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08.09.2017, 09:00
No transition, strong defence: Szeged dream of Cologne
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: MOL-Pick Szeged enter the 2017/18 season with no major squad changes, as they aim to make it one step further than the quarter-finals.
 

No transition, strong defence: Szeged dream of Cologne

With no major changes in the squad, MOL-Pick Szeged aim for their first ever VELUX EHF FINAL4 participation after three eliminations in the quarter-finals. The Hungarian runners-up count on a well-rehearsed side with a lot of experience.

Three questions before the new season:
Which position will be realistic in the group phase?


With less changes in the squad compared to previous seasons, the team is well-balanced – but opponents such as defending champions Vardar, Barcelona and Löwen have bigger names on their start list.

In the 2016/17 season, Szeged managed to leave their favoured opponent, Löwen, behind in the ranking, finishing third. A similar position is possible in the new season too.

Will the defence be the key again?

In the 2016/17 Groups A and B, none of the 27 other teams conceded fewer goals than Szeged, who had an exact average of 25. Not even the defence-orientated sides of Zagreb and Barcelona were better in this ranking.

Thus, if Szeged want to make their dream come true, the wall of concrete – including highly experienced goalkeepers Manuel Sierra and Marin Sego – will be crucial again.

Can Szeged leave their domestic arch-rival Veszprém behind in any competition?

For years, one of Szeged’s main goals has been to win a domestic title (league or Cup) in Hungary, but since 2008 this dream has not come true. Now Szeged make another attempt – but Veszprém are still Veszprém, so will be a hard nut to crack.

Under spotlight: Zsolt Balogh

In the 2016/17 season, Balogh was (together with Jure Dolenec/Montpellier) the top VELUX EHF Champions League scorer that did not make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4. The powerful right back netted at least once in every Champions League match to finish with a tally of 88.

This season, the eyes of the opponent’s defenders will be on the 28-year-old left-handed star, though Szeged also have the choice of former world champion Denis Buntic in the same position.

Self-esteem

Though Szeged’s philosophy is to focus only from match to match, their expectations are huge: “Though there are teams with a higher budget compared to us, we want to grab the chance to at least make it to the quarter-finals again,” is the motto.

For manager Nandor Szögi, it is a “big honour” to face teams such as Barcelona and Vardar and “we are proud to be part of this group. We want to use the advantage that our team did not change that much.”

For team captain Szabolcs Zubai “there is no easy opponent in this group, but we are out to win all home matches to have a good base for the knock-out stage.”

Fun fact

Szeged’s coach Juan Carlos Pastor is one of three current Champions League coaches who have steered a national team to the World Championship title. In 2005, he was coach of Spain when they became world champions in Tunisia.

Two years earlier, Lino Cervar (coach of Metalurg) guided Croatia to the trophy, and in 1993 and 1997 it was Vladimir Maximov (coach of Chekhovskie Medvedi) who led Russia to the title.

What the numbers say

42 players were nominated from Pick Szeged for the 2017/18 VELUX EHF Champions League – the biggest number of all sides. Those players come from eight countries, with Hungarians the majority at 27.

MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)

Qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2017/18 season: Hungarian runners-up

Newcomers: Stefan Rafn Sigurmannsson (Aalborg Handbold), Dmitry Zhitnikov (Orlen Wisla Plock)
Left the club: Bendeguz Boka (Balatonfüredi KSE), Sandro Obranovic (return from loan to Zagreb), Urh Kastelic (return from loan to Celje, then to Zagreb)

Coach: Juan Carlos Pastor (since 2013)

Team captain: Szabolcs Zubai

VELUX EHF Champions League record:
Participations (including 2017/2018 season): 16
Quarter-final (3): 1996/97, 2003/04, 2014/15, 2016/17
Last 16 (6): 2004/05, 2005/06, 2006/07, 2010/11, 2012/13, 2015/16
Main round (1): 2007/08
Group phase (3): 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12
Qualification (1): 2013/14

Other EC records:

EHF Cup
Winner: 2014
Quarter-final: 2000/01, Last 16: 1994/95, 1999/2000

EHF Cup Winners’ Cup
Semi-final: 1993/94, Quarter-final: 2002/03, 2008/09

Hungarian champions: 1996, 2007
Hungarian Cup winners: 1977, 1982, 1983, 1993, 2006, 2008


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg
 
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