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11.09.2016, 20:30◄ last page     

VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown – 11 days to go: RK Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO).

Top level organization, packed Zlatorog Arena, great results

For the past 70 years, handball has been played in Celje. During that period, RK Pivovarna Laško have been the Slovenian champions 20 times and for the 22nd time, the 2004 winners are once again a part of the EHF Champions League.

To celebrate their accomplishments, RK have produced an new club anthem.

Celje aims high in all competitions they play. The main goals of Branko Tamše team are to defend their domestic titles (league and cup) and to proceed to the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

One key player left (Blaž Blagotinšek to Telekom Veszprem), one retired (Luka Dobelšek) and one returned back to the club where he started (Borut Mačkovšek). With this nearly equal squad, Celje will additionally begin in the multi-national SEHA Liga for the first time.

With that, the Slovenian record champions want to use this international experience to accomplish a mission they did not fulfil in the 2015/16 season. “We missed the Last 16 by an inch in the last round; now, we want to fight until the end this season and be successful,” says manager Gregor Planteu.

But, it is not only the sportive results which count for Planteu and his club. “We want to improve in terms of business, too - that means having an organization at the top level and a packed Zlatorog Arena with an average of 4,000 spectators per game, which is impressive for the size of the city of Celje. We need to have great results. Of course, every fan expects more than a game; they want to have a top event and we are going to deliver that to them.”

Similar to the previous season, RK supporters will see the best-of-the-best in their Zlatorog arena, including defending champions, Kielce. “They are the clear favourite of the group, ahead of the Rhein Neckar Löwen and Vardar, but maybe not in that order. The remaining teams will fight for the open Last 16 spots, but I believe that all teams are even capable of beating those three teams,” adds Planteu.

Experienced team captain, Luka Žvižej, shares the hopes and expectations of Celje proceeding to the knockout stage. “We know that this will be very hard task. Clubs like Kielce, Zagreb, Pick Szeged, Löwen and Vardar are always hard to beat. So, we hope to cause some upsets in a full Zlatorog arena.”

For Žvižej, group B will be a “tight and interesting one, which, from the first glance, only appears less attractive in comparison to group A. There will be a tough fight for the six Last 16 spots. Pick Szeged are getting stronger from year to year. Zagreb are our long-term rivals and our matches are usually decided on in the last few seconds. Brest Meshkov and IFK Kristianstad will be the teams that we will fight against for the sixth and final position.”

In general, the entire club is looking forward to another international challenge, as Planteu mentions, “It is important that we continue to play in group A or B, as that is proof we are on the right path. Our club has been part of this competition for a very long time and therefore, for us and our fans, these elite matches are a normal part of our season.”

Rokometni klub Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO)

Qualification for the 2016/17 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Slovenian champions
Newcomers: Borut Mačkovšek (ThSV Eisenach), Kristian Bećiri (RK Maribor Branik)
Left the club: Blaž Blagotinšek (Telekom Veszprem / HUN), Luka Dobelšek (career end), Marko Dujmovič
Coach: Branko Tamše (since December 2013)
Team captain: Luka Žvižej
Opponents in the group phase: Löwen, Kielce, Vardar, Zagreb, Brest, Szeged and Kristianstad in group B

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2016/17 season): 22
Winner (1):  2003/04
Semi-final (6): 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2004/05
Quarter-final (2): 2001/02, 2005/06
Last 16 (3): 1995/96, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14
Main round (2): 2007/08, 2008/09
Group phase (4): 1993/94, 1994/95, 2010/11, 2014/15, 2015/16
Qualification (1): 2009/10

Other EC records:
Cup Winners' Cup: Semi finalist 2002/03, 2011/12

Slovenian champion: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016
Slovenian Cup winner: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

TEXT: Björn Pazen / tm

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