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28.08.2015, 16:00
Giants beware of the Croatian youngsters
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VELUX EHF Champions League club countdown: 19 days to go - Handball Club Prvo Plinarsko Drustvo Zagreb (CRO)
 

Giants beware of the Croatian youngsters

Arena Zagreb was a true fortress last season and a continuation of that is the biggest hope of RK PPD Zagreb for the new VELUX EHF Champions League season. One season ago, Kiel, Paris and Kolding all stumbled in the home of the Croatian record champions, who are part of the Champions League for the 22th time – more than any other team.

Since Veselin Vujovic (now also Slovenian national team coach) took over Zagreb in October 2014, the pool of talents improved like no other Champions League team. But as expected, some of those talents were on the shopping list of other clubs:  Teo Čorić (TV Bittenfeld), Ilija Brozović (HSV Hamburg), Duško Čelica (Eisenach) and Mario Vuglač all bid farwell to Zagreb.

The club continued their way of signing home grown talents, as again Zagreb’s squad only consists of players from Croatia. After an unexpectedly successful 2014/15 season, club manager Ante Ančić is aware that it will be hard to continue this way.

“Our objective is to reach the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Last season we went through to the quarter-finals. Repeating that would be a huge success for our young and home grown team. We are aware that with the new playing system in the Champions League reaching the quarter-final again will be much harder than before. So our realistic goal is to make it to the Last 16.”

Zagreb will have to face huge hurdles in the group phase, playing against Kiel, Veszprem, PSG, Flensburg, Plock and Besiktas in group A - in addition Zagreb strive again for the final tournament of the SEHA Liga, which they won in 2013.

“This is the toughest group of the competition. I believe that Kiel, Veszprem, PSG and Flensburg are real contenders for the FINAL4, so clearly those teams are favourites. Our reality is to fight with Celje, Plock and Besiktas for the positions 5 and 6 and for qualification to the Last 16. Although, we managed to create some pretty interesting upsets last season and will for sure give our best to shock some of the ‘giants’ in our group again this year,” Ančić hopes for.

Two players definitely will miss the start of the Champions League season: Stipe Mandalinić, who is out for six months after a knee surgery, and Josip Valčić, out with a femoral injury.

But despite those injury problems, experienced team captain Zlatko Horvat is confident for the new challenges in the Champions League: “Our goal is to qualify for the Last 16. We will of course give our best to win every game and to try go all the way and win the competition but if we are to be realistic than qualifying for the Last 16 is a good goal for our young team.”

Like his manager Ančić, Horvat is expecting truly tough fights in the group phase: “These opponents are fantastic. I am looking forward to play against illustrious clubs such as Kiel, Veszprem, PSG and Flensburg.

“I believe we have a fantastic chance to progress to the Last 16 and will give our best to do so. We will try to cause an upset against those top clubs but will also have to be better than Wisla, Celje and Besiktas if we want to reach the Last 16.”

Those top duels are highly important for PPD Zagreb, says Ančić: “The VELUX EHF Champions League is the best handball club competition in the world and being a part of it makes us very proud. Playing amongst the best teams in Europe gives us a chance to progress and to improve every day.”

Handball Club Prvo Plinarsko Društvo Zagreb (CRO)
Qualification for the 2015/2016 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Croatian champions

Newcomers:  Igor Vujić (Istres), Stanko Sabljić (Erlangen), Tin Kontrec (Grk Varaždin), Marko Vukić (Marina Kaštela), Josip Šandrk (Dinamo Bukurešt)

Left the club:  Teo Čorić (TV Bittenfeld), Ilija Brozović (HSV Hamburg), Duško Čelica (Eisenach), Mario Vuglač

Coach: Veselin Vujovic (since October 2014)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2015/2016 season): 22
Final (4): 1994/1995, 1996/1997, 1997/1998, 1998/1999
Semi Final (1): 1999/2000
Quarterfinal (6): 2000/2001, 2002/2003, 2003/2004, 2008/2009, 2011/2012, 2014/2015
Last 16 (3): 2005/2006, 2009/2010, 2010/2011
Main Round (1): 2007/2008
Group Phase (6): 1993/1994, 1995/96, 2004/2005, 2006/2007, 2012/13, 2013/14

Other achievements:
EHF Cup: Finalist 2004/2005
Cup Winners Cup: Semi-finalist 2006/2007

Croatian champion: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Croatian Cup winner: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

Winner of the SEHA League 2013


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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