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27.08.2015, 17:50
Another European adventure for young Spanish club
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VELUX EHF Champions League club countdown: 20 days to go - Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
 

Another European adventure for young Spanish club

Given that Naturhouse La Rioja was founded a mere nine years ago, the fact that they are part of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase for the third straight time is a major success for the club based in Logrono.

In the previous season, the squad of head coach Jesús Javier González Fernández (who is at La Rioja since the very beginning) even made it to the Last 16 before eventual finalists Veszprem brought their run to an end. In Spain, they finished second ranked below VELUX EHF Champions League and Asobal champions FC Barcelona.

In the new Champions League season, La Rioja fight for a Last 16 spot once again. A top two finish is a must in Group C against Brest, Medvedi, Porto, Vojvodina and Presov.

Team captain and goalkeeper Gurutz Aguinagalde Akizu - brother of Kielce’s line player Julen Aguinagalde - hopes to be at least as successful as last season.

“We wanted to be seeded in Group A or B, so now we are concentrated on showing everybody that we are a competitive team.”

In Aguinagalde’s opinion, Brest and Presov are the strongest opponents for the fight in group C, his prediction: “Those teams, which do not lose their matches against weaker opponents will make it to the Last 16.”

The biggest losses for Naturhouse were the transfers of Brazilian Thiagus Santos to Pick Szeged and of Asobal all-time top scorer Juanin Garcia to Ademar Leon. In total, seven players left La Rioja, including the tall defensive specialists Ace Jonovski and Angel Romero.

One of them is goalkeeper Jorge Gomez, who retired from handball to start his new career as a lawyer. His successor is Swedish Richard Kappelin, who had played in Spain, France, Qatar and Sweden in the past and gained Champions League experience in Aalborg (Denmark).

One unlucky new arrival has been ruled out already: Serbian Stefan Terzic, who had played for Hamburg and Vardar before, was hit by a cruciate ligament rupture during the Junior World Championship in Brazil and will not be back earlier than March. During the Eurotournoi in Strasbourg, Pablo Cacheda broke a finger in the match against Chambery and will miss the start of the season.

But despite those injuries and transfers, manager Jaime Luis González Gutiérrez is confident: “Being part of the Champions League means the greatest adventure in our short history, so our goal is to have a good atmosphere in our arena and to win our home matches. Our group is tough with opponents on a similar level, so it will be difficult to qualify for the Last 16.”

Due to the constant participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League, González hopes to improve the level of the team each season, adding: “This is the best club competition of the world, highly attractive for our sponsors and fans.”

Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
Qualification for the 2015/2016 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Spanish runners-up

Newcomers:  Richard Kappelin (Selesta Alsace Handball), Alberto Val Sancho (BM Aragon), Carlos Molina Cosano (Bada BM Huesca), Eduardo Cadarso Caballero (CP Calasancio), Imanol Garciandia Alustiza (BM Elgoibar)

Left the club:  Jorge Gomez Lite (end of career), Juan Antonio Garcia Lorenzana (Abanca Ademar Leon), Thiagus Petrus Gonçalves Dos Santos (Pick Szeged / HUN), Luis Felipe Jimenz Reina (Toulouse / FRA), Patrick Lykke Eilert (Ajax Kobenhavn / DEN), Angel Romero Rodriguez (ECE Bulls / AUT), Ace Jonovski (Bergischer HC / GER)

Coach: Jesús Javier González Fernández (since 2007)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2015/2016 season): 3
Last 16 (1): 2014/2015
Group Phase (1): 2013/14

Other achievements:

EHF Cup: Semi-finalist 2009/10, 2010/11, Group Phase 2012/13

Spanish champion: - (runners-up in 2014, 2015)
Spanish cup winner: - (runners-up in 2013)


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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