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18.08.2016, 13:40◄ last page     

THROWBACK THURSDAY: BM Ciudad Real and their three historic EHF Champions League triumphs - including the end of a curse and a lost trophy

How the knights from La Mancha became the kings of Europe

Domingo de Mera had a dream and he fulfilled it. He had made it to the top, although the story didn’t have a happy ending.

Before BM Ciudad Real arrived at the top table of European handball, Don Quichote was the most famous person in the La Mancha region of Spain. So much so that the Ciudad Real arena was named after the famous knight.

In the late 1990’s, when Spanish handball was the dominant force in Europe, this little town started its journey to the top. From the 1993/94 season until 2001, all EHF Champions League winners had come from Spain and to be more accurate, those Champions League winners were mostly from FC Barcelona.

In the first year, Teka Santander were the debut champions, and among them was a player, who later became a colossus in the history of BM Ciudad Real, Talant Dujshebaev.

The Kyrgyzstan-born star - who later went on to represent the Soviet Union, EUN and Spanish national team - was awarded World Handball Player of the Year twice. In 2001 he arrived back in Spain and joined the up and coming Ciudad Real.

At that time another World Handball Player of the Year winner, Veselin Vujovic, coached the team. He was sacked in 2002 following the EHF Cup Winners’ Cup final against Flensburg.

Talant Dujshebaev first became the player coach, then the coach and one of the directors of de Mera, once said: “We do not need to sign any contract, we just shake hands and Talant knows that he can stay until the end of his lifetime regardless, whether we are successful or not.”

Dujshebaev stayed. In the 2003/04 season, Ciudad Real made it the semi-final of EHF Champions League in their debut season.

In the meantime, Dujshebaev had already assembled a team of world class players, with the likes of Didier Dinart, Jose Javier Hombrados, Olafur Stefansson, Jonas Källman, Alberto Entrerrios oder Roberto Urios all part of his squad.

They all shared the same dream as de Mera had: to become the most dominant team in Spain, Europe and the world. In 2004, Ciudad Real won their first Spanish championship, eleven months later, in May 2005, they narrowly missed out on winning the Champions League after defeats to a superior Barcelona side (28:27, 27:29) in the final.

One year later, the “Talant boys” made La Mancha happy and shook the Don Quichote Arena to its foundations. In another All-Spanish EHF Champions League final, Ciudad Real produced the most dominant performance in a final when beating Portland San Antonio by 15 goals. By then, world stars like goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik and left back Siarhei Rutenka had strengthened the squad, which was still mostly paid by the private money of de Mera.

At Ciudad Real, Croatian legend Mirza Dzomba ended his curse. After losing five Champions League finals with three different clubs (Zagreb, Veszprem and Ciudad Real) he managed to finally raise the trophy in 2006.

The stage was set for a legendary period. Between 2007 and 2010, Ciudad Real dominated Barcelona four years running in the Asobal Liga. In 2008 and 2009, they added two more Champions League trophies to their cabinet, twice beating THW Kiel in the finals.

Ciudad Real had also made history as the last team to win the EHF Champions League in the old tournament format prior to the implementation of the VELUX EHF FINAL4. They are still the only team to have successfully defended the Champions League. “Those two finals against Kiel were moments you never forget. Though I had won the Champions League twice before with Magdeburg and Ciudad Real, those were the highlights,” says Icelandic international Olafur Stefansson.

The 2008 trophy seemed to be out of reach following Ciudad Real’s 27:29 defeat in the first leg at home. The whole city of Kiel was prepared for a great party; even the confetti was printed in the black and white colours of Kiel.

But two Scandinavians had decided to gatecrash the party at the Baltic Sea. Stefansson, netted 12 times, and Källman helped himself to 11 goals as Ciudad Real produced a sensational 31:25 win.

The party in Kiel seemed to have taken its toll as the Champions League trophy was momentarily ‘misplaced’ at Hamburg airport. Thankfully, it reappeared just in time for the party at the market square of the city.

One year later, the trophy did not have to move, as this time the second leg was on home ground - and again Ciudad Real were the underdogs after a 34:39 defeat in Kiel. But once again they found a way to overturn a first leg deficit. Nobody would realise at that historic moment – like Barcelona, Ciudad Real were the second ever club to win the Champions League three times - that it would be their last trophy.

In 2010 they made it to Cologne, but were beaten by Kiel in the semi of the first VELUX EHF FINAL4. In 2011 they made it to the final, but like in 2005 were beaten by Barcelona. It signalled the end of an era.

Due to the finance crisis, which had a tough impact on Domingo de Mera, the club decided to change their location and became a section of Atletico Madrid football club.

In their first season under this new umbrella, Atletico made it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 again, but were finally beaten by Kiel in the final. In 2013, they were eliminated before reaching Cologne.

And just like that the story was over.

Due to bankruptcy, the handball division of Atletico Madrid was shut down. The La Mancha story of trophies and triumphs had come to an end, but its legacy is still alive.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / sc, br

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