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Karabatic vs Rhein Neckar Löwen. PHOTO: VÍCTPR SALGADO.

The ancient feats in the Palau Blaugrana handball in the 80s, 90s, or of last season against Atletico Madrid are joined by another golden chapter as Barça battled back against Rhein Neckar Löwen in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. On a day of sadness due to the recent death of Tito Vilanova, Xavi Pascual's men were able to neutralize the first leg result (38-31) thanks to their defense, offensive quality and pride. The Palau would do the rest, as the arena was a true hell for the visiting team.

Such was the tension and nerves on the court that it took two and a half minutes to break the deadlock. And it was broken by Groetzki for the Germans. A brace from Sorhaindo quickly put Barça ahead. Sparks flew on the court and Juanín was sent off for a tussle with Isaiah Guardiola (4-2, min 6 ) .

Rhein Neckar Löwen were still betting on the 6-0 advantage from the leg and the aggression that worked so well in the first game. Barça responded properly, offering few options and canceling the dreaded counterattack from Uwe Gensheimer. From the outset, the team had two penalty shots hit the post; it was very difficult to score. Rutenka was the most incisive for Barça (7-5, 14 min ).

But Barca could not get rid of their rocky rival, as the Germans slowed the pace of the game. The Germans even took the lead for a second time after 22 minutes thanks to the success of Groetzki (9-10). The Germans in the lead lit something in Karabatic, as he battled back to give Barça the lead. Thanks to Sterbik’s saves and the unwavering support of Palau, Barça went tot he break with 15-11 on the scoreboard.

Excitement grew and the temperature rose in the second half. The fouls called on the Germans translated into penalties, and Victor Thomas was responsible for executing. Goalkeeper substitute Stojanovic momentarily stopped the push from Barcelona ( 17-14 min 36 ).

Pascual’s men fought for every ball as if their lives depended on it. Barça jumped to a sizable 4-5 goal advantage, and the Palau started to believe that the comeback was possible.

Víctor Thomas completed a counterattack and made it 22 -16 on 45 minutes, Barça were one goal away from the Final Four. But a goal of Gorbok made qualification nearly impossible as only nine minutes remained, Xavi Pascual was forced to call a timeout (24-21 min 51 ) .

The tightening of Barça’s defense and two goals scored by Entrerríos allowed the Palau to dream( 26-21 , 23 min ). And soon after Rutenka scored the 27-21 with six and a half minutes left on the clock. Then Sterbik, to the joy of the fans, stopped a German penalty, and a goal from Victor Thomas widened the gap to seven for the first time ( 28-21 , 55 min ).

Lazarov expanded the lead to nine, and it brought the Palau faithful to their feet, but Rhein Neckar didn’t give up and they came within seven goal with thirty seconds left on the clock. They had their chance, but they were unable to score the tying aggregate goal. Barça had qualified for the Final Four of the Champions League in Cologne. Miracles are possible at the Palau.

MATCH FACTS

FC BARCELONA, 31
RHEIN NECKAR LÖWEN, 24

FC Barcelona (15+16): Sterbik; Víctor Tomás (6, 3p.), Gurbindo (3), Sorhaindo (2), Raúl Entrerríos (3), Karabatic (7), Juanín (2) -set inicial-, Morros (-), Rutenka (5), Noddesbo (-), Sarmiento (1), Lazarov (2, 1p) i Ariño (-).

Rhein Neckar Löwen (11+13): Landin, (Stojanovic); Groetzki (7), Petersson (4), Myrhol (1), Schmid (3), Ekdahl Du Rietz (2), Gensheimer (2) -set inicial-, Isaias Guardiola (-), Manojlovic (-), Gorbok (5), Gedeón Guardiola (-) i Sigurmannsson (-).

Referees: Bogdan Nicolae Stark i Romeo Mihai Stefan.

Attendance: 6.814 espectadors.


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