30 | FULL-TIME
It was not to be the day for Aalborg. Barça complete their perfect season with a dominant win, sending off their coach Xavier Pascual and captain Raul Entrerrios in style. It's the biggest ever win in an EHF FINAL4 final and one they are celebrating vigorously on court.
Barça have a 32:21 lead now, and there are five minutes left.
If Aalborg do come back from this Lukas Sandell will be largely to thank. He's scored eight goals from nine attempts, repeatedly breaking past Gonzalo Perez de Vargas.
Barça have taken a 10-goal lead and Aalborg's hopes are vanishing. Their opponents just have more speed and more depth to play with. This trophy is in Barça's hands unless Aalborg can do something extraordinary.
Stefan Madsen has taken a timeout. Simon Gade is doing a decent job in goal, but Barça are still out-shooting Aalborg.
However, Lukas Sandell is really performing with eight goals so far to keep Aalborg's hopes a little bit alive.
Barça are giving Aalborg very few chances, punishing every small mistake by the Danish team and scoring quickly every time they get the ball. It's 23:15 now, eight and a half minutes in.
Within seconds of the second half starting Luka Cindric has scored.
This might have been the pick of many good Barça goals during the first half - their three Slovenian stars combining beautifully.
18:45 | HALF-TIME
BARçA 16:11 AALBORG Håndbold
That was an interesting first half, with Aalborg making the perfect start but Barça roaring into gear and looking dangerously good. However, EHF journalist Kevin Domas is not writing the debutants off.
"Barça have been playing the perfect game so far, with a strong defence and not conceding a single goal on fastbreaks. But being ahead by five, at an EHF FINAL4, means close to nothing, as Aalborg showed yesterday. The Danish side will need to be a little more precise offensively and more compact defensively if they want to come back."
Aalborg are fighting but Barça are still stronger and their defence is solid.
Raul Entrerrios scores his first goal of his last game for Barça into an empty goal, as the seven-on-six tactic backfires for Aalborg. Barça now lead 14:9.
Barça's skill is being able to read what is going on at all times - as shown in this glorious sequence.
Stefan Madsen has chosen to go for a seven-on-six attack - this proved costly for Nantes yesterday against Barça. However Aalborg eventually manage to break through the Barça defence and Felix Claar scores.
Sebastian Barthold breaks Aalborg's period of no goals with a good shot, but Barça waste absolutely no time and Luka Cindric makes it 10:6, just inside 16 minutes.
It's been a long time since Aalborg managed to score, and they've squandered a powerplay period with a foul by Lukas Sandell on Luka Cindric. Dika Mem is off for Barça, and Sandell goes off for Aalborg.
Aalborg have called their first timeout after a 6:0 run from Barça. The record champions have stepped up the pace, defending hard then scoring on fastbreaks. It's 8:5.
Barça have held their nerve against Aalborg's brilliant start and brought it level at 5:5. Aleix Gómez steps up for a penalty and it goes in - unlike this earlier Jure Dolenec effort, saved superbly by Mikael Aggefors. Ten minutes in the score is 6:5.
The Czech referees pause the game to check a shot from Lukas Sandell that just crept across the line - it was good, and Aalborg briefly have a 5:2 lead before Dika Mem scores his second, and Blaz Janc goes racing off on a fastbreak to make it 4:5.
A fast start from Aalborg give them an early 2:0 lead before Luka Cindric scores for Barça.
Here we go! Can Aalborg beat Barça for the first time in nine meetings when it really counts? They've got closer and closer over the years, and in December lost by just three goals. Or will Barça produce the perfect end to their perfect season?
We're about to find out.
The teams are being introduced - get ready, the show is about to start!
Here's the squads today. The big news is that Aron Palmarsson is back for Barça, displacing left wing Alex Pascual.
Aalborg have brought in Mark Strandgaard on the right wing, with 19-year-old Mikkel Rasmussen sitting this match out.
The teams are warming up ...
Half an hour until the final! Kevin Domas offers his predictions - it's Barça's to lose, but Aalborg could well upset the favourites.
