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17.09.2015, 15:40
Four newcomers and a lot of unanswered questions
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: The VELUX EHF Champions League column - part I is dedicated to the four new teams on the block
 

Four newcomers and a lot of unanswered questions

It is part of life to welcome new faces and visit new places, so please welcome Elverum, Baia Mare, Vojvodina and Kristianstad to the VELUX EHF Champions League!

These four teams have made it to the group phase of this flagship competition for the first time in their club’s history.

What can we - the experts, fans, coaches, players - expect from this quartet? Can they cause major surprises or is the maiden voyage an adventure just to gain some experience?

Unusual newcomers in the past

What ambitions can Champions League newcomers have in general? There are unusual clubs like PSG Paris in 2013/14 season, who made it to the quarter-final in their first ever season of being part of the Champions League.

But clubs like them and AG Kobenhavn in the 2011/12 season can or could count on a budget and thus had funding for squads far ahead of the 2015/16 newcomers of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

AGK and Füchse went all the way

As newcomers, AGK and Füchse Berlin marked a very special season in the VELUX EHF Champions League: Right in their first year, both qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne in 2012.

But some months later, AGK had disappeared from the handball map as quickly as they had arrived due to financial problems. In contrast, Füchse went their way and became 2015 EHF Cup winners and now even IHF Super Globe champions.

Sometimes it takes two years

In the 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2012/13 seasons, no VELUX EHF Champions League newcomer made it to the Last 16, in 2013/14 this masterpiece was managed by Ukrainian champions Motor Zaporozhye.

In some cases, it took two years, before a newcomer had settled in the new surrounding and competition to clinch their berth for the knock-out stage, like La Rioja and Dunkerque in the 2014/15 season, which was both their second year in Champions League.

Perfect start for Kristianstad

Due to the seeding system and the new playing system, Kristianstad are the only newcomer to be part of Groups A and B - so they will have 14 group phase matches with a quite young and inexperienced squad.

And as the Swedish league is balanced and competitive they will have a lot on their plate right up until March.

And to be honest: the chances of proceeding to the Last 16 are slim, keeping in mind that the team of former World and EHF EURO champion Ola Lindgren will face opponents like Barcelona, Kielce, Vardar, Löwen or Montpellier.

However, as their first performance in the Champions League on Wednesday against Kolding proved: They are not just part of the Champions League, they are aiming high! Sensationally Kristianstad led for large parts of the match against KIF and even by 11 goals at one stage, dancing on the court after an unexpected 33:26 win.

Historisk seger i en kokande Kristianstad Arena. IFK Kristianstad besegrar KIF Kolding med 33-26 efter en mycket stark...

Posted by IFK Kristianstad on Wednesday, 16 September 2015

So the Swedish champions have become role models for Vojvodina, Elverum and Baia Mare, though their conditions are a little different.

They only have ten group phase matches ahead of them - and in the ‘more or less’ equal Groups C and D there is a chance for every team to finish in the top two positions, which would enable them to fight for a Last 16 spot.

Baia Mare can count on experience

In terms of the squads, Baia Mare have the most internationally experienced players and coach, as Lars Walther had already been part of the EHF Champions League earlier in his career.

Vojvodina gained international experience not only in European Cup competitions, but also thanks to the SEHA Liga, where they week by week are used to travelling abroad and feeling the heat of different arenas. But their Group C is a little bit tougher than D, in which Baia Mare and Elverum compete.

The Norwegians are last arrival in the group phase by winning the qualification tournament, and are a big unknown entity to the rest of the teams - something which can be an advantage. But thanks to ehfTV.com all of their opponents can watch and analyse their games.

So my personal conclusion is: Baia Mare can make it to the Last 16, if they win their respective home matches - and the crowd there is handball-crazy not, only thanks to the successful women’s team.

For both Scandinavian newcomers the Champions League will be an adventure and a priceless experience. And Vojvodina? Their own goal for the Champions League seems to be realistic: Representing Serbia…

Björn Pazen has huge experience in reporting for handball. Since 2005, he has covered all major handball events from European to World Championships, and Olympic Games to all top club competitions.

Björn started his career as a newspaper journalist in Germany, becoming editor in chief for the sports desk.

He reported for German and international handball magazines alongside his other duties.

He is part of the EHF media team for club and national team competitions and member of the AIPS Handball Commission.

At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing he was the IHF media representative, at the 2012 London Olympic Games he was the Sport Information Specialist for Handball at the Olympic News Service.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc
 
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