Handball

Men's European Champions League Final Four: All you need to know

Mikkel Hansen and Sander Sagosen are among the star names in action as Barcelona, Kiel, Veszprém and PSG face off for the rescheduled 2019/20 EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

By Ken Browne ·

There's another festive treat in store for handball fans following the Women's EHF Euro 2020 as four of the best teams in the game gear up for the EHF Final Four in Cologne.

Only in 2020 could the final of the 2019-20 Champions League be played after the 2020-21 season has already begun, but now we have a Christmas cracker before New Year.

The best men's club team on the continent will be decided in the space of just 24 hours with two games over two days.

And anyone who asked Santa Claus for Mikkel Hansen, Sander Sagosen, Dainis Krištopāns, Domagoj Duvnjak, Aron Palmarsson, Timur Dibirov, Dika Mem and Petar Nenadic for Christmas are in luck!

While we won't see the magic of PSG's French star Nikola Karabatic due to a cruciate knee ligament injury that could keep him out of Tokyo 2020, the Final Four will provide a stage for many of the finest players on the planet.

One thing is guaranteed: we will have a new champion on the 29th of December as reigning champs RK Vardar did not make the final four.

Read on for a preview, dates, times, where to watch, who to watch, and everything else you need to know.

Champions League Final Four 2020 Date and time

The EHF Champions League Final Four will take place from 28-29 December at the following times:

Semi-Finals

Monday 28 Dec, 2020:

6pm (CET) - Barcelona vs. Paris Saint Germain

8:30pm (CET) - THW Kiel vs. Telekom Veszprém HC

Final

Tuesday 29 Dec, 2020:

6pm (CET) - 3rd Place Playoff

8:30pm (CET) - Final

Where will the Handball Final Four be played?

The Champions League will be won in the city of Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, in the Lanxess-Arena.

The stadium has an 18,500-person capacity but rather than a packed and pulsating arena full of handball fanatics, all matches will be played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Who are the Final Four favourites?

Even without the threat of COVID, it's usually impossible to call the Final Four when it comes down to two matches in two days and such fine margins.

You only have to go back a year for an example of the drama and unpredictability of these playoffs.

In 2018/19, the semi-finals saw Barça play RK Vardar and Veszprém take on Kielce.

While most experts predicted a Barça-Kielce final, both sides went down and we had a Vardar-Veszprém showdown.

Vardar won last season's final, the North Macedonians besting the Hungarians 27-24, to win their second title, while Veszprém are still chasing their first Champions League trophy.

Having come so close last season, they'll be even hungrier this time round.

"Veszprém finally want to be on the throne," experienced Croatian leftwing Martin Strlek told the EHF.

He knows what it's like to lift the ultimate club title, winning it with Kiel in 2016, and tasted defeat in last year's final.

"It is going to be really hard for us, we are among the top four clubs of Europe. We have 25 percent chance to win, however, Paris, Kiel and Barcelona are experienced and very talented teams. But in Cologne everything is possible." - Martin Strlek to EHF

Semi-finalists have already met in new Champions League campaign

The global pandemic led to the cancellation of the last 16 and quarter-finals with the Final Four comprising the top two in the two groups in the group phase.

And, strangely, we are already months into the 2020-21 Champions League season before we even know the winner of the previous title.

That means we've already had a chance to watch the finalists go head-to-head before the finals.

Sadly, a fascinating face-off between Veszprém and Barcelona set for December 10th was called off after the Hungarian team suffered a spate of COVID positives.

But we have seen two clashes between Barcelona and Kiel, the Catalans coming out on top in both games.

Kiel also suffered defeat to semi-final opponents Veszprém on 2 December, the 'Zebras' going down 41:33 for their fourth loss in the new EHF Champions League season.

Veszprém, who head into their ninth EHF Champions League semi-final, are second to Barcelona in Group A with PSG in fourth (albeit with two games in hand) with Kiel currently fifth in Group B.

Barcelona in frightening form

The Spanish giants are in rude form, banging in goals for fun and sitting atop their domestic league and Champions League group.

They are unbeaten since mid-September when they went down to Mol Pick Szeged by three goals.

In the new season group stage, Barça have played eight, won eight with an impressive goal difference of +67.