"It's hard to argue with the fact that, ahead of the final, Barça are the favourites. But this is actually the perfect position for Aalborg, a team that no-one expected at this level of competition. The Danish side will have nothing to lose this afternoon, and that could be their chance.
Just like Nantes yesterday, their plan will be to stay into the game for as long as they can, to put pressure on Barça and to hope that they can make the most of all opportunities. This might look like an unbalanced final, but I'm sure it will be much closer than a lot of people think it will be."
It is always difficult to play this kind of match, but we managed to be aggressive and we fought from the first to the last second. We are still disappointed, but at least we finish the season in a good way.
Before this weekend PSG needed 64 goals to hit 4,500 in the EHF Champions League and Luc Steins delivered with the team's final shot.
16:48 | FULL-TIME
PSG hold on and take third place for a second EHF FINAL4 running. That's the last match for several players for these two clubs, and notably Rock Feliho who retires from Nantes.
PSG are back out to a four-goal lead, and there's less than three minutes left. Despite another timeout for Nantes, the match appears to be done.
Dylan Nahi has come on and made an immediate impression, scoring three goals in two minutes.
Meanwhile, here's Kiril Lazarov's equaliser.
A short period of inattention and PSG regain a 26:24 lead. Alberto Entrerrios calls a timeout, and as it ends, Rock Feliho tells his teammates that they're not going to end this match like yesterday.
Raul Gonzalez calls a timeout, and Paris discuss their attacking tactics. Dragan Pechmalbec is named as a target. It's 24:24 with just over 10 minutes left in this placement match.
And there's the equaliser, a stunning goal from Kiril Lazarov, showing all his experience to shoot into the corner past Vincent Gerard.
Nantes remain in it, but have been unable to equalise.
Dainis Kristopans is having an impact on the match today in both attack and defence, with three goals to his name. You can't stop the big Latvian when he does this.
Aymeric Minne makes it 21:22. Nantes are really on the attack, and defending hard as well.
Nantes are getting more shots away currently, and it's back to 18:20 with some more great saves by Cyril Dumoulin and a couple of goals by Eduardo Gurbindo.
Cyril Dumoulin remains on court for Nantes, and has saved a Ferran Sole penalty. David Balaguer and Alexandre Cavalcanti are the only players to have scored so far this half, and Nantes have closed up to 15:17, although currently have Valero Rivera and Dragan Pechmalbec serving suspensions.
24-year-old right wing Benoit Kounkoud is having a decent day at the office, with three goals from four attempts so far - and this half-time buzzer beater was the best of the lot.
EHF journalist Kevin Domas delivers his assessment of the teams' performance at half-time:
"Despite Cyril Dumoulin setting the bar very high, with 14 saves already, Paris seem on top so far. They managed to score easy goals, especially in the second part of the first half, while Nantes has been increasingly struggling offensively. If their backcourt players, like Alexandre Cavalcanti and Kiril Lazarov, do not manage to be more dangerous from a distance, Nantes will not be able to recover.”
15:57 | HALF-TIME
HBC NANTES 13:17 PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN HANDBALL
Benoit Kounkoud scores a stunning goal right on the buzzer to give Paris a four-goal cushion going into the dressing room. Although the men in white took control towards the end of that half you sense Nantes have plenty of fight left in them.
Nantes have not regained the lead since Paris took it, and PSG took a 15:12 lead in the 26th minute as Nedim Remili scored. However, a good Dragan Pechmalbec goal brings it back to 13:15.
Here's the Nikola Karabatic goal from earlier. Both Karabatic brothers have played a big role so far, with lots of involvement in passing play even though they have scored just once each.
Nikola Karabatic scores his first goal of the Champions League since his injury and comeback, and it puts PSG up 11:10. Alberto Entrerrios calls a timeout.
All the talk this season has been of Emil Nielsen, but Nantes' other goalkeeper Cyril Dumoulin has been brilliant so far this match. With the score at 10:10 about 20 minutes in, Dumoulin has a 50 per cent save efficiency.
