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19.08.2018, 12:00
Kristianstad ready for another surprise
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VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: IFK Kristianstad (SWE). The Swedish champions are targeting a return to the knockout phase after last season's success
 

Kristianstad ready for another surprise

A strong finish to the group phase last season earned IFK Kristianstad a berth for the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League for the first time.

Having won the Swedish championship for the fourth time in a row, and entering the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase for the fourth time, Kristianstad are trying to pull another surprise this year.

But the team from former ‘Bengan Boy’ Ola Lindgren will have to compensate for several key players who have left.

Three questions ahead of the new season:

- Can Kristianstad repeat last season’s success and get to the Last 16 again?


Last season Kristianstad made their debut in the knockout stage, where SG Flensburg-Handewitt became too much of a handful, though. A look at Group A suggests that the team from Southern Sweden face an uphill task to repeat that achievement.

“It will be the toughest group phase so far. Vardar, Veszprém, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, Montpellier, Barcelona and Brest are all on the highest level,” team manager and former player Jesper Larsson says. “We will certainly try to surprise, but it is going to be hard. Our chance is to do something different, that the other teams not do… We have to get our seven new players into how we play and think, and that can take some time.”

At home, in their Kristianstad Arena, they have always been a strong force. Larsson hopes the team will now also earn points regularly in away matches.

“We are aiming to take some points away as well,” he says. “We have been close for a number of times, but this year it is about time for a couple of (big) points.”

- Can they continue to compensate for losing key players every year?

Each year, Kristianstad have to close gaps in their team from important players who have left for bigger clubs in bigger leagues. This season is no exception as they have to try to replace players like right back Albin Lagergren, right wing Tim Sørensen and playmaker Gunnar Steinn Jonsson, all internationals in their respective countries.

“Once again we try to build a new team with hungry players who like to run,” team manager Larsson says. “We are optimistic about the season and it is going to be great to welcome clubs of that dignity again. The fans will surely come and again make it into an extraordinary happening.”

- How much of a help is the enthusiastic home crowd in the Kristianstad Arena?

Like in previous seasons, the orange wall in the arena might give IFK the edge to take some surprising points on home court. However, most visiting teams are highly experienced and won’t be intimidated by a noisy atmosphere in an away venue.

“For us it is a highlight to be able to show our fantastic crowd the top teams of Europe and measure our ability with the best,” team manager Larsson says. “We notice an increased interest each year, and financially it is also going better each year. For the players it is the biggest stage to prove themselves. We don’t have the biggest bank account, but to attract new players it helps us to play the Champions League.”

Under the spotlight: Marc Canellas

The 23-year-old Spaniard has joined IKF this summer from Granollers. He is the younger brother of Joan Canellas, and he will have to step out of his sibling’s shadow to help Kristianstad being successful in the Champions League again.

Like Joan at Szeged, Marc Canellas is a playmaker, and his main tasks will be to organise Kristianstad’s attacking play and tie their new backcourt line together. His success in solving these tasks could be crucial to the team’s chances.

Self-esteem

Winning a fourth straight Swedish championship and reaching the VELUX EHF Champions League Knockout Phase for the first time has boosted Kristianstad’s self-confidence.

“Last year we qualified from the group phase and that was a big step for the club,” captain Olafur Gudmundsson says. “This year we have the ambition to do the same thing but we also realise that it won’t be easy. It is probably the toughest group we have had. It will be a big challenge for us but it will also be a lot of fun for our great fans to see some of the biggest teams come to Kristianstad and play in our arena.”

Again, the home matches will be crucial to Kristianstad’s ambitions.

“We had some great results in the past years in our arena and if we keep on doing that I believe we can do great things this year as well,” the Icelandic international says.

Fun fact

With about 40,000 inhabitants, Kristianstad is not the biggest city of Sweden. But for the second year in succession, IFK will not be the city’s only representative in Europe. Kristianstad Handboll are in the Women’s Challenge Cup again. Last season, the women went even a step further than the men by reaching the quarter-finals.

What the numbers say

IFK had their first golden age from 1941-1953 when they won the Swedish championship four times and finished second once. After winning the last title of that period in 1953, it took the club 62 years to finally become champions again. The 2015 title, however, started a series of four straight championships so far.

IFK Kristianstad (SWE)

Qualified for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: Swedish champions

Newcomers: Alfred Ehn (IFK Skövde), Marc Canellas Reixach (Granollers), Teitur Einarsson (Selfoss), Anton Halén (Göppingen), Adam Nyfjäll (Sönderjyske), Emil Hansson (Ystad), Ludvig Jurmala (Tyresö)

Left the club: Albin Lagergren (SC Magdeburg), Tim Sörensen (Göppingen), Gunnar Steinn Jonsson (Ribe/Esbjerg), Mario Lipovac (Ystad), Inge Aas Eriksen (Fyllingen)

Coach: Ola Lindgren (since 2012)

Team captain: Olafur Gudmundsson

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 4
Last 16 (1): 2017/18
Group Phase (2): 2015/16, 2016/17

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Group Phase: 2013/14

Swedish league:
8 titles (1941, 1948, 1952, 1953, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

Swedish cup:
- (no cup competition)


TEXT: Björn Pazen, Peter Bruun / ew
 
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