Champions Cup Final 4 Preview
The teams competing include the two top teams from Spain, BSR AMIAB Albacete & CD Ilunion and the two top teams from Germany, RSB Thuringia Bulls & RSV Lahn-Dill. Games will take place at the Sportscentrum De Kooi. On top of four elite level games, the event will also include a social impact program for adults and children, two business events, vitality activities, a 3×3 tournament and the Draw for the European Championships 2023, being hosted in Rotterdam this August.
BSR AMIAB Albacete come into the event as reigning and defending Champions Cup champions, winning the Cup for the first time last year. New additions to their squad include British players, Charlotte Moore and Phil Pratt who moved from Mideba Extremadura and Mexican veteran, Salvador Zavala, being called up after playing in the club’s feeder team, BSR AMIAB Puertollano in the Primera Division. Kyle Marsh and Almu Montiel departed for Malaga and Gaz Choudhry departed for Lahn-Dill. Albacete have had an impressive run this season, winning the Supercopa (Super Cup) at the beginning of the season and topping Spain’s Division de Honour, finishing with a record of 21-1. They are currently 3-0 in their Champions Cup campaign after automatically qualifying for the Quarterfinals, beating Lahn-Dill to secure the top spot in Group B at home.
CD Ilunion will be looking to add a fourth Champions Cup title to their cabinet after last winning the Cup in 2017. This season they acquired the talents of Australian, Tom O’Neill-Thorne and Mexican, Luis Jasso who have both had previous stints in Spain playing for Bilbao. They also have a new head coach in Spaniard, Victor Ramos after Miguel Vaquero departed the club. This season Ilunion finished second in the Spanish league with a record of 20-2. So far in Champions Cup they are 6-1, coming out on top of their Preliminary Group in Vienna and suffering a narrow loss against RSB Thuringia Bulls in Elxleben to finish second in Group A of the Quarterfinals.
Will the third time be the charm for RSB Thuringia Bulls? The German powerhouse is once again looking to capture the Champions Cup after going back-to-back in 2018 and 2019. Only one roster change for the Bulls this season as they signed Dutch youngster, Arie Twigt. Former Bulls captain and German legend, Andre Bienek announced his retirement to become assistant coach. Current Chair of the International Paralympic Committee’s Athletes Council, Jitske Visser has recently returned to the team after missing a few games. The Bulls were crowned RBBL1 Champions two weeks ago after beating Lahn-Dill in the Playoff Finals 2-1. They won the league, finishing with a record of 17-1. They have gone 3-0 in the Champions Cup so far after automatically qualifying for the Quarterfinals and achieving the top place in Group A.
RSV Lahn-Dill are on the hunt for their eighth Champions Cup trophy, being the club with the most Champions Cup titles in history, spanning as far back as 2004 and as recently as 2021. They have undergone a few roster changes since last season, adding the likes of Gaz Choudhry, Matthias Güntner and Rose Hollermann whilst Dominik Mosler, Brian Bell and Hiro Kozai all returned to their respective homelands. However, on 4th April the club announced that they were parting ways with Gaz Choudhry. The team finished second in the league with a record of 16-2 after losing to both the Bulls and Wiesbaden at home. In the Playoff Finals they went 1-2 against the Bulls, winning the second game but losing the first and third. They are currently 5-2 in Champions Cup, coming up short against Ilunion in the Preliminaries and Albacete in the Quarterfinals respectively.
The Champions Cup semi-finals match up as Spain v Spain and Germany v Germany which guarantees a Spain v Germany Final, showcasing the true crème de la crème of wheelchair basketball.
The first semi-final pits Spanish rivals Albacete and Ilunion against each other. Both teams will be looking to bounce back and end the season on a high after they both lost to Bilbao two weeks ago in the Copa del Rey (Kings Cup.) With regards to this season Albacete seemingly have Ilunion’s number. The two sides have faced off three times, once in the Supercopa and twice in the league, on all three occasions Albacete have come out victorious. They beat them at home 68-57 in the Supercopa Final, 80-64 in Madrid and 78-70 once again at home. Albacete were the only team to beat Ilunion in the league. However, perhaps this will provide the Madrid side with motivation as they are set to clash with their rivals for the fourth and final time this season in the biggest club competition in Europe.
The second semi-final sees the Bulls face Lahn-Dill, two teams that are destined to battle forever. Out of their five meetings so far this season, the Bulls have a 3-2 advantage. Their first meeting resulted in a 4-point 70-66 win for Lahn-Dill at the Fit-In in Elxleben. The Bulls were adamant to seek revenge when they showed up to the Buderus Arena in Wetzlar, claiming a 78-58 win. After going 1-1 in the league, the two teams met again in the Playoff Finals. It was the Bulls who once again picked up a convincing 81-53 win in Wetzlar in Game 1. Lahn-Dill bounced back in Game 2 with another 4-point victory, 67-63. In Game 3, the Bulls solidified their place as the top club in Germany this season, winning 76-65 to once more be crowned German champions. The question remains can Lahn-Dill tie up the series 3-3? Or will the Bulls continue with the same dominance that made them champions?
On another note, it will be a good experience for Dutch players, Arie Twigt, Jitske Visser and Quinten Zantinge to showcase their talents at the highest level in their home country.
With that being said, who will be crowned IWBF Europe Champions Cup champions? Find out on 5th and 6th of May at Sportcentrum De Kooi in Bemmel. Get your tickets here. See you there!
Text: Dylan Cummings
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