From qualification to one step from the final

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Losing to Kiel by just four goals goes to show just how close this competition was. BM Ciudad Real and THW Kiel both only lost two games all season. FC Barcelona lost three, but one of those games was a meaningless affair after qualification had already been assured. Small matters can prove decisive in the Champions League these days.

Another famous moment was Barcelona’s 8,000th goal in European competitions, scored by Demetrio Lozano away to Kiel. It was Barša’s 30th goal in that particular match.

From qualification to one step from the final

It was a bittersweet Champions League campaign for Barša. They qualified in style and went unbeaten throughout the first stage, but ended up one match away from a place in the grand final.

After winning by seven goals against the defending European champions (44-37), German outfit Kiel, and just missing out on the Champions League, it is time now to review the whole season. Manolo Cadenas’ side was one of the prominent clubs in Europe this year, both individually and collectively.

Preliminary round

FC Barcelona had to play a preliminary qualifier for the first time since 1992/93. They met the Portuguese league leaders ABC Braga and started with a two-goal win away, 26-28. The return leg was the first at the Palau for new coach Manolo Cadenas and Barša won without too many problems (37-28) and thus progressed to the first round proper.

Unbeaten in first round

They could not have got off to a better start, winning 6 out of 6. The first game was in the Czech Republic, against Karvina, who were squarely beaten (20-35). Then they won at the Palau against Astrakßn of Russia (34-27) and Ivry of France (34-26), which placed FC Barcelona in pole position for a place in the next stage.

QM3D0221.jpgThe trip to Russia was expected to present the most difficulties, and that turned out to be the case. Astrakßn started strong and went three goals head, but Barša got back into it and eventually managed to win by a single goals (30-31). In the penultimate match, the side managed by Manolo Cadenas secured mathematical qualification in first place with a win at the Palau against Karvina (43-25). The final game was a mere formality, and FC Barcelona made sure they went into the next round unbeaten with a win at Ivry (27-29).

FC Barcelona were not only unbeaten, but also had third best stats both in offence and defence in the competition, and only THW Kiel and BM Ciudad Real could also boast one hundred per cent records.

March to semi finales

The draw for the next round was not such a simple matter. GOG Gudme were a surprise package from Denmark, while Pick Szeged and Celje are familiar foes for Barša in Europe.

Things started badly for FC Barcelona. They went to Denmark to take on Gudme and despite a good start (14-19 at half time), things collapsed in the second half and the Danes collected the win (35-33). It was Manolo Cadenas’ first defeat in the Champions League. Barša sought to make amends in the second game, and did so with a resounding win over Celje at the Palau (39-28). Then came two road wins, the first at Pick Szeged (28-33) and the second at Celje (27-32). Those games put an end to both the Hungarians’ and the Slovenes’ unbeaten home records.

In the second to last encounter, it was time for FC Barcelona to meet Gudme again, the only team they had lost to so far. It took 21 minutes for Barša to break the Scandinavians, and from there they held on to their lead to ultimately come through with a win (29-24) that guaranteed a semi final slot.

The final game saw Barša lose to Pick Szeged at the Palau Blaugrana (28-32), the first home defeat in Europe for FC Barcelona in eleven seasons, although in terms of qualification, the game was irrelevant.

Ciudad Real, THW Kiel, HSV Hamburg and FC Barcelona went into the semi finals. Barša, with 194, was the highest scoring side in the second round, while the side from La Mancha topped the defensive stats.

Semis against the champions

kiel1.jpgBut the semi finals were a daunting challenge, for Barcelona were now up against the defending champions from Germany, Kiel. But they had the advantage pf playing the second leg at home, but it all went wrong in Germany, where Barša were hammered by ten goals (41-31). The return leg was a Sunday fixture at the Palau Blaugrana, and Manolo Cadenas’ charge put their hearts into it, but it was not until the last quarter of an hour that they went more than a goal ahead, when they needed to win by ten. Barša poured everything into the attack and eventually won by seven, but that was not enough and they missed out on the final, which was played between Kiel and Ciudad Real.

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