Handball EHF Champions League Final Four 2021: Results, preview, schedule... the top things to know
The fuse is about to be lit on the men's handball Champions League Final4, so who qualified and when do they play? Which teams are the favourites? Who are the players to watch? All that and more.
The biggest prize in club handball is up for grabs as four men's teams are set to play off at the 2021 EHF Champions League Final Four.
World and Olympic champion Mikkel Hansen is out to lead PSG to their first ever FINAL4 Champions League title with the added boost of Nikola Karabatic returning to training and the team after a seven-month layoff due to injury.
Having defeated reigning champions Kiel in the quarter finals, many say that this is PSG's best chance ever to lift the trophy they want most, but with a tough semi-final against rising Danish club Aalborg and a rampant Barcelona vs a determined Nantes in the other semi-final, it won't be a walk in the park for anyone.
The FINAL4 always throws up a few surprises - just look at the women's version - and we can't wait.
The weekend of June 12/13 will give us a glimpse at some of the stars set to light up the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, so let's take a closer look.
Here are the top things you need to know:
Who qualified for the EHF Handball Final Four 2021?
PSG, HBC Nantes, Barcelona, Aalborg.
EHF Final4 Draw - Handball Champions League semi-finals
PSG - Aalborg
Barcelona - HBC Nantes
When are the EHF Final4 semi-finals and finals in 2021?
Here is the Final Four schedule:
The men's semi-finals will take place at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, Germany.
Saturday, 12 June 2021
15:15 CEST: PSG - Aalborg
18:00 CEST: Barça - HBC Nantes
Sunday, 13 June 2021
15:15 CEST: 3/4 Placement match
18:00 CEST: Final
Men's Final Four preview and players to watch: PSG v Aalborg
It's the team that superstar Mikkel Hansen plays for in 2021 against the team that superstar Mikkel Hansen will play for in 2022.
Danish club Aalborg are on the rise, as shown by their signing of three-time world player of the year Hansen, and make their first ever EHF Champions League semi-final appearance in Cologne, while PSG are old hands at this stage.
The season has been a slow-burner for the French giants but have hit their stride at the right time with a nice balanced feel to the squad between seasoned leaders like Luka Karabatic, Latvian Dainis Kristopans, and Denmark's Hansen lighting the way while at the same time an exciting young generation is breaking through.
The talents of Dylan Nahi (21), Elohim Prandi (22), and Nedim Remili (25) promise much for PSG and the national team's future.
Prandi was the man of the match against Sander Sagosen's Kiel in the quarter final second leg scoring 9/10 to help eliminate the reigning champs while Nahi does things no-one's ever seen before on a handball court.
No prizes for guessing who the favourites are in this semi-final, but Aalborg are a team on the up.
Speaking to the EHF, winger Sebastian Barthold summed up the belief in the Danish camp:
“I feel like we have always been pushing the limits and we come to Cologne full of confidence after beating Porto and Flensburg. We know we are up against some of the really big teams but we are here to win it, that is our mindset. It is a common thing that the underdog performs well in the FINAL4, so why not us?”
Players to watch: All of the above!
Nikola Karabatic back training
With Nikola Karabatic back training and now with a few games under his belt too there are a lot of positive vibes around the PSG camp these days, and that's great news for the French national side just weeks out from the Olympics.
While the older Karabatic might play some role in the Final Four, in his absence his brother Luka has really stepped up at the head of the team, keeping it calm and showing the younger players the way on the court:
“We have a little bit more experience but Aalborg have players who have been in Cologne as well. They had a really nice season, Danish handball getting better and they have a chance of winning as well.” - Luka Karabatic to the EHF
Men's Final4 preview and players to watch: Barça v HBC Nantes
On the other side of the draw, Barcelona have been in ridiculous form this CL season, winning every single game they've played.
This is the Spanish club's ninth trip to Cologne out of a possible 12, the most any club has managed, while Nantes are here for only the second time.
Barça dominated Brest in their quarter final winning 73-57 on aggregate, while Nantes silenced the Veszprem Arena winning their tie by two goals on aggregate.
Barcelona are clear favourites but don't write the French team off, the Final Four is always full of surprises and does funny things to the favourites.
Players to watch:
Nantes are led by brilliant 24-year-old Danish keeper Emil Nielsen and evergreen Macedonian veteran Kiril Lazarov who's still rattling them in at 41.
Barça, meanwhile, have a host of Spanish and international stars including world-class goalie combo of Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Kevin Moller, Icelandic centre back Aron Pálmarsson, heart of the side Raul Entrerrios, great Dane Casper Mortensen, then there's Aleix Gomez, Dika Mem, Thiagus Petrus, Cindric, Langaro, Janc...
Take your pick.