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09.09.2017, 09:00
Velenje’s fans deserve the best
«Go back »Print Version


VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: Slovenian runners-up Rk Gorenje Velenje return after a three-year absence, aiming to reach at least the Last 16 under the guidance of Zeljko Babic.
 

Velenje’s fans deserve the best

After a three-year absence, Rk Gorenje Velenje are back on the VELUX EHF Champions League stage. In their two previous participations (2012/13 and 2013/14) the Slovenian runners-up made it to the Last 16 – and now aim for a similar achievement.

Three questions before the new season:
Can Velenje handle the tough programme?

Like in the previous season, Velenje start in the Slovenian League and Cup, and the SEHA League. In 2016/17, they failed in the qualification stage for the EHF Cup (against later-on finalists Berlin), which means that this season will be the first with the burden of playing a European cup group phase parallel with the SEHA League – a tough challenge mainly from October to December.

Does the young squad have enough experienced leaders?

The likes of line player Alem Toskic, goalkeeper Klemen Ferlin or right wing Matjaz Brumen have extensive experience in international matches on both a club and national team level, and will be the ones to take the responsibility.

Who will be the next rising Velenje star?

Among all the club’s young players, left wing Tilen Grobelnik is a notable talent. He was part of the Slovenian European Youth Olympic Festival silver medallist-winning team in the summer of 2017 and has his first Champions League season ahead – at the age of 17.

Under spotlight: Zeljko Babic

The coach can be the star at Velenje, as he has more Champions League and international experience than most of the players.

Previously, Babic led Meshkov Brest into the spotlight, and was later coach of the Croatia national team, which he steered into the semi-finals of the EHF EURO 2016 (bronze medal) and the World Championship 2017 (4th rank). Now Babic is the man to prepare the young Velenje side for international competitions.

Self-esteem

On home turf, it will the traditional fight with Celje for the trophies; in the Champions League, Velenje hope to proceed to the Last 16 from Group C.

“This is a very difficult group; our opponents are tough. But if you want to be the best, you have to beat everyone,” says club director Matej Avanzo, adding: “Gorenje Velenje has undergone some big changes in the past year and aims for more quality in the whole organisation.

“After four years, we are back in the most prestigious competition and as people in Velenje love handball, they deserve to watch it on the highest level possible.”

Team captain Niko Medved is more detailed: “We are aiming for first or second place in Group C. We are ambitious, but other teams in Group C are on an equal level like us.

Fun fact

Two former Velenje players imprinted the 2016/17 European cup season: Croatian Ivan Cupic became the first since 2009 to defend the VELUX EHF Champions League trophy. Cupic scored the crucial buzzer-beating goal in the final against PSG to bring Vardar on top of the podium, after winning the title with Kielce in 2016.

Slovenian Primoz Prost did not only defend the EHF Cup title with Frisch Auf Göppingen, but was awarded best goalkeeper of the EHF Cup Finals.
 
What the numbers say

Velenje’s squad is comprised only of players from former Yugoslavia. Aside from Slovenians, there is one Croatian, one Serbian and one Bosnian, as well as two Montenegrins in the ‘Wasps’ roster.

RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO)

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

Newcomers: Zarko Pejovic (Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral/FRA), Robert Markotic (Maccabi Rishon Lezion/ISR), Matic Verdinek (Maribor Branik/SLO), Jan Grebenc (Riko Ribnica/SLO), Jernej Drobez (junior Gorenje Velenje team), Tilen Grobelnik (junior Gorenje Velenje team)
Left the club: Andris Celmins (Maribor Branik/SLO), Kenan Pajt (loan to Slovenj Gradec 2011/SLO), Janez Gams (SC Ferlach/AUT), Joze Baznik, Anze Ratajec (Trimo Trebnje/SLO), Luka Mitrovic (Celje Pivovarna Lasko/SLO)

Coach: Zeljko Babic (since 2017, successor of Borut Plaskan)

Team captain: Niko Medved

VELUX EHF Champions League record:
Participations (including 2017/18 season): 9
Last 16 (4): 2005/06, 2009/10, 2012/13, 2013/14
Main round (1): 2007/08
Group phase (1): 2004/05
Qualification (2): 2010/11, 2016/17

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Final: 2008/09, Semi-final: 1994/95, 2014/15 (fourth ranked at EHF Cup Finals), Quarter-final: 1996/97, 2010/11, 2011/12

Cup Winners Cup:
Semi-final: 2003/04, Quarter-final: 2004/05

Slovenian champions: 2009, 2012, 2013
Slovenian Cup: 2003


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg
 
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