|20.09.2016, 19:50||◄ last page|
VELUX EHF Champions League countdown – 1 day to go: THW Kiel (GER). Here no less than 20 times, the German handball stalwart is back and looking strong heading into Group A
World-class talent between posts could pave way to Cologne
No club has qualified more often for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne than THW Kiel. By eliminating FC Barcelona in the 2016 quarter-finals, the German record champions are on top with six participations at seven editions. But the last time they raised the trophy is four years ago for the three-time winners (2007, 2010, 2012).
And the new season is something like the start of a new era: After players like Ilic, Palmarsson and now Canellas and Klein leaving, coach Alfred Gislason is building a new squad with talented players from all over Europe like Swede Lukas Nilsson or the Austrian Nikola Bilyk.
Having in mind the previous season, when THW were hit extremely hard by long-term injuries, the German side increased the number of players - and welcomes back a ‘forgotten son’. After two years at Veszprem, Christian Zeitz is back at Kiel to be the only player in the current squad to be part of all three Champions League titles.
But the biggest signing is the one between the posts: Andreas Wolff, the German EURO hero, gold medallist and member of the All-star Team, will form the new goalkeeper duo with the newly crowned Olympic champion, former EURO champion and Rio All-star team goalkeeper Niklas Landin, so Kiel probably have best goalkeeper duo on club level.
Kiel will need a strong squad to keep up with the rest of Group A such as Barcelona, PSG, Veszprem or their local rivals Flensburg. The anticipation of the “toughest group phase ever in the history of handball” (new team captain Domagoj Duvnjak) is huge at Kiel, as the club already sold more than 7,000 ‘season tickets’ for the seven home matches in the group phase.
The ambitions are again high after THW finished the previous season without a domestic or international title - for the first time since 2003. “I want to win the treble,” Wolff said after returning from the Olympic Games with a bronze medal: the German league, the German cup and the VELUX EHF Champions League.
“We are eager to do it again to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne,” says manager Thorsten Storm, who is happy with the group opponents:
“Absolutely spectacular, there’s nothing more you can have than three of four last season’s semi-finalists plus the record champions and the 2014 winners, don’t forget about strong teams such as Bjerringbro, Plock and Schaffhausen. We will have duels on a world-class stage in every match. Thus, it is an honour to belong to this circle of Champions League clubs again.”
Duvnjak - the 2013 Champions league winner with Hamburg - still waits for his first international trophy with Kiel – but he will do everything to reach the final destination in Cologne again: “The VELUX EHF FINAL4 is by far the biggest event in club handball - and we want to take part again. Before, we only face world-class teams in our group. It is impossible to predict the group winner. It must be our main goal to finish among the top four.” In the first group matches, Kiel will have to replace left back Christian Dissinger after his severe injury at Rio 2016 (compartment syndrome).
Qualification for the 2016/17 VELUX EHF Champions League season: third ranked in Germany
Newcomers: Raul Santos (VfL Gummersbach), Nikola Bilyk (HC Fivers Margareten), Andreas Wolff (HSG Wetzlar), Lukas Nilsson (Ystads IF HF), Christian Zeitz (Telekom Veszprem)
Coach: Alfred Gislason (since 2008)
Opponents in the group phase: Veszprem, Barcelona, PSG, Bjerringbro, Plock, Flensburg and Schaffhausen in Group A
Other EC records:
TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc