Victories and titles are so taken for granted by Barça handball that it has become a team that is solely and exclusively judged by a standard: whether or not it wins the Final Four. The slightest stumble would have been news, as it was the last time he drew a game in Spain, on March 27, 2019 against Logroño. In December he fell in the final of the Champions League. It was against Kiel, but that final belonged to the previous campaign and had been postponed due to the pandemic. It is the only Barça defeat in continental competition since September 2019. This Saturday, again in the Final Four, at the Lanxess in Cologne, Barça once again face their existential drama. This time the appointment – it is measured in the semifinal against Nantes (18.00, DAZN and Esport3), after PSG-Aalborg (15.15) -, is especially significant for the Barça coach and for his team.
Xavi Pascual, at 53 years old, says goodbye after 12 in office and after having reached an agreement with the board of directors of Joan Laporta, who did not want him to complete his remaining season in an action plan that led to the dismissal of the sports director David Barrufet. It will also be the goodbye of captain Raúl Entrerríos, who at the age of 40 stretched his career to be able to play the Olympic Games, and for players who leave the club such as Sorhaindo, Möller, Dolenec, Àlex Pascual and Palmarsson, and possibly Diocou and Mortensen. Everyone avoids thinking about the matter: “I have too many worries to think about my end at the club,” says Pascual. “We have the most important thing left and we must be focused on what we must. That, now, does not suppose any type of sensation or different emotion ”.
Barça have set a record by winning all 18 games they have played in the Champions League and the 59 they have played in total in the 2020-2021 season. Even so, it is inevitable to refer to that final lost in December against Kiel, although it corresponded to the previous season: “The team is sufficiently aware that we lost a final, but also that it is doing well. I think we have played quite well all year and we have to continue along the same lines, putting our game model on the field. We are confident in what we do; if not, we would not have been able to win every game this season. “
Nantes is the team that lost a tighter result to Barça, 30-29, in the group stage match in February. Pascual praises the coach of the French team, Alberto Entrerríos, Raúl’s brother: “It is the team that is fitter than the four that arrived in Cologne. If he has left out Kielce (in eighths) and Veszprem (in quarters) it is not because yes. He has noticed Alberto’s hand, he has an extraordinary goalkeeper and in a very good shape (Nielsen) … He has good players and collectively they are quite clear about what they do ”. The French team, finalist in 2018, has the Spaniards David Balaguer, Adrià Figueras, Eduardo Gurbindo and Valero Rivera, their top scorer, in addition to the ex-Azulgrana Lazarov.
PSG, led by Valladolid coach Raúl González, appears for the fifth time in the meeting among the four best and aspires to obtain a title that resists him. The Parisian team has several ex-Azulgrana: Morros, Nikola Karabatic, recovered from an injury that kept him out for seven months, the Polish Syprzak and the Danish Hansen, one of the team’s figures along with Prandi and Luka Karabatic, in addition to the former player of the Granollers Ferran Solé. Danish Aalborg are competing for the first time at the event, after eliminating Porto in the round of 16 and German Flensburg in the quarterfinals.