Landin: “We know how to deal with challenges”
When Niklas Landin lifted the EHF Champions League trophy for the first and, so far, only time in December 2020, the LANXESS arena in Cologne was empty amid the pandemic.
Now, the Danish THW Kiel goalkeeper is “incredibly happy” that the “cathedral of handball” on the bank of the river Rhine will be full with up to 20,000 fans next weekend (18/19 June).
“The anticipation of playing in a hopefully sold-out arena is so huge. The fans were missing when we won the trophy in 2020; it was the strangest winners’ ceremony in my whole career. You stand on the podium and no one cheers for you, no emotions from the stands, no atmosphere.”
Landin was a key for Kiel’s fourth title in the EHF Champions League 18 months ago. Next weekend, he and Kiel are back at the pinnacle event of the EHF Champions League – and Kiel’s first opponents are the same as their last from that 2020 final: Barça.
Arrived in Cologne as underdogs, Kiel made it to the final and beat the big favourites from Barcelona 33:28. On Saturday 18 June, Kiel face Barça in the semi-final of the 13th edition of the EHF FINAL4.
“We know Barça so well, and we know from the 2020 final what you need to beat them,” Landin says.
“This year’s EHF FINAL4 is fully equal and balanced, there is no big favourite like Barça were last year.”
Landin – an Olympic, world, and EHF EURO champion with Denmark – was not impressed when Barça were drawn as their first opponents for the EHF FINAL4 2022.
“When you have made it to Cologne, you do not care which team you face first. All four sides are strong, there is no choice, as you only face world class.”
Landin’s last-second save to deny Paris Saint-Germain HB’s Luc Steins in the second leg of the quarter-finals sent Kiel to Cologne. And Barça have huge respect for the goalkeeper: “The Landin-effect is crucial for Kiel,” said Barça coach Carlos Ortega after the draw.
“I did not know this statement, but it is obvious that Barça want to put the pressure on me. But I am experienced enough to stand this pressure”, Landin says with a smile.
The fact that Kiel coach Filip Jicha played for Barça in the past is nothing crucial, according to Landin.
“Of course, Filip knows the players and the Spanish style. Like in the 2020 final, he will have his ideas how to stop them. But we all know them so well,” the goalkeeper says.
When the season is over and you look back at the year, titles are all that count. And to win the Champions League is the biggest one you can win.
The presence of another world-class goalkeeper on the other side of the court – Spanish international Gonzalo Perez de Vargas – is not on Landin’s mind going into the semi-final.
“The opponent’s goalkeeper is the only player who I do not prepare for. We are far away from each other,” he says.
“But of course, we all know that goalkeepers and their cooperation with the defence are crucial if you want to win the big trophies. So, let’s wait and see.”
Unfortunately, Kiel have been hit by injuries near the end of their exhausting season, as both Hendrik Pekeler and Sander Sagosen have been ruled out for the EHF FINAL4.
“We were really looking forward to Cologne, even when we had to cope with Hendrik’s injury. But without the boss of defence and the boss of attack, it will be really hard for us,” says Landin.
On the other hand, the Dane expects other players to rise to the occasion now.
“In events such as the EHF FINAL4, players you don’t have on your list, rise like a Phoenix. I am sure Domagoj Duvnjak will lead our attack and take Miha Zarabec and Nikola Bilyk by their hands. Maybe Niko can become this player who decides our matches.”
For success in Cologne, Landin sees two main factors.
“First, we can count on an incredible team spirit and this team plays together for years. We believe in ourselves, and we have so much positive energy in our team. The second advantage is our huge experience. Almost all our players have been part of crucial matches – semi-finals and finals. We know how to deal with those challenges.”
Together with his brother Magnus, he is one of the two pairs of brothers playing at the EHF FINAL4, alongside Lomza Vive Kielce’s Alex and Daniel Dujshebaev.
Niklas and Magnus Landin have already won a bunch of trophies together with their club and in the national team.
“We dream of winning this trophy again in Cologne, that we can have another party,” Landin says.
“When the season is over and you look back at the year, titles are all that count. And to win the Champions League is the biggest one you can win.”