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13.10.2014, 13:00
After the main round, anything can happen
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Women’s EHF Champions League countdown, part 13: Danish champions Viborg HC A/S have lost some star players, but are hoping for a positive season with a major goal of continuing to the main round.
 

After the main round, anything can happen

Viborg HK A/S may have been absent from the finals since their last title in 2010, but they are also the only current participant in the Women’s EHF Champions League club to have won all three EHF European Cup competitions. 

They have stood on the EHF Champions League winners’ podium three times, and last year, after four years without winning the Danish league, Viborg HK took the domestic championship again. 

2006, 2009 and 2010 were the years Viborg contributed to Denmark’s collection of EHF Champions League titles. The Danes completed their selection of silverware with their Cup Winners’ Cup title in 2013/14, having already won several EHF Cup titles prior to their EHF Champions League triumphs. 

As last season’s FINAL4 participant FC Midtjylland failed in the qualification stage, Viborg are the only Danish club in the Women’s EHF Champions League group phase. 

Following early elimination in this stage in every season from 2010/11 to 2013/14, and even a qualification stage elimination last season, Christian Dalmose’s squad remains humble – hoping at first to proceed to the main round “and then anything can happen”. 

Some big names from their previous squad, such as Olympic, World and EHF EURO Champion Marit Malm Frafjord, French goalkeeper Cleopatre Darleux and Swedish defensive specialist Linnea Torstenson, have left Viborg. 

Danish number one Rikke Vestergaard Poulsen from Vejen was signed to fill the gap left by Darleux between the posts. Additionally Danish international Mette Bjorholm Gravholt joined the club, arriving from Holstebro. 

Managing director Jan Buhr hopes for step-by-step development of his team.

“As Danish champions we have high expectations of once again playing in the Champions League. We have previously reached the finals five times and won the Champions League in 2006, 2009 and 2010. We would like to try again, but it is not the main objective for this season. The squad has changed very much and we now have a new squad we hope can make an impact on the Champions League – we have a clear objective to proceed to the main round. If everything goes as we hope, it will be a great pleasure to be part of the quarter-finals and possibly participate in the FINAL4.”

The path to the next stage is anything but easy for Viborg, who will face Sävehof, Zagreb and defending champions Györ, in their group. 

Team captain Isabelle Gulldén expects tough clashes: “Györ are the best opponent we could draw. They won the Champions League last season, and they have signed several top players, so I expect them as favourites to be on top again, even though they are probably a bit weaker having lost Katrine Lunde due to her pregnancy. I don't know much about Zagreb, so it’s hard to estimate their strength. We have to see them play to really be able to assess them, but I suppose they are a good team. 

“Sävehof are a strong side, even though they have had some changes in their squad and lost some profiles. I have tremendous respect for what they did last year. It will be quite a special experience to meet them since I played for Sävehof from when I was seven years old up until I came to Viborg HK. Because of that, I know they have a fantastic winning mentality and a style of play where everyone knows what the next player is doing, even though they underwent some changes – it's like a machine running by itself. For that reason, I'm certain they will score a lot of goals.”

Gulldén’s general goal is to proceed to the main round.

“We haven't talked about what to hope for after the group phase. We have to play the games first and find out which teams we will face in the next stage. It’s difficult to predict more than one game at a time. You never know what will happen in terms of injuries, new players and so on. But of course we have to be one of the three teams that progress.

Personally, I will do anything that I can. I've played in the Champions League many times before. When Rikke Skov returns to our team after her injury, I can focus on controlling the offensive part of our play. Other than that, I think more about how we’re going to perform as a team and how I can contribute,” Gulldén concluded. 

Three questions to coach Christian Dalmose:

Concerning your objectives and your group opponents, what are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League?

Christian Dalmose: We have to continue on from the group phase, but we are up against some strong teams. Sävehof were Swedish champions once again, and we’re full of respect for them. Last season, they drew with FC Midtjylland and only lost their away game against them by one goal. It will be exciting to meet them, and we’re happy that we don’t have to travel far to this away game. About Zagreb, it’s a question how strong they are. They are kind of an unwritten page and the unknown factor of the group, but we respect them for having played in the Champions League so many times. It’s hard to compare their strength to ours until we have studied them closer. 

Györ might have lost about 40 percent of their strength after their goodbye to goalkeeper Katrine Lunde. For that reason, I don’t consider them favourites for winning the Champions League this season, but it’s a great club, and we’re proud of facing them. Our expectations are about developing our game and developing as a team. The Champions League games will help us progress in the right direction. Even considering the ups and downs we are bound to face as a developing team, we must believe in the elements of our play that we have to work for.

What does participation in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Christian Dalmose: Both for the players and for myself, it’s fantastic. For the club, it will provide valuable exposure, and we can show ourselves off on the big stage, where we belong. We’re proud to be part of it, and we look forward to it.

Which teams are your personal favourites to reach the FINAL4 tournament of the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?

Christian Dalmose: To get to the FINAL4, I fancy Vardar, Buducnost, Györ – and I'll keep the last spot open. Those clubs all stand on solid financial ground, they have quality in their teams, they have star players and they have experience at this level.

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2014/15 season: Danish champions 

Newcomers: 

Rikke Vestergaard Poulsen (Vejen EH)
Mette Bjorholm Gravholt (Team Tvis Holstebro)
Sille Guldbaek Thomsen (Vejen EH)

Left the club: 

Cleopatre Darleux (OGC Nice)
Anne Kjersti Suvdal (Oppsal)
Amanda Kurtovic (Oppsal)
Marit Malm Frafjord (Larvik HK)
Linnea Torstenson (CSM Bucuresti)
Sabine Pedersen (FC Midtjylland)
Mouna Chebbah (Nimes)
Signe Hald (Tarm-Foersum GF)

Coach: Christian Dalmose (since 2013)

Women’s EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/15 season): 19
Winner (3): 2005/06, 2008/09, 2009/10
Finalist (2): 1996/97, 2000/01
Semi-finalist (1): 2002/03
Quarter-finalist (3): 1997/98, 2004/05, 2006/07
Last 16 (1): 1994/95
Main Round (1): 2007/08
Group Phase (6): 1995/96, 1999/00, 2001/02, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13
Qualification (1): 2013/14

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Winner (3): 1993/94, 1998/99, 2003/04

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Winner (1): 2013/14
Finalist (1): 2011/12

Danish league: 14 titles (1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014)

Danish cup: 11 titles (1993, 1994, 1996, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014)


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg
 
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