Goals by Dainis Kristopans and Mathieu Grebille level the match at 7:7.
Benoit Kounkoud, PSG's top scorer so far, is suspended, but in Nantes' powerplay period Alexandre Cavalcanti fouls Luka Karabatic and is also suspended. Ferran Sole scores the penalty. We still have a close match with Nantes just holding the lead.
"We're in for a bit of mad handball," says EHFTV commentator Tom Ó Brannigáin as Nantes steal the ball and David Balaguer scores his first of the match.
Cyril Dumoulin, with four saves from seven shots, is making sure Nantes stays ahead - it's 5:3 after seven minutes.
Nantes are controlling the early play, putting themselves up 3:1 in the first couple of minutes.
They've thrown off!
This is Paris Saint-Germain's 150th EHF Champions League match - an impressive milestone. They've met Nantes once before at the EHF FINAL4, in 2018, but that was in the semi-finals and Nantes won. The last time they played was in the French league in May, when Nantes won 25:24; previous to that, PSG beat Nantes 26:24 in December. So a close match seems certain!
With 30 minutes until throw-off, here are the squads for the 3/4 placement match.
Nantes are unchanged from Saturday's line-up.
Paris have taken left wing Adama Keita out, and replaced him with Mathieu Grebille.
Today marks the last club match for Nantes captain Rock Feliho, who is retiring. The 38-year-old line player has been a consistent presence for his team and will certainly be missed. But can he go out with a win?
Check out the match-side view from yesterday's action to whet your appetite for today.
EHF journalist Kevin Domas knows both Nantes and Paris well and he's assessed their chances ahead of the 3/4 placement match, which to remind you throws off at 15:15 CEST.
“Third-place games are always about the teams that want it the most. If Nantes' defeat against Barça yesterday felt somehow logical, Paris' players must have had a tough time getting to sleep yesterday night, as they were touted as favourites against Aalborg. The disappointment sounded less present in Nantes' camp and that might help them to recover. And being one of the only teams to have beaten Paris this season, they sure feel like they can do something this afternoon."
Welcome back! It's not long until Nantes and Paris play for third place and the Remote FAN SHOW is starting right now on Twitch, with Dominik Klein and Markus Floth again providing some analysis of what might happen later.
The Remote FAN SHOW will also be live at 14:00 CEST on Twitch, again featuring Markus Floth and Dominik Klein.
Before the matches later on there's plenty of time to catch up with yesterday's action. Watch the highlights of both semi-finals on YouTube!
Paris Saint-Germain vs Aalborg:
Barça vs HBC Nantes:
Happy finals day! There's about four hours until the 3/4 placement match throws off but plenty happening across our channels to keep you occupied until HBC Nantes and Paris Saint-Germain take to the court to play for third place at 15:15 CEST. Barça and Aalborg will contest the final at 18:00 CEST.
First up, find out more about today's games in the match preview.
Saturday 12 June
That's all from the live blog tonight. We'll be back tomorrow morning as the final looms, with build-up both to the big match (18:00 CEST) and the all-French placement match earlier (15:15 CEST).
Here are the reviews of both of today's matches. Whatever happens tomorrow, history has already been made in Cologne tonight - our first Danish finalists, and the first team to win 10 EHF FINAL4 matches. More history will be made tomorrow!
We felt joy after reaching the final but on the other side, we’ve been there a few times and we know that this is only half-time. Unfortunately, at the end of the EHF FINAL4 there is only one winner and three losers so this time we are going to win.
The difference was not only visible in the last minutes, but for the whole match. We tried, we played with a lot of heart, but we played without head and we lost the match in attack.
The Fan Show, dissecting the two semi-finals, is now live on Twitch - hurry over to catch it!
Barça had sealed the win by this point, but Domen Makuc's last goal was quite spectacular!
19:37 | FULL-TIME
Barça become the first side to win 10 matches at the EHF FINAL4, defeating Nantes with a strong finish to the game. That also sets up an all-French 3/4 placement match, with Paris vs Nantes.
