Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?


August 21, 2018




PREVIEW:  PIXUM Super Cup 2018

It’s this time of the year again when Germany’s DKB Handball Bundesliga (HBL) will host the league’s cream-of-the-crop at the PIXUM Super Cup 2018, showcasing the two dominant teams of the past three years – champion, SG Flensburg vs. cup winner, Rhein Neckar Loewen.

Spectators at Duesseldorf’s ISS Dome will witness a 60-minute sprint towards the first trophy of the year before another long and grueling season will commence the next day, in a league that HBL still labels as the “strongest in the world” even though German clubs have failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the VELUX Champions League – Europe’s premier club event – in 2017 and 2018 again. Instead the top teams of France have stepped up in recent years and in May, Montpellier HB beat “Le Big H” from Nantes in an exciting final match, in Cologne.

Yet, in terms of depth and breadth Germany’s handball league still reigns supreme. While HBL’s top teams may not play for Europe’s big prize (at the moment), they still belong to the elite few that dominate the sport. Keep in mind, it was the difference of only one goal that allowed RK Vardar a repeat trip to the 2018 Champions League FINAL4, instead of THW Kiel.

Rhein Neckar Loewen in particular endured an emotional 2017/18 season after winning last year’s Super Cup 32:30 (following penalty shots against the German record champion from Kiel). In May, they celebrated their very first German Cup victory at the REWE FINAL4, in Hamburg and it all looked like a fairy tale in the making with a third consecutive championship in sight. But then coach Jacobsen’s men slipped – inexplicably – at home against Melsungen (23:24) and dropping another point in Erlangen (25:25).

As SG Flensburg had remained in striking distance they took the opportunity and never looked back. A shacky victory against Frisch Auf Goeppingen (22:21) on the last day of the season was good enough to come in first. Coach Machulla finished what Ljubomir Vranjes had built during his tenure in Flensburg.

Fast forward to the PIXUM Super Cup 2018 – while Rhein Neckar Loewen experienced a few meaningful departures over the summer (du Rietz to PSG, Pekeler and Reinkind to Kiel) such changes were compensated for by the additions of Jesper Nielsen (PSG), Jannik Kohlbacher (Wetzlar) and Steffen Faeth (Fuechse Berlin).

In contrast, SG Flensburg has now entered what must be described as a deep and prolonged transition phase. A slew of players exited the club following the championship party, many of them represented Flensburg bedrock – goalkeeper Mattias Andersson ended his career, while Mogensen, Heinl, Moller, Mahe, and Toft Hansen opted to continue elsewhere.

Let’s face it – a very different Flensburg squad will face Germany’s best handball team in Duesseldorf, on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at 19:30 hours.

Here’s how it all shapes up.

Goal

Advantage Loewen – goalkeepers Andreas Palicka and Mikael Appelgren not only share the job at Rhein Neckar Loewen but in Sweden’s national team as well. They are not only at the top of their game but well rehearsed as well while Flensburg’s, Torbjorn Bergerud (joined from Holstebro) and Benjamin Buric (former Wetzlar) will have to find their way and adjust to each other.

Left Wing

Hampus Wanne / Magnus Jondal (SGF) vs the ironman from Iceland – Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson – and Jerry Tollbring (RNL). As Sigurdsson gets better and better as he matures, Rhein Neckar Loewen may have the edge but don’t underestimate the duo from Flensburg – it would be a severe mistake.

Right Wing

Lasse Svan / Marius Steinhauser vs. Bogdan Radivojevic / Patrick Groetzki. A tough call as Svan and Groetzki can decide games on their terms if all goes well. With Steinhauser edging Radivojevic, let’s call it advantage Flensburg.

Pivot

Tobbe Karlsson (SGF) vs Gedeon Guiardola (RNL) is a delight for any defense aficionado. On the other end of the court Nielsen and Kohlbacher pose a formidable challenge. Can Golla, Hald and Zachariassen deliver what they promise at this stage of the season?

Left Back

Simon Jeppson – period.  While Rhein Neckar Loewen offer three dedicated options (Faeth, Taleski, and Abutovic) to solve the problem. You decide.

Center Back

Jim Gottfridsson and Rasmus Lauge (Flensburg’s Johanessen will follow the match from the sidelines) vs. the dominant player of the HBL, possibly the best handball player in the world, right now – Andy Schmidt with Mads Mensah Larsen as his back-up. On paper it looks obvious.

Right Back

Holger Glandorf / Magnus Rod (SGF) vs. Vladan Lipovina / Alexander Petersson (RNL). While Petersson’s athleticism remains impressive, Glandorf still represents world-class and Magnus Rod is more than a gemstone as he demonstrated in his first HBL season already. Expect Rod to improve further on both ends of the pitch and why not start at the 2018 PIXUM Super Cup?

Coach

Maik Machulla vs. Nikolaj Jacobsen. Passion vs. raw emotions. Before the 2017/18 season, a few of the pundits questioned Flensburg’s decision to continue with Machulla. But Maik delivered the goods in his very first season as head coach and this speaks for itself.

Jacobsen will aim to correct what went wrong in May, when a third consecutive championship slipped from his hands.

On the outset, Rhein Neckar Loewen appear to be the odds on favorite, winning the PIXUM Super Cup as the first team for a third time in a row.

But Flensburg’s coach Machulla emphasized on Tuesday that his crew will approach the game “with a lot of energy”. Will it be enough to succeed for a third time?

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

/ JS

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