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22.08.2017, 14:50
Tough draw for young RK Celje squad
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: RK Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO). The Slovenian side have the youngest squad in the competition, but are aiming for qualification from a difficult Group B.
 

Tough draw for young RK Celje squad

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko are set for their 23rd EHF Champions League campaign. The 2004 winners are confident that their talented group of youngsters can compete with the top sides in Group B, and maybe even grab a Last16 spot.

Three questions before the new season:

How will Celje cope this season in their role as a nurturing ground for young stars?

Celje have the youngest squad in the VELUX EHF Champions League 2017/18, with an average age of just 23.3 years. Their role is to develop talent, provide them with Champions League experience, and prepare them to play for some of Europe's top clubs. A perfect example is Blaz Janc - the 20-year-old was the best young player in Europe last season and joined 2016 Champions League winners Kielce in the summer. The Slovenian side are under no pretensions about their role. So they do not panic when a talent leaves, as they know that another player will come through. The nature of the club means they will be facing many former players during the group phase. "In Group B alone we will face 12 former Celje players," says new team captain David Razgor.

Will it be enough to end the curse of missing the Last16, having come so close last season?

Celje's class of 2017/18 will face some very tough tests, having been drawn in a highly competitive Group B. "Last season we were in the race for the Last16 until the final game, but unfortunately we lost. So this season our objective is to fight in every match to try and upset the favourites," says the new manager Saša Lešek, although he adds a word of warning. "The group could not have been harder, with former Champions League winners as well as Veszprem and PSG. Aalborg and Brest Meshkov are also top clubs and deserve our respect." Celje will look to exploit their home games in the Zlatorog Arena, where they are cheered on by their famous Florijani fans, because despite the signing of line player Igor Anic, their lack of experience could hamper them in away matches.

 

Who will be the next rising star?

Excluding new arrival Dani Dujshebaev, whose future is already decided, Gal Marguc is a main candidate to join a big club. The 20-year-old brother of Veszprem wing Gasper Marguc has already proven his abilities last season, with the past showing that - besides playmakers - wings are the hit export from Celje, and Slovenian handball in general.

Under spotlight: Dani Dujshebaev

He is the perfect example of how the 'Celje handball school' works. For two years, the newly crowned Spanish U21 world champion will gain experience in Slovenia, before he departs to his next club Kielce. An enormous number of young - mostly Slovenian - players did the same, and now international top talents recognize that Celje is a perfect place to learn a Champions League lesson. A highlight of his season will be in the group stage when he faces his brother Alex and father Talant, who represent Kielce as a player and coach respectively.

Self-esteem

After four consecutive Slovenian league and cup doubles, Celje are eager to keep their position as Kings of Slovenia. Besides competing in the Champions League, they are also part of the SEHA Liga so the Brewers' schedule will be busy. Despite this, captain David Razgor is aiming high. "We will have to fight, fight and fight to reach our goal of the Last16 in this extremely tough group. We will have a highly interesting season ahead. We will see it is enough to end up among the 16 best teams of Europe."

Fun fact

Before Kielce took the Champions League trophy in 2016, Celje were the last non-German or Spanish side to win the EHF Champions League (in 2004). Also, Celje - with 48,000 inhabitants - is still is the smallest city ever to produce a men's Champions League-winning team.
 
What the numbers say

The EHF Champions League celebrates its 25th anniversary this season - and Celje will be appearing in it for the 23rd time. Only their Croatian neighbours Zagreb have made more appearances (24), while Celje lie joint-second in the list alongside group phase opponents Veszprem (also on 23).

RK Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO)

Qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2017/18 season: Slovenian champions

Newcomers: Igor Anić (Saran/FRA), Banko Vujović (Kielce/POL), Dani Dujshebaev (Kielce/POL), Jan Jurečič (MRK Krka/SLO), Aljaž Panjtar (RD Urbanscape Loka/SLO), Luka Mitrović (RK Gorenje Velenje/SLO), Domen Makuc (youth), Gregor Ocvirk (youth)

Left the club: Blaž Janc (Kielce/POL), Miha Zarabec (THW Kiel/GER), Vid Poteko (Brest Meshkov/BLR), Luka Žvižej (RK Maribor Branik/SLO), Ivan Gajić (end of career), Povilas Babarskas (Bregenz/AUT), Arthur Malburg Patrianova (Benfica/POR)

Coach: Branko Tamše (since December 2013)

Team captain: David Razgor

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2017/18 season): 23
Winner (1):  2003/04
Semi Final (6): 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01, 2004/05
Quarterfinal (2): 2001/02, 2005/06
Last 16 (3): 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, 2015/16, 2016/17
Qualification (1): 2009/10

Other EC records:

Cup Winners Cup:
Semi-final (2002/03, 2011/12)

Slovenian league:
21 titles (1991-2001, 2003-2008, 2010, 2014-2017)

Slovenian Cup:
20 titles (1991-2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012-2017)
 


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap
 
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