Raul Entrerrios may have dashed his brother Alberto's hopes of getting to the EHF FINAL4 final, taking advantage of the empty net to intercept the ball and score.
Despite the empty-net goals, Nantes are persisting with seven-on-six and it's keeping them within five goals of their opponents. 28:23 with five minutes to play.
A period of seven-on-six proves costly for Nantes, with two empty net goals putting Barça well ahead at 26:20. Alberto Entrerrios looks calm in the timeout, saying Nantes will continue to attack. Xavier Pascual tells his team to keep up the pace.
Here's the Aleix Gómez goal which gave the lead back to Barça. The record champions have rallied very well, but with 10 minutes still to play and the score at 23:19 the result is still not certain.
After Aleix Gómez gives Barça the lead at 18:17, Alberto Entrerrios calls a timeout - but now it's the Spanish club on the attack, and a couple of mistakes from Nantes give Barça a penalty followed by a beautiful Dika Mem goal. Barça have regained a 20:17 lead.
Barça have scored only twice in 12 minutes and have a shocking scoring efficiency of 29 per cent - Xavier Pascual calls a timeout.
The Nantes team are intense and there are lots of shouts of "allez!" The Nantes fans in the arena are being particularly noisy as they sense, perhaps, their team are on the rise.
Emil Nielsen is on a 60 per cent save efficiency in the second half - it's another extraordinary performance from the young Dane.
Valero Rivera scores another penalty, and it's 17:17!
Nearly six minutes into the half and Valero Rivera is left undefended while Dika Mem is serving a suspension. Rivera scores, and it's 17:16 to Barça, with Emil Nielsen keeping things that way against Ludovic Fabregas at the other end.
As the match resumes, Rok Ovnicek closes up for Nantes - meanwhile here's the last goal of the previous half.
Half-time reaction from our Björn Pazen now:
"The first half of the second semi-final was quite equal to the first. Like PSG, Barça had a flying start, but then Nantes improved – and funnily enough, the half-time score was identical at 15:13.
Both goalkeepers made an impact. Nantes’ Emil Nielsen, who will join Barça in 2022, had the better start compared to his future teammate Gonzalo Perez de Vargas, but after 30 minutes, Vargas was on 38 per cent, while the Danes was on 33 per cent.
Nielsen was one reason why Barça did not manage to stretch to a bigger lead, although the EHF Champions League record winners were ahead by three goals several times. Aleix Gómez scored their 500th Champions League goal this season in the 10th minute.
Initially Dika Mem was in focus, but outgoing coach Xavier Pascual started an early rotation. His side caused some turnovers, while Nantes stood strong in defence.
If we talk about Barça, we have to talk about their mastermind: Aron Palmarsson, the all-time record player at EHF FINAL4 events, is out due to a calf injury. So, will this match end like the first in an upset, and an Aalborg vs Nantes final? In 30 minutes we will know more."
18:40 | HALF-TIME
Barça 15:13 HBC NANTES
It's the same score at the break as the first semi-final, with the favourites taking a slender two-goal lead to the dressing room. Baptiste Damatrin-Bertrand gives Nantes their 13th goal just before the buzzer goals. It's a fast-paced game and there's no clear advantage to either team.
The game has turned again, and Nantes have got back to one goal down with about six minutes to go. Now it's time for Barça to have a timeout.
Timothey N'guessan takes advantage of an empty Nantes goal and Barça are up 12:9. Alberto Entrerrios calls a timeout, telling his players to calm down a little.
It's definitely a day for the goalkeepers, with Emil Nielsen and Gonzalo Perez de Vargas exchanging saves early on. Nielsen just has the edge right now with seven saves from 16 shots (44 per cent), over 4 from 10 for the Spaniard.
A suspension for Ludovic Fabregas proves costly for Barça as David Balaguer puts his team within a goal of their opponents.
A penalty puts Nantes on the scoreboard - scored easily by Valero Rivera. Barça are looking solid and dangerous, but Nantes are starting to appear a bit more comfortable.
