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31.08.2015, 17:00
Young brewers aiming for a bright future
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VELUX EHF Champions League club countdown: 16 days to go - RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
 

Young brewers aiming for a bright future

It has been 11 years since their triumph, but RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko are still the last team not from Spain or Germany to win the EHF Champions League.

The 19-time Slovenian champions are back in European handball’s elite club competition for an astonishing 21st time, joining Veszprem in second place on the all-time participation list, behind Zagreb’s tally of 22.

After winning all domestic matches in the Slovenian league and cup competitions, the “Brewers” aim for their historic 20th title in the new season and try to make it to the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Celje are continuing on their way of promoting Slovenian talents with the likes of Miha Zarabec, Blaž Blagotinšek and Blaž Janc making the grade last term.

The success of the Slovenian youth programme (Youth Olympic Games winner 2014, U21 World Championship 2015 and EYOF 2015 silver medallists) is partly built upon the work in Celje. “We are sure that some new players from RK Celje Pivovarna Laško will show their talent in the new season,” says manager Gregor Planteu.

In contrast to previous years, only one key player left Celje prior to the start of this season: Ivan Sliskovic, who transferred to 2015 finalists Veszprem. Among their newcomers, goalkeeper Ivan Gajić is a valuable addition of experience.

With an average age of 24 years, the Celje squad has gained more international experience last season and improved from match to match, but just missed out on the Last 16.

The task this season is no easier for the record Slovenian champions in Group A against 2015 finalists Veszprem, three-time winners Kiel, 2014 champions Flensburg, Paris, Zagreb, Plock and Besiktas.

“Being in Group A or B automatically means that you will face top teams in every match, but to be part of those top groups proves that we are on right track, improving on every aspect on and off the court,” says Planteu, adding: “It is really good that we will play at least 14 group matches, especially for the younger players. They can learn in each match by playing against world class stars.

“In Celje, they have the best possible conditions to improve. Despite the tough opponents and ten Champions League matches before Christmas, I hope we have a good level right from the start.”

The club’s objective is clearly set: to qualify for the knock-out stage, for which they at least have to finish in the top six positions: “We have four VELUX EHF FINAL4 candidates - PSG, Veszprem, Kiel and Flensburg - in our group and the remaining four teams will equally fight for the two remaining spots. Again we will try to surprise some of top level teams,” is Planteu’s hope.

For team captain Luka Zvizej it is hard to predict, which team will win their group, as “PSG, Kiel, Veszprem, Flensburg are even stronger than last year.”

Zvizej hopes for an equal fight with Wisla, Zagreb and Besiktas: “If we will get the chance to qualify for the Last 16, we will grab it.”

Team captain and manager extremely hope for the traditionally strong support from the stands and seven sold-out group matches: “Last season we had an average of more than 4,100 fans per Champions League match, now we are trying to improve this number. With a good atmosphere in the Zlatorog Arena and the passion of our players, we are able to upset big teams,” says Planteu.

Zvizej has the full trust to his team mates to reach their goal: “We are young, with only three experienced players, but we are well prepared for the start. We just need a little bit of luck to build on our strong results of last season.”

RK Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO)
Qualification for the 2015/2016 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Slovenian champions

Newcomers:  Ivan Gajić (Al Ahli/Qatar), Žiga Mlakar (RK Maribor Branik), Luka Dobelšek (RK Gorenje Velenje), Povilas Babarskas (Bregenz), Gregor Potočnik RK Trimo Trebnje), Lucijan Fižuleto (RK Sevnica), Arthur Malburg Patrianova (Villa de Aranda)

Left the club: Ivan Slišković (MKB MVM Veszprem), David Miklavčič (Tremblay), Matevž Skok (N-Lübbecke), Rok Žuran (Jeruzalem Ormož).

Coach: Branko Tamše (since December 2013)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2015/2016 season): 21
Winners (1):  2003/2004
Semi-final (6): 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2004/05
Quarter-final (2): 2001/02, 2005/06
Last 16 (4): 1995/96, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14
Main Round (2): 2007/08, 2008/09
Group Phase (4): 1993/1994, 1994/95, 2010/11, 2014/15
Qualification (1): 2009/10

Other achievements:
Cup Winners Cup: Semi-finalist 2002/03, 2011/12

Slovenian champions: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2015
Slovenian cup winners: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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