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26.08.2017, 12:00
The Zebras hope for another ticket to Cologne
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: THW Kiel (GER) – With Domagoj Duvnjak ruled out until November, Kiel have a tough group phase ahead
 

The Zebras hope for another ticket to Cologne

They are German record champions and three times EHF Champions League winners – but since 2012 (Champions League) and 2015 (Bundesliga), THW Kiel have not won their favourite competitions . The chances to add some silverware to their trophy cabinet should be higher than last year, after a season of transition; but the fitness of captain Domagoj Duvnjak is in question.

Three questions before the new season

How long will Kiel have to manage without talismanic centre back Domagoj Duvnjak?

The Croat is THE hub of the THW match-play: he steers the match, he is the extended arm of coach Alfred Gislason. After several years of injury problems, Duvnjak was operated on in April and will be out at least until November. In January, he is supposed to be a key part of Croatia's bid for gold at the EHF EURO on home ground. Without Duvnjak, Kiel will have problems coping with the top sides in their group. With him, everything is possible.

Will Kiel's youngsters improve even more?

Already in the previous season, top talents like Nikola Bilyk or Lukas Nilsson took responsibility in the Kiel squad. With no big changes to the team, these young guns could play a major role in filling the gap left by Duvnjak's absence.

Can Kiel make it to Cologne again?

Last year – without Duvnjak – Kiel failed in the quarter-final against Barcelona after their worst group phase ever, including an incredible 18-goal defeat in Paris. Kiel are always a candidate for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 regardless of their final position after the group phase. But the road to Cologne gets harder every year for them – although they just beat Barcelona at the LANXESS Arena in a test match.

“Last season we did not manage to make it to the final destination, this year it is again one of our major targets to play at Cologne,” says Duvnjak.

Under the spotlight: Nikola Bilyk

At the age of 18, he played his first men’s world championship in Qatar, some months later he announced his transfer to Kiel. In summer 2016 – earlier than planned – he moved to THW, and right from the start proved his incredible strengths at the age of 20. This season, all at Kiel hope that Bilyk will improve even more and become a key player. The way he played during Austria's qualification for the EHF EURO 2018 showed that the only way is up for the 20 year old left back. He will be even more crucial until Duvnjak returns.

Self-esteem

It is in the DNA of THW Kiel to reach out for all possible titles – and after missing the German league trophy twice in a row, this title is their major goal. But being three-times EHF Champions League champion, the ticket to Cologne is always another goal. As other sides – such as their group phase opponents PSG and Veszprem - have bolstered their squads and budgets, it is far from certain that Kiel can make it.

“We face a brilliant selection of world class handball already in the group phase – and it is an honour for us to constantly belong to this circle. We are looking forward to another thrilling season – and when you once have been part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 you want to go there every year,” says manager Thorsten Storm.

Duvnjak adds: “This season we will duel with some teams we did not face in the last two years, so we will enjoy travelling and playing.”

Fun fact

Since 1993, THW Kiel has been coached by just two coaches: Noka Serdarusic (1993-2008) and since then Alfred Gislason. Serdarusic steered Kiel to their first Champions League trophy in 2007 and the finals in 2008, while Gislason (Champions League winner as coach of Magdeburg in 2002) increased the number of trophies (2010 and 2012) and finals (2009, 2014). He was the first coach in Champions League history to win the trophy with two different clubs.

What the numbers say

In 20 Champions League participations so far, Kiel made it to the quarter-finals or better 18 times. Since 2000 they have always been among the top eight of the competition – the best result of all participants. Six times (from eight), they qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, only missing the ticket to Cologne in 2011 and 2017.

THW Kiel (GER)

Qualification for the 2017/18 VELUX EHF Champions League season: third ranked in Germany

Newcomers: Miha Zarabec (RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko/SLO), Emil Frend Öfors (Alingsas HK/SWE), Ole Rahmel (HC Erlangen/GER)

Left the club: Ilija Brozovic (TSV Hannover-Burgdorf/GER), Blazenko Lackovic (Handball Sport Verein Hamburg/GER), Christian Sprenger (end of career, now youth coordinator at THW Kiel)

Coach: Alfred Gislason (since 2008)

Team captain: Domagoj Duvnjak

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2017/18 season): 21

Winner (3): 2006/07, 2009/10, 2011/12

Final (4): 1999/2000, 2007/08, 2008/09, 2013/14

Semi-final (5): 1996/97, 2000/01, 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16

Quarter-final (6): 1998/99, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2005/2006, 2010/2011, 2016/17

Group Phase (2): 1994/95, 1995/96

Other EC records:

EHF Cup: Winner 1997/98, 2001/02, 2003/04

German league: 20 titles (1957, 1962, 1963, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

German Cup: 10 titles (1998, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017)


TEXT: Björn Pazen / jh
 
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