This is familiar. The favourites make the better starts, taking a 2:0 lead inside three minutes with goals by Timothey N'guessan and Ludovic Fabregas. Meanwhile Gonzalo Perez de Vargas has made two great saves to stop Nantes from scoring.
Just about 15 minutes to go until the second semi-final throws off, and here are the squads.
Barça are missing Aron Palmarsson and Aitor Arino today, and whether this will have an impact will be interesting to see.
Nantes, as mentioned earlier, got within one goal of Barça in the group phase. They need Emil Nielsen to be on top form again today - but he's been brilliant all season. They've also got Kiril Lazarov, who will expect to add to his EHF FINAL4 goal tally.
Well, hopefully you've caught your breath and had time for a break before the second semi-final. Can Nantes cause another upset by beating Barça? Björn Pazen doesn't think so - here are his predictions.
"Who will stop Barça? Only themselves? Never before in the history of the EHF Champions League have a team won every match before reaching Cologne. No other team have won 33 of 34 Champions League matches in a row – but Barça’s only defeat in the last year happened here in the LANXESS Arena, in the postponed 2020 final against THW Kiel. No team have got to Cologne more times than Barça, but two trophies from so far eight participations does not reflect the ambitions of the Catalan side.
But have a look upon today’s semi-final: six of nine All-star Team members are on court, including Barça’s magic triangle from right (Aleix Gómez, Dika Mem) to middle (Luka Cindric) and to the line (Ludovic Fabregas). Mem even has the chance for more icing on his cake in the duel against Nantes’ All-star Team left wing Valero Rivera to become the top scorer of the 2020/21 season.
But none of them will think about the golden ball today. Who are Nantes’ assets against the record winners? Former or upcoming Barça players: the goal machines Valero Rivera and Kiril Lazarov, the all-time top scorer of the EHF FINAL4, and Danish babyface between the posts, Emil Nielsen, who will join Barça in 2022.
After a terrible start in the season, Nantes have made the best of it already with the ticket to Cologne – so, to have no pressure could be the key. But my favourites are Barça: they have learnt their lessons."
We came to win and now we’ve got the chance to do it. We’re going to win because we’re the best team here.
Watch the end of the match - huge joy for Aalborg, devastation for PSG who started out so strongly.
16:47 | FULL-TIME
What a second half from Aalborg. They never once gave up and PSG just end the game after a very late timeout by dropping the ball.
Aalborg are the first Danish team to reach the EHF FINAL4 final!
Aalborg now lead by two goals and there's only three and a half minutes left. Aalborg have come back from a five-goal deficit and PSG are in trouble.
Yet another penalty from Mikkel Hansen, and it's 28:28.
Check out Nikolaj Christensen's equaliser at 24:24.
Aalborg have taken the lead! It's 25:26 with about 10 minutes left. Raul Gonzalez calls a timeout to get some calm back into his team. Could we be on for a massive upset? PSG need to get past Simon Gade, who is on fire.
Suddenly there's only one goal in it, with a goal from Nikolaj Christensen making it 22:23. Luc Steins gives Paris the two-goal cushion again soon afterwards, and Vincent Gerard then saves a Sebastian Barthold penalty. But Aalborg are on the attack now, and Magnus Saugstrup closes up once more - it's 24:23 to PSG.
On commentary, Tom O'Brannigain notes that this isn't entirely unexpected from the Danish side, who have shown their tenacity all season.
The tide has turned a little into Aalborg's favour. They have closed the gap to 21:23, and Dainis Kristopans has received a suspension, giving them two minutes to close up further.
Aalborg need to act quickly to stem the Parisian charge; Simon Gade helps out with a couple of superb saves.
Paris stretch out to a 20:15 lead after Nedim Remili scores three times in quick succession.
The second half has started. Before we get into the action - which has begun quickly, with goals for both teams - take a look at this incredible save by Simon Gade to end the first half.
Here's EHF journalist Björn Pazen's reaction to the first half.
