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27.08.2017, 11:00
Kristianstad count on young guns for Champions League success
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: IFK Kristianstad have a young team and plenty of confidence in their bid to make the Last16.
 

Kristianstad count on young guns for Champions League success

Swedish champions IFK Kristianstad are fielding an all-Scandinavian squad for the VELUX EHF Champions League this season. Last season Ola Lindgren's side narrowly missed progressing past the group stage, but despite losing two key players for German clubs they are hoping for a better year.

Legendary Bengan Boy Lindgren is joined by former IFK player Lars Olsson as the club's assistant coach this year, as Kristianstad look to capitalise on the youth of their team.

Three questions before the new season

Who can replace the stars who have left?

The new number 1 goalkeeper is internationally-experienced Richard Kappelin, who has played in Denmark, France and Spain. He joins Kristianstad from La Rioja to fill the shoes of Nebojsa Simic, who left for German side MT Melsungen.

This gap could to be easier to fill than the left wing position, after Jerry Tollbring left for German side Rhein-Neckar Löwen. By 72 strikes, he was the best IFK scorer in the last Champions League season. Kristianstad have not signed a new left wing, instead counting on their remaining players.

Will Kristianstad have the chance to proceed to the Last16 for the first time?

“We have been close to progressing from the group phase two years in a row now and hopefully we can take the next step this year,” says Icelandic-born team captain Olafur Gudmundsson.

The young team will face four teams from last season - Szeged, Vardar, Löwen and Zagreb – but this time they have more knowledge of their opponents. Zagreb and Nantes will be the ones to beat, if they want to proceed.

“Of course, to reach the next round is our dream; besides continuing our work to develop young players and at the same time play attractive handball,” adds manager Jesper Larson.

Will the home matches be handball festivals for the fans again?

The Kristianstad arena - one of the venues of the 2016 Women’s EHF EURO and the 2011 Men’s World Championship - is a perfect setting for IFK's home matches.

“We notice an increased interest each season and the crowd here in Sweden love to see the world-class teams that are coming. To play against them is of course an opportunity for us to show ourselves on a big stage. It´s a real treat,” says Larson.

Under the spotlight: the young guns

Regardless which position you focus on in the IFK squad, you will discover top talents aged under 23, such as goalkeeper Leo Larsson, Icelandic line player Arnar Freyr Arnarsson, or backs Philip Henningsson and Albin Lagergren. Every year, Kristianstad develop at least one player who leaves to join a top European club. So it will be interesting to see who is Jerry Tollbring's successor this year.

Self-esteem

After three straight league titles in Sweden, Kristianstad hope to continue this series - mainly to be part of the EHF Champions League again. Being part of the A/B groups, Kristianstad know that big names will be their opponents

“It's a tough group as always with the defending champions, German champions and Barcelona for example, but that's what the Champions League is all about and we are looking forward to those challenges,” says team captain Gudmundsson.

Fun fact

Coach Ola Lindgren is part of an impressively long row of current or former national team coaches in group A: Barcelona’s Xavi Pascual coaches Romania, Vardar’s Raul Gonzalez is coach of FYR Macedonia, Plock’s Piotr Przybecki coaches Poland, and Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen Denmark, while Szeged’s Juan Carlos Pastor has previously coached Spain. Lindgren also coached Löwen some years ago.

What the numbers say

IK Sävehof were the last Swedish champions to make it to the knock-out stage of the competition in the 2011/12 season of the Champions League. Kristianstad have this goal in their minds, but know that it will be anything but easy.

IFK Kristianstad (SWE)

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

Newcomers: Richard Kappelin (Naturhouse La Rioja), Helge Freiman (GWD Minden), Anton Persson (IFK youth team)

Left the club: Nebojsa Simic (MT Melsungen), Jerry Tollbring to (Rhein-Neckar Löwen)

Coach: Ola Lindgren (since February 2012)

Team captain: Olafur Gudmundsson

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 201718 season): 3

Group Phase (1): 2015/16, 2016/17

EHF Cup

Group Phase: 2013/14

Swedish league: 7 titles (1941, 1950, 1952, 1953, 2015, 2016, 2017)

Swedish cup winners: -

 


TEXT: Björn Pazen / jh
 
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