There is plenty of experience in the side too with five Barcelona players who have won the FINAL4 twice: Aitor Arino, Raul Entrerrios, Gonzalo de Perez Vargas, Cedric Sorhaindo, with Barcelona and Aron Palmarsson who won it with Kiel in 2010 and 2012.

This is also Palmarsson's record ninth appearance in the Final Four.

"It's hard to beat us when we are at our highest level," says Gonzalo de Perez Vargas.

Who to watch in the Final Four

With each team bringing a different style, culture, and stack of stars to the finals, some names stand out.

Barcelona's forward line of Aron Palmarsson, Luka Cindric and Dika Mem is fearsome.

PSG might not have Nikola 'The Beast' Karabatic but do possess Olympic gold medallist Mikkel Hansen and Swedish fastbreak specialist Niclas Ekberg aka 'Rocketman'.

Veszprém will miss Rasmus Lauge who, like Karabatic has torn a cruciate knee ligament, but they do have the current top scorer of the EHF Champions League in Petar Nenadic.

Then there's Sander Sagosen and Domagoj Duvnjak.

Many thought the two playmakers would not be able to gel when the Norwegian joined forces with the Croatian at German club Kiel, but Sagosen disagrees.

"We fit perfectly, we have a match every third day, and in the Bundesliga you have to play 100 percent if you want to win. So, ‘Dule’ and I share this position, we share the time on the court, and we cooperate better day by day. It really functions, and of course we want to prove this in Cologne as well." - Sander Sagosen to EHF

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Sagosen also says that he'd love to play against his ex-PSG teammates and old friend Hansen in the final.

But while attacking players often grab the headlines, defences often win tournaments and the Veszprém brick wall of Blaz Blagotisnek, Rogerio Moraes, Vuko Borozan and Jorge Maqueda, is a formidable barrier to goal.

There is one more line of defence though and, while Barcelona have been free scoring, they've also left things open at the back this season.

Luckily they have the best goalkeeping one-two in the business with Gonzalo de Perez Vargas and Kevin Møller competing for the title of best goalie in the world every game they play.

There will certainly be action aplenty if you tune in for the Final Four.

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Handball Champions League Final Four: Where to Watch

It looks like this Final Four could be the biggest ever with live streams and terrestrial TV beaming the games across the world.

According to the EHF, 40 television partners in 80 territories will broadcast the games with live streaming an option on many.

CCTV, the Chinese national broadcaster has signed up, a first for the game in a country with a population of nearly 1.2 billion people.

Great news for the growth of handball worldwide.

Watch EHF Champions League Final Four TV and live stream:

(Accurate as of 21.12.2020 from EHF)

AUT – ORF Sport+ (Final match)

BIH – Arenasport1

BLR – Belarus5

CAN – beIN Sports XTRA

CHN – SPORTS.cctv.com

CRO – HTV2

CRO – Arenasport

CZE – Sport2

DEN – TV3 MAX (Semi-finals)

DEN - DR2 (Final day)

ESP – Esports3

ESP – Teledeporte

FIN – areena.yle.fi

FRA – beIN Sports 1 (including Monaco, Andorra, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Madagascar and French overseas territories)

GER – Eurosport 1

GEO – Silk Universal

GRE – Cosmote Sport 7HD

HUN – Sport1

ISL - Viaplay

ISR – Sport1

ITA – Sky Italy

KOS – RTV21

KOS – Arenasport 1

LTU – LRT Plius

LUX – ApartTV

MAC – (Macau) – TDM Sport

MENA Region – beIN Sport ME (23 terrritories in total)

MKD – Arenasport 1

MNE – Arenasport 1

NOR – V Sport1

POL – nsport+

POR – SPORT.TV5 (Including Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde)

ROU – Digi Sport

ROU – Telekom Sport 1

ROU – LookTV

RUS – Igra

SLO – ŠPORT TV 1

SRB – Arenasport 1

SUI – MySports

SVK – Sport2

SWE - V Sport extra

TUR – SPOR SMART 2

UKR – Xsport

USA – beIN Sports XTRA (Including US' territories and possessions)

Worldwide – ehfTV.com (Geo-restrictions could apply).