Initially, Aalborg were too nervous, mainly in attack. It took the Danish champions more than nine minutes to score their first goal – and they were lucky that goalkeeper Mikael Aggefors saved some shots to be only down by 1:3.
Paris were not that efficient in attack too, with one exception: Danish superstar Mikkel Hansen, who will join Aalborg in 2022. Like clockwork the double world champion scored from the penalty line. Having four goals on his tally at the break, Hansen is chasing two records already: he is only one goal below all-time EHF FINAL4 top scorer Kiril Lazarov, and he is already number five in the 2020/21 top scorer list.
But Hansen’s future club managed to reduce the gap, winning the last eight minutes before the break, mainly thanks to young Swede Felix Claar and experienced former PSG player Hendrik Møllgaard.
More big news: Nikola Karabatic is back on the big stage. Almost seven months after his severe knee injury, the three-time Champions League winner had his comeback in this competition against Aalborg – and maybe he can become a key factor after the break.
15:58 | HALF-TIME
PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN 15:13 AALBORG Håndbold
After that really slow start Aalborg have closed up and are back in the match. For a while it looked as though this game was challenging for one of the lowest half-time scores in EHF FINAL4 history, but the last 10 minutes were much quicker.
Felix Claar is currently leading the scoring with five goals.
The goals are finally coming a bit more quickly with a flurry of shots for both teams; Nedim Remili gives PSG a three-goal lead once more at 13:10, 26 minutes in, but Felix Claar then scores his fourth of the match and it's back to 13:11.
It's heating up a bit now! Paris lead 11:9, and Aalborg are starting to look a bit better.
This was a gorgeous goal from Luc Steins earlier on. It's his first EHF FINAL4, after he tested positive for Covid in December. But Raul Gonzalez has just brought Nikola Karabatic on for the first time in the match.
Aalborg have found a bit more rhythm now, and are defending well, but Paris have also maintained their momentum and it's 6:3. Mind you it might have been a bigger margin had it not been for Mikael Aggefors.
Just as I write that, PSG steal the ball and Dylan Nahi races down the court to score. Stefan Madsen calls a timeout, as Aalborg are 0:3 down now. He sounds pretty intense. Madsen sends his team back on to play seven-on-six, and Felix Claar finally scores for Aalborg.
Magnus Saugstrup steals the ball and sets off on a fastbreak, but Elohim Prandi holds him up and it's an easy save for Yann Genty. Aalborg are yet to score, and we've had no goals from open play yet.
Two penalties, both scored by Mikkel Hansen, have given PSG a 2:0 lead now at six minutes in. Paris are controlling things at the moment, but it's early days.
In the first major action of the game, Henrik Toft Hansen receives a penalty, but Buster Juul-Lassen misses the shot and it's still 0:0 after two minutes.
Just before throw-off, click here for a reminder of how to watch the action.
The teams are warming up. PSG had a bit of fun playing football - appropriately as the Euro 2021 is also ongoing today!
Here are the squads for the first game.
Paris Saint-Germain are back to full strength, with Nikola Karabatic confirmed in the squad as he continues his recovery from injury as well as All-star Team left back Mikkel Hansen and young player Dylan Nahi.
Aalborg also look strong with a raft of Danes who are used to winning - many of them played alongside PSG's Hansen at the 2021 World Championship back in January. The EHF FINAL4 might be new territory, but Aalborg are on the up.
With 75 minutes to go until the first semi-final, the Remote FAN SHOW has begun. Meanwhile, here's EHF journalist Björn Pazen with his pre-match thoughts.
"Welcome again to the theatre of fairy tales, mainly Cinderella stories. The first semi-final provides the chance for a new Cinderella, a Danish one this time.
For the fifth time, mighty PSG are at the LANXESS arena; for the fifth time, they are contenders for the trophy contenders. Six months ago, they were not favourites in the semi-final against Barça, and lost. Now, the Paris side is back in full power, including Nikola Karabatic and Mighty Mouse Luc Steins, who was the saddest guy in December, ruled out by Covid-19 on semi-finals day.
