Champions League semifinals: Landin’s calm is the power of Kiel

Et doesn’t look like anything special at lunchtime in the Altenholz training center. Some professionals from THW Kiel sit on gymnastics benches after the exercise session and wait, others have just come from personal hygiene. If you are looking for nervousness or tension, you are guaranteed to have chosen the wrong contact person in Niklas Landin. The 201-centimetre-long goalkeeper sneaks into the hall on black socks, puts on his friendliest smile (he actually never looks angry, at most concentrated) and counters questions with the utmost matter-of-factness: “My responsibility? I always have a lot of responsibility.”

That this time it was “particularly big” – Landin avoided this little game. This Saturday evening (6 p.m. on DAZN) FC Barcelona is waiting for THW in the Champions League semifinals. Kiel traveled to Cologne for the Finale Four without two of its most important players: Defense chief Hendrik Pekeler and attacking engine Sander Sagosen are missing after serious injuries. Now others would have to step in against the defending champion, says Landin laconically and means Miha Zarabec and Nikola Bilyk.

Everyday life of a two-time “world handball player”.

Without a doubt, however, the goalkeeper will have to go ahead in order to protect Kiel’s chances of reaching the final the next day. The Dane does not seem to understand this as a particular burden. Rather than everyday. It is the everyday life of a two-time “world handball player”. Some, like his teammate Patrick Wiencek, see Landin as the best goalkeeper in handball history.

Landing smiles. “I’ve seen a couple of finals,” he says, “that helps me. I’m not too impressed by the atmosphere.” He won the “Big Five” of world handball – is Olympic champion, world champion, European champion, champions league winner and German champion. Landin has remained as unpretentious as only Scandinavians can.

Where others give in when it matters most, the 33-year-old Dane unfolds his full effectiveness. He has acquired a special ability in the course of his career. Even if things don’t go well at first and he can’t get his hands on the ball, he breaks away from these moments of frustration. Landin is then substituted, observed, analyzed, and comes back after a few minutes with new insights. How does that work? “It’s a mixture of talent, experience, mentality and a lot of work,” says Landin.

“Were we favorites in 2020?”

The memory of the Cologne triumph in December 2020 is fresh at THW. Due to the pandemic, the people of Kiel defeated Veszprem in the semi-finals in front of empty ranks, then gave Barcelona no chance in the final. Right in the middle was Landin, who snatched victory from Hungary with late saves, then saved 16 shots against the Spaniards (nine in the second round) and paved the way to their fourth success in the master class. Now he’s looking forward to a full arena, says Landin. 20,000 fans are expected.

Is it an advantage to start as an outsider this time because of the failures? “Were we favorites in 2020?” He replies with a smile: “We know how to go into games like this.” It’s certainly in Barcelona’s minds that they lost the 2020 final, Landin allows himself a little teasing. And if a German team can be trusted to put up with setbacks and be there on the spot, then these people from Kiel with all their experience and coach Filip Jicha, who has proven that he knows how to reach finals – and win.

Landin smiles charmingly away from the explosive nature of the goal duel. Niklas Landin versus Gonzalo Perez de Vargas. “We wrote to each other when there were no games, but I don’t know him at all, really,” says Landin. The great Dane against the smaller Spaniard. There are no better keepers. Landin just says, “I’m concentrating on their attacks and he’s on ours.” That’s all there is to it.

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