Pascual: “More than with the results, I’m glad with how we play”
After missing the season highlight last year, Barça Lassa are returning to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in June for their record seventh participation.
The team has played a strong season and coach Xavi Pascual is aware that Barça are probably the main title contenders in Cologne.
Winning the club’s third VELUX EHF Champions League title, after the triumphs in 2011 and 2015, would be the ultimate crown on Pascual’s successful 10thanniversary on the club’s bench.
ehfCL.com: Barça Lassa are back to Cologne and will play their seventh VELUX EHF FINAL4, a record.
Xavi Pascual: It means we have been competing all those years. Be competitive and be at the EHF FINAL4 is what we must require from ourselves.
ehfCL.com: Barça missed the previous VELUX EHF FINAL4 after the Last 16 defeat to eventual champions Montpellier. The team now looks vastly different from a year ago.
Xavi Pascual: Last season was hard. We had many injuries and we had to adapt to the situation. We didn't played very good handball in the first part of the season, just normal, and we weren’t good in the knock-out. Montpellier were better, but I don’t think we owe something to our fans or ourselves. We did everything. I couldn’t reproach my players with anything.
ehfCL.com: Did you learn something?
Xavi Pascual: Sport is a constant learning. For Barça, being out of the Champions League, it doesn’t matter when, is never a good result. But, obviously, we should go a step further this season.
ehfCL.com: Why did you decide to change the team’s philosophy, to introduce a faster style of playing?
Xavi Pascual: Yes, we changed it because we have the players to do it. More than with the results, I’m glad with how we played. I enjoy when I see my team play. I don’t know if it will give us a great result at the EHF FINAL4, but we will play exactly like this. It is what we believe in. I enjoy it, the players enjoy it and I think the fans enjoy it as well.
ehfCL.com: Barça Lassa easily won their Group and lost only two matches in Europe all season. Do you think you have been superior to your opponents?
Xavi Pascual: I do not think we have been so superior. I think we have had very good results but we have also benefited from things that sometimes go unnoticed. We have played games against teams with many injuries. And, anyway, those results don’t give us an advantage in Cologne.
ehfCL.com: Many people regard Barça Lassa the favourites to win the VELUX EHF Champions League this season.
Xavi Pascual: I don’t care about that. I can understand it because we are Barça, but… two years ago, when we were eliminated by Vardar in the semi-final, nobody gave anything for us before the season but in May we suddenly were the favourites. How can we go from the one end to the other? Being the favourites is relative.
ehfCL.com: Barça will face Vadar in the semi-finals. You clearly beat them twice this season (34:26 at home, 30:26 away). Do you expect a similar match?
Xavi Pascual: No, it’s impossible. I expect an experienced team which has nothing to lose. Vardar have dealt well with the loss of Arpad Sterbik, they have incredible wings and Stas Skube, who gives them a lot of mobility. Igor Karacic is having a very good season, like never before, and Dainis Kristopans is very difficult to stop. What we have done before is no advantage for us. The match will start at 0:0 and we must fight from the start. It will be a hard fight.
ehfCL.com: Vardar beat Barça two years ago in the semi-final. Revenge this year?
Xavi Pascual: I don’t like the word ‘revenge.’ If we had won two years ago, we would like to win as well now. Maybe it gives that little bit of extra motivation, but when you are a player it does not matter who is in front of you, you always look for a win.
ehfCL.com: Your team is more mature than then.
Xavi Pascual: Undoubtedly. Two years ago, a lot of our young players were at the EHF FINAL4 for the first time, with no experience in big games. Now, they have more knowledge. However, being the most experienced club at the EHF FINAL4 does not mean that we are the most experienced team. A lot of players will play for the first time at the EHF FINAL4.
ehfCL.com: What about the second semi between Kielce and Veszprém?
Xavi Pascual: Both teams have stepped up during the season. Kielce with Talant Dusjhebaev are always there, always biting. They have extraordinary players in all positions and they already won an EHF FINAL4 (in 2016) from a seemingly lost position, one of the biggest comebacks a team can have. And Veszprém are hungry. They have been to Cologne before but they never won the title which makes them dangerous. Veszprém have players in all positions, an extraordinary goal and different defensive systems. It will be an equal semi-final, too.
ehfCL.com: Was Kielce’s comeback the most unexpected thing you’ve seen in Cologne?
Xavi Pascual: We've seen a few incredible moments in the LANXESS arena. We were winning by six in a semi-final with 10 minutes to go and we still lost [to Flensburg, in 2014]. This is sport and it reminds you that matches are 60 minutes, never less.
ehfCL.com: For the first time all four coaches at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 are from Spain. Which is the key to that success?
Xavi Pascual: Our handball is different, not better or worse, different. Not all of us are from the same school, we played differently because we think differently. It’s not the same game like Vardar, Kielce or Szeged. Even the Spanish national team plays different handball. The key is we are tactically rich and we have the ability to learn from each other.
ehfCL.com: In February was your 10th anniversary on the Barça bench.
Xavi Pascual: It have not been 10 easy years here. The advantage I have is that I know the club perfectly, a very big club that is not just handball. I am proud of my team, the work we did, the way we play.
ehfCL.com: What do you expect from the VELUX EHF FINAL4?
Xavi Pascual: Playing how we played all season and enjoying the EHF FINAL4. We are going to Cologne to win, but if in the end we don’t win, I’m sure that nobody could say that we haven’t put in devotion, heart and volition.Author: Laia Coll / ew