The late arrival from the Netherlands could be the go-to-guy against the “we-have-nothing-to-lose” side from Aalborg. The Danes, who were planning to reach Cologne in 2022 with Aron Palmarson and Mikkel Hansen in their squad, could become PSG’s next stumbling block – but only if three things work. Goalkeeper Michael Aggefors must show a performance like in the quarter-finals against Flensburg; the speed in attack must be extremely high; and Magnus Saugstrup must either score or cause penalties on the line – as PSG will definitely defend backs Felix Claar and Lukas Sandell extremely closely.
My favourite? PSG with a 65 per cent chance of victory – but watch out for the red-and-white clad Cinderellas…"
We're taking a break now until 14:00 CEST, when we'll be back ahead of the first throw-off at 15:15 CEST.
Remember the Remote FAN SHOW will be live on Twitch at 14:00 CEST, so tune in for the build-up, hosted by Markus Floth live from Cologne.
In the meantime, do vote in our Twitter poll to tell us which team is most likely to reach the final. Currently Barça are narrowly beating PSG in the voting - but there have been upsets at the EHF FINAL4 before ...
There are a few milestones to watch out for today - of course we'll update the blog when any of these are reached.
- Barça's Aron Palmarsson needs to score only once today to reach 60 EHF FINAL4 goals in his career
- if Nantes' Kiril Lazarov scores five times he will hit 70 EHF FINAL4 goals - Lazarov is already the all-time top scorer for the tournament
- should Barça beat Nantes, it will be their 10th EHF FINAL4 victory
- and Barça's fifth goal today will be their 500th EHF FINAL4 goal
- PSG need 64 goals to hit the 4,500 Champions League goal milestone - it's entirely possible for them to reach that this weekend
Back for the EHF FINAL4 after its introduction at the DELO EHF FINAL4 a couple of weeks ago, it's Bubble Buddies! Here are Luis Frade and Dika Mem of Barça revealing a few secrets about each other.
Naturally all four teams are hyping the matches on their social media channels. Nantes and Aalborg are hosting fans to watch the games on big screens in their home arenas, and members of PSG's fan club are also gathering to watch in Paris.
Nantes' comic-book video is pretty fun to watch, a reminder of the previous clashes with Barça this season.
It's semi-finals day in Cologne and everything is building up for two spectacular matches later on. To get ready, check out the previews of today's games.
First up Paris Saint-Germain will meet Aalborg in a clash pitting the five-time EHF FINAL4 participants against a team of confident debutants. Aalborg have built through the season to reach this stage, while PSG saw off Kiel - winners of the EHF FINAL4 2020 - in the quarter-finals.
Later on, record winners Barça face familiar opponents in HBC Nantes. Barça beat Nantes twice in the group phase this season, but the second match saw them win by a single goal and Nantes have grown in confidence since then.
Friday 11 June
That's all for today for our coverage - we'll be back tomorrow from 11:00 CEST to build up to the semi-finals!
If you missed the Fan Show catch up on Twitch, and set a reminder for tomorrow's pre-match show at 13:00 CEST. See you there.
The last media call ahead of the semi-finals has just taken place, with Aalborg coach Stefan Madsen and players Mikael Aggefors and Magnus Saugstrup playing it cool ahead of their showdown with Paris tomorrow afternoon. The EHF FINAL4 debutants seem content with their role as the tournament's underdogs and Aggefors said the team were only excited, not nervous about tomorrow's challenge.
If you say we’re underdogs we take that, it’s okay. We’ve shown before that when we play against other teams that on a normal basis will maybe win against us, we had the quality to make a surprise, and of course we’re set to do that tomorrow as well
You can feel the tension is building in Cologne. Hearing players and coaches talk about Saturday's semi-finals at the EHF FINAL4 2021 makes you aware that the weekend in men's club handball is right here and now!
To get you even further in the mood, we have the Remote FAN SHOW coming up tonight at 18:00 CEST. Hosted by Markus Floth and three-time EHF Champions League winner Dominik Klein, a bunch of big names will make their appearance on the show.
