Sixty minutes of regular time and ten additional extra time will not even be enough to decide between Barcelona and Kielce in the final of the Handball Champions League. It was finally necessary to wait for the penalty shootout, Sunday June 19, in the Lanxess Arena in Cologne (Germany), to see Barça win their eleventh C1, the second in a row. A first since the Spaniards of Ciudad Real, in 2008 and 2009, when the Final Four did not yet exist.
The deliverance came from Ludovic Fabregas. Alone on the 7-meter throw line, alone facing his destiny and that of the Blaugrana, the French pivot drove the last nail of a crazy meeting to the end by scoring the decisive shot on goal. Before him, Alex Dujshebaev had missed the target, precipitating the defeat of the Polish club. Fabregas turned to face his teammates, who quickly came to congratulate him.
Meanwhile, Antonio Carlos Ortega couldn’t believe it, prone to the ground, his head in his hands. The Spaniard, already titled six times as a player with Barça, has just gleaned his first Champions League as head coach after returning to his favorite club last summer.
Kielce believed in it until the end
Barcelona could have avoided going through extra time and a necessarily perilous penalty shoot-out. Thanks to the talent of Dika Mem (5 goals), the formidable entry into play of Melvyn Richardson (2 goals) causing the decisive penalty converted by Aleix Gomez (28-27, 58th) and the relentless defense of Ludovic Fabregas, the club Catalan thought of spinning towards a new coronation.
It was without counting on an unusual error at this level, when the central defense was sucked by Alex Dujshebaev, who could serve Artsem Karalek in an armchair. The Belarusian equalized in the last seconds of the game to send his team into overtime (28-28, 60th).
Kielce knows the recipe for the end of games at stake. Already twice winners of Barça in the group stage this season (32-30 in Barcelona, 29-27 in Poland), the Poles had won their only Champions League under these conditions, in 2016. Led by nine goals by the Hungarians of Veszprem fifteen minutes from the end, they finally won on penalties.
They will not have succeeded in a new robbery, even if they did not go far. Despite the start of extra time borrowed from his team, Daniel Dujshebaev (Alex’s little brother and son of Talant, the Kielce coach) equalized once again to head for the penalty shootout.
But the Barcelona victory is deserved. They entered their seventh final much better since the establishment of the Final Four in 2010. The Catalans quickly took a three-goal lead (5-2, 7th) before taking the lead at the break with a goal lead (14-13, 30th) thanks to right winger Aleix Gomez (6 of his 9 goals in the first period).
As the meeting progressed, the Poles, carried by a public won over to their cause, came back to match the Barcelonans. They even went back in front at the start of the second half (17-16, 37 “) for the first time since the opener of the Frenchman Nicolas Tournat (2 goals).
Four titled French players
But the teammates of Dylan Nahi (2 goals), the other Habs from Kielce, will long regret their inability to take a two-goal lead. The opportunities were not lacking in the heart of the second period, however, but Barça goalkeeper Gonzalo Pérez de Vargas chained three successive parades to keep his people alive (20-21, 45th).
Pérez de Vargas (12 saves like his opponent Andreas Wolff) was one of the decisive men in this final since it was he who diverted Alex Dujshebaev’s shot on goal to then allow Ludovic Fabregas to keep the C1 in Catalonia .
At 25, the Habs won their third Champions League after those won in 2018 with Montpellier and in 2021 with Barcelona. Dika Mem and Timothey N’Guessan are enjoying the ultimate continental title for the second time, just like Melvyn Richardson, who also tasted it in Montpellier.
For the French from Kielce, Dylan Nahi and Nicolas Tournat, it will be necessary to wait another season to hope to climb the roof of Europe. They will be supported next year by their compatriots Benoît Kounkoud and Nedim Remili, from PSG.