Derby, title ambitions, revenge cravings: The 108th Schleswig-Holstein duel between the handball players from THW Kiel and SG Flensburg-Handewitt creates high tension on several levels. On Sunday (2:05 p.m., Sky and NDR) it’s not just about who is number one in the north. A good starting position in the tight final sprint for the German championship is also at stake. And for hosts Kiel it is also about making amends for the crushing first-leg defeat in Flensburg.

You can already feel the anticipation of THW coach Filip Jicha. “The whole of Germany is looking forward to the game – it will be a unique game again,” said the former world-class player, who celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. His Flensburg coach colleague Maik Machulla even went one step further: “This is the game of games that the whole of handball Europe envies us for.”

Kiel go into the derby with 41:9 points as the leader against fourth-placed Flensburg (39:11), which will take place in front of 10,285 spectators in the sold-out arena. Between the northern rivals are Füchse Berlin (41:9) and defending champion SC Magdeburg (41:11). Both northern teams have recently lacked the really big sense of achievement. The THW had to be content with a 34:34 draw against Magdeburg, the SG expressed great frustration after being eliminated in the semi-finals of the DHB Cup and in the quarter-finals of the European League within just four days.

The derby is more decisive for Flensburg, who will probably have to shelve their third dream of the title if they lose. “Every game is a final. We can’t leave anything behind,” said Machulla: “But that also applies to Kiel.” After being eliminated from the European Cup, the 46-year-old tried to build up his players again in individual talks. “The good thing is that we still have a goal,” said the ex-professional.

In any case, THW player Rune Dahmke does not want to be blinded by the recent negative experiences of Flensburg. “The last few weeks don’t matter on Sunday. It’s a derby.” The left winger warned above all about the opponent’s speed game, but the 30-year-old is certain: “If we use our potential, we can beat any opponent.”

Meanwhile, the statistics clearly speak for the hosts. Of the 107 derbies so far, 64 have gone to THW. The SG won only 38 games. In the last edition of the Handball Clasico, Flensburg made a big statement in mid-December when they celebrated their highest victory over their big northern rivals at 36:23.

The record champions want to put the situation back in order, but for the Kiel keeper Thomas Mrkva the table situation is in the foreground. “Of course we still have a score to settle with Flensburg,” said the 34-year-old Czech: “But this game on Sunday is much more important than any desire for revenge. We want to get these two eminently important points in order to move up the field.”

This also applies to Füchse Berlin: They are facing a difficult game in the fight for the championship. On Sunday, second in the table welcomes fifth-placed Rhein-Neckar Löwen (4:05 p.m., Sky). “This is a very, very important game for us,” said captain Paul Drux. Even if the lions are no longer playing for the title, they are “still in the running for places in the Champions League and European Cups,” said coach Jaron Siewert

However, the form of the opponent varies. Although the lions triumphed in the cup last weekend, they lost four games in a row in the league. “It’s even harder to judge now than it was before. But I think what they showed over the weekend is their true colors. In terms of commitment, emotions, and the pace of play, that’s what they actually played for 80 percent of the season.”

Drux therefore also believes in an opponent with a lot of tailwind. “Of course they come with crazy euphoria. Of course it can inspire, but of course it can also be a burden,” he said. But the Foxes are also on course after reaching the Final Four in the European League on Tuesday against the Swiss champions Kadetten Schaffhausen. “That was a huge goal for us. And it was a boost of energy for us, too, and we’re in good spirits too,” said Siewert.

So far, however, only one milestone has been reached. “We are aware that we have not yet achieved anything,” said Siewert. And the Berliners cannot afford to slip up in the title race. Backcourt star Mathias Gidsel doesn’t want to put too much pressure on him. “If it doesn’t work out this year, then next season. We are title contenders,” said the Dane.

The Berliners have to do without goalkeeper Dejan Milosavljev against the lions. “He won’t be ready for action on Sunday,” said Siewert. The Serb suffered an ankle injury against Schaffhausen on Tuesday and will probably be out for several weeks. Lasse Ludwig will step up for him. The second keeper Viktor Kireev will probably start in goal. “He has shown outstanding performances this season. Especially in the phase in which Dejan was injured before,” said the foxes trainer.