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01.09.2016, 19:20◄ last page     

NEWS REPORT: Ahead of the start of the German Bundesliga, the Champions win the Super Cup, and all the experts expect the three Champions League teams to fight for the title

Löwen for the first time the hunted not the hunters

For two straight seasons (2013/14 & 2014/15) Rhein-Neckar Löwen cried bitter tears in crunch time of the Bundesliga, when THW Kiel passed them out minutes before the end of the season.

In June 2016 they turned the tide; in the last match of outgoing team captain Uwe Gensheimer they took their first domestic title by becoming the Bundesliga champions.

Now for the first time the Mannheim-based VELUX EHF Champions League participants are the hunted not the hunters in German league, which starts on Friday.

However, their campaign this time around will be without Gensheimer who has joined Paris Saint Germain.

But his successor has already proven his abilities on Wednesday night. The 37-year-old Icelander Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson - who has been signed from Barcelona - led Löwen to their first ever German Super Cup trophy, scoring seven goals against the cup winners and EHF Cup participant SC Magdeburg. Funnily enough, in their first league match on Saturday both sides will face once again.

“Though the importance of the Super Cup is not seen to be that great, we are happy with it,” commented German international Patrick Groetzki.

But his coach Nikolaj Jacobsen is keeping his emotions in check: “We beat a top opponent and we started well, but it’s too early for any predictions.”

Frank Bohmann, director of the German Bundesliga, fully agrees: “I expect the three usual suspects to fight for the German championship: Löwen, Kiel and Flensburg. Maybe in some years, teams like Melsungen, Magdeburg, Berlin or Göppingen will have the chance to bridge the gap.”

All seven sides are playing in European Cup competitions next season, no other country is represented by a bigger number of male clubs than the German Bundesliga.

“And being on top of the EHF club ranking constantly since 2007 proves that we are still the strongest league in the world,” Bohmann adds.

But like in previous seasons, top stars have left for abroad such as Gensheimer or Joan Canellas (from Kiel to Veszprem). The biggest inter-league transfer was EHF EURO All-star goalkeeper Andreas Wolff moving from Wetzlar to Kiel, where he joins Danish Olympic champion Niklas Landin to make probably one of the best goalkeeper duos on club level.

Kiel are in a state of transition again, as the three-time Champions League winners have lost eight players. To counteract this they have signed young guns like Austrians Nikola Bilyk, and Raul Santos. Furthermore, the Zebras have also obtained Swedish top talent Lukas Nilsson.

“We will need some time to improve and rehearse, and due to the short pre-season because of Olympic Games it is anything but easy,” said THW Kiel coach Alfred Gislason.

After becoming EHF EURO champion and winning bronze in Rio, the handball hype in Germany is growing and growing.

“All clubs have seen a boost in season ticket sales,” Bohmann says. Kiel have sold more than 7000 'Champions tickets' already; a ticket valid for the seven group phase home matches of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

In terms of the favourite role, most coaches expect the 2014 VELUX EHF Champions League winners to become champions, but Vranjes & Co. had this role ahead of the start of last season but they fell short finishing second. Regarding the top teams, Flensburg do, however, have the lowest number of changes in their squad.

But some coaches even mentioned Melsungen or Berlin (with some top signings) as potential Bundesliga champions. The times, when 18 out of 18 coaches named Kiel as the top favourite is over, the top of the league is wide open now – even though new THW goalie Andy Wolff said full of confidence: “We are out for the treble in league, cup and Champions League. We have the potential to remain unbeaten throughout in the whole season.”

Selected Bundesliga matches will be streamed live on ehfTV.com throughout the season, beginning with Rhein-Neckar Löwen vs SC Magdeburg on Saturday at 15:00 CET and TVB 1898 Stuttgart vs THW Kiel on Sunday at 19:15 CET. Click here for more details.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc

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