Don't miss it, the Remote FAN SHOW on our Home of Handball channel on Twitch!
Barça the big favourites this weekend? Many say so, but the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2020 in December turned out to be a tough reality check for the Spanish champions, who came up short in the final against THW Kiel.
Knowing they have won every single match in the 2020/21 season, including two victories over their semi-final opponents Nantes, Barça are aware of their position - even though Raul Entrerrios preferred to speak words of wisdom during the team's media call this afternoon, which also included head coach Xavi Pascual and goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas:
There are no favourites in Cologne. There are four teams and we all have the same possibilities to win. When you see the competitions from other years, we learn a lot from that. We know what we have to do: 60 minutes of perfect game, do our best job. This is something we have to do to reach the final.
Earlier on the live blog we mentioned the EHF Champions League 2020/21 All-star Team, presented by Gorenje, which was revealed this morning.
Apart from those nine players and one coach who shone this season, there was a special tribute paid to the legacy of FC Porto goalkeeper Alfredo Quintana, who passed away in February.
Posthumously, Quintana, together with the 2020/21 All-stars, receives a special award of honour, "Forever a star", to once again remember and honour the very special goalkeeper he was and will always be in the hearts of the handball community.
Nantes have arrived in Cologne in good spirits. Halfway through this season's group phase, not many expected to see the French side at the EHF FINAL4, but look now - they are here!
Coach Alberto Entrerrios and veteran players Rock Feliho and Kiril Lazarov have just shared their thoughts with the international handball journalists. Just read what Entrerrios said:
One thing is similar (as in 2018): the spirit of the team hasn’t changed. We have the same warrior spirit, the same heart on the court. The spirit is the same, that is the value of HBC Nantes. We keep strong as a team, that will never change. There is a bit more pressure but we are playing some of the best teams in the world so we have nothing to lose.
Can this be PSG's weekend - finally?! They are at the EHF FINAL4 for the fifth time, reached the final once - in 2017, against Vardar - but are yet to lift that beautiful trophy.
EHF journalist Kevin Domas caught up with Raul Gonzalez, and in this interview the PSG coach says the team is "better now than six months ago" when they lost to Barça in the semi-final of the rescheduled 2020 edition.
Traditionally the four teams at the EHF FINAL4 speak to the media a day before the throw-off. This year that media call takes place online, and PSG were the first team to answer the questions from the journalists as coach Raul Gonzalez, Viran Morros and Henrik Toft Hansen shed their light on the event this morning.
This is what Morros said in reply to the usual questions like 'who are the favourites?' this weekend:
We all know the situation. We all know what happens here in Cologne. We don’t see ourselves as favourites, because everyone knows that when you get here to the FINAL4 it’s not just a lucky day. It’s all season working. Anything can happen. We’ve seen the last 10 editions, I don’t know how many times the real favourites won — I think two or three times maximum.
The eve of the EHF FINAL4 always means the big unveiling of the season's All-star Team! After 210,000 votes were cast by fans to decide the final selection, the best of the best for 2020/21 have been announced.
Barça were the favourites in the All-star Team, presented by Gorenje, while Niklas Landin and Mikkel Hansen were the standouts in terms of votes, with both earning more than 30 per cent in their respective positions. Read more about the team here.
Hello and welcome to the live blog coverage of the EHF FINAL4 2021! We are set for a huge weekend as Barça, Nantes, PSG and Aalborg fight for the trophy in Cologne. Courtney Gahan here getting you started as the countdown to throw off nears the last 24 hours.
On Friday, we get started with the Remote FAN SHOW hosted by Markus Floth and three-time EHF Champions League winner Dominik Klein before the action truly gets underway on Saturday. Here's your semi-final schedule for Saturday:
- 15:15 CEST PSG vs Aalborg
- 18:00 CEST Barça vs Nantes
But first thing is first: How do you keep up with all the action this weekend? Find out where to watch, where to follow the live stats, where to see all the best social media coverage and more below!