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20.09.2016, 17:50◄ last page     

VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: HC Vardar (MKD).

One step close to Cologne

In three consecutive years, from 2014 to 2016, Vardar failed to make it to Cologne and after those quarter-final eliminations, the Macedonian champions now hope for an improvement this season.

“The last three years have been a major success for our club, but now we want to improve, as we believe that our team can accomplish our highest expectations,” says manager Davor Stojanovski.

“All our fans and everyone in the club would be overjoyed, if we could finally make it to the FINAL4 in Cologne. Achieving the top results is always difficult in a competition like the Champions League, but we are ready for the challenge.”

The new team captain, Macedonian international Stojanche Stoilov, fully agrees and emphasises the importance of competing in the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

“Vardar has continuously proven that this is a serious project with high goals. Our clear priority for this season is to qualify for the FINAL4 in Cologne. We have not managed to be part of the event thus far, as we lacked experience, quality or perhaps some luck.

"But, we showed continuity by qualifying for the top 8 within Europe three times and now, I hope we can make this one final step further. I cannot guarantee that we will make it, but I hope to fulfil our wishes.”

Vardar signed some big names, such as Joan Canellas (Kiel) and Ivan Cupic (Kielce). On the other hand, some key players left the team coached by Raul Gonzalez, including Sergei Gorbok.

In Group B, Vardar will face some well-known competitors, like their SEHA-Liga opponents Brest, Zagreb and Celje, plus two of their VELUX EHF Champions League group phase opponents from last year, Kielce, who previously eliminated Vardar twice in the quarter-final and the Löwen.

“We know all those rivals,” says Stojanche Stoilov, “some more, some less, but we are familiar with their qualities. We have a real chance to fight for one of the top two spots in the group. We will not surrender in any game and we will not under-estimate any opponent.”

Manager Stojanovski disagrees that their Group B is not as interesting as Group A.

“There are no unattractive or easy matches, as Europe’s elite all compete in the Champions League. All of the opponents hope for the Last 16, as do we. We know them all, either from the Champions League or from the SEHA Liga, but every match will be a different story, fuelled with anticipation. We will fight until the last second in every match, but we already have respect for all our opponents.”

Now, all rivals know how it will feel to enter the Jane Sandanski Arena in Skopje - Vardar’s fortress, full of vociferous fans.

For Stojanovski, to satisfy the fans is one of the main advantages of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

“We want to give them beautiful handball spectacles and great matches. Every year, the matches are getting more thrilling, more uncertain and more interesting - and thus, they are attracting more spectators to our arena. This is our measure of success and thanks to the Champions League, we can be successful.”

HC Vardar (MKD)

Qualification for the 2016/17 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Macedonian champions

Newcomers: Joan Canellas (THW Kiel), Rogerio Moraes (THW Kiel), Vuko Borozan (TuS N-Lübbecke), Ivan Cupic (Vive Tauron Kielce)
Left the club: Dejan Manaskov (Rhein Neckar Löwen), Matjaz Brumen (Gorenje Velenje), Alem Toskic (Gorenje Velenje), Sergei Gorbok (Pick Szeged), Filip Lazarov (HC Timisoara)
Coach: Raul Gutierrez Gonzalez (since November 2013)
Team captain: Stojanche Stoilov

Opponents in the group phase: Löwen, Kielce, Zagreb, Brest, Celje, Szeged and Kristianstad in group B

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2016/17 season):  11
Quarter-final (3): 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16
Last 32 (1): 1999/00
Group phase (6): 2001/02, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2007/08, 2009/10

Other EC records:
Cup Winners’ Cup: semi-finalist: 1998/99, 2004/05, 2010/11, quarter-finalist: 2006/07

Winner of SEHA Liga: 2012, 2014

Macedonian league: 10 titles (1998/99, 2000/01, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2006/07, 2008/09, 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16)
Macedonian cup: 11 titles (1997, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016)

TEXT: Björn Pazen/tm

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