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24.08.2018, 12:00
Stars depart, youngsters arrive
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER). The German champions hope for a ticket to Cologne, but must manage a huge transition
 

Stars depart, youngsters arrive

For the 14th time, VELUX EHF Champions League 2013/14 winners SG Flensburg-Handewitt are part of the Champions League group phase. For the second time, after 2004, they start as German champions – but the upcoming season will be extremely tough, as the team is under construction.

Three questions before the new season:

- How will Flensburg manage the huge transition?


Both goalkeepers have gone, both playmakers have left, the defence star said farewell: SG Flensburg-Handewitt have the biggest transition of recent years ahead. The prolific goalkeeping duo Mattias Andersson (end of career) and Kevin Möller (transferred to Barcelona) were replaced by Torbjørn Bergerud and Benjamin Buric. Kentin Mahe followed his former coach Ljubomir Vranjes to Veszprém, while Henrik Toft Hansen joined PSG and Thomas Mogensen returned to Denmark. In addition, club legend Jacob Heinl, who had played for SG for more than 20 years, ended his stint.

Most of the new arrivals are young and lack international experience. The middle block will have a new composition and the structure in the back court will also change. It will be huge task for young coach Maik Machulla. “Our young newcomers have great potential for the future, but we have to be patient,” says manager Dierk Schmäschke. And it is already clear that the transition will continue, as team captain Tobias Karlsson will play his last season and Rasmus Lauge will join Veszprém in 2019.

- Can Flensburg make it to Cologne again?

SG are still the only club to have won the trophy at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in their one and only participation, in 2014. Since then, no German club has made it onto the winners’ lists. “Of course, it is our dream to make it to Cologne, but it gets tougher every year,” says Karlsson.

Due to the long and tough Bundesliga season, the way to Cologne is even steeper. Flensburg’s group is demanding, but they should belong among the four best teams. Depending on the injury situation and some luck, they could make it to Cologne, but it would be a major sensation considering the transition.

- How big is the burden of being ‘the hunted’ in the German championship?

Four rounds before the end of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season, Rhein-Neckar Löwen seemed to be on their way to finishing the champions again, but they ultimately let the trophy slip from their hands – and Flensburg grabbed their chance. After a 14-year wait that saw many second positions on the final ranking, SG were on top again.

Therefore, nearly all the players will experience being the hunted rather than the hunters for the first time in their careers. “We want to live up to our expectations in the Bundesliga, but we are definitely not the favourites in the next season,” says Schmäschke. Though the club will try everything to take the pressure off the team, all opponents will be even more motivated when they face the defending champions.

Under the spotlight: Torbjørn Bergerud

He came to prominence during the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland, and at the World Championship 2017 in France he became a top star of the Norway team, steering his side to the final and the silver medal. Many clubs tried to sign Bergerud, but Flensburg’s Scandinavian contacts were ultimately the reason for his arrival.

At Flensburg, Bergerud is supposed to fill the huge shoes of Mattias Andersson. After playing for Holstebro, he is now in one of Europe’s top clubs – and is eager to prove that his signing was the right solution for both sides.

Self-esteem

“We are proud to be among Europe’s top-flight competition for the 14th time. We want to be a great ambassador for our city and our region,” says manager Schmäschke, who hopes the team will go all the way to Cologne. Sitting below Paris and on a similar level with clubs such as Nantes and Szeged, Flensburg hope for a solid base for the knock-out stage.

In the group phase, Flensburg will face many former players such as Toft Hansen (Paris) and Anders Eggert (Skjern). If no major injuries occur, SG are a candidate for the quarter-finals – and if a team makes it that far, anything can happen.

“It will be an interesting mix, and with Paris Saint-Germain and Skjern Håndbold, we have two highlights in our group,” says Schmäschke.

Fun fact

Two twin brothers will duel in the VELUX EHF Champions League – maybe for the first time in the history of this competition. When SG Flensburg-Handewitt face RK Zagreb in the group phase, new SG goalkeeper Benjamin Buric will play against his twin brother Senjamin Buric, line player for the Croatian champions.

The Bosnians played together for their home club Ljubuski until 2013, then went separate ways. Benjamin played for Velenje and Wetzlar, before he joined Flensburg this season. Senjamin arrived in Zagreb from Nantes this summer.

What the numbers say

SG Flensburg-Handewitt is the only handball club in the world to have won four different European cup competitions: Champions League (2014), Cup Winners’ Cup (2001, 2012), EHF Cup (1997) and the former City Cup (1999).

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)

Qualification for VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: German champions

Newcomers: Benjamin Burić (SG Wetzlar), Torbjørn Bergerud (TTH Holstebro), Johannes Golla (MT Melsungen), Simon Hald (Aalborg Håndbold), Magnus Jøndal (GOG Håndbold), Gøran Søgard Johanessen (GOG Håndbold)

Left the club: Thomas Mogensen (Skjern Handbold), Jacob Heinl (Ribe-Esbjerg), Mattias Andersson (retired), Kentin Mahé (Telekom Veszprém), Kevin Møller (FC Barcelona), Henrik Toft Hansen (Paris Saint-Germain HB)

Coach: Maik Machulla (since 2017)

Team captain: Tobias Karlsson

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 14
Winners (1): 2013/14
Final (2): 2003/04, 2006/07
Semi-final (1): 2005/06
Quarter-final (7): 2004/05, 2008/09, 2010/11, 2012/13, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18
Last 16 (1): 2014/15
Main Round (1): 2007/08

Other EC records:

Cup Winners’ Cup:

Winners: 2000/01, 2011/12; Final: 2001/02

EHF Cup:
Winners: 1996/97; Final: 1997/98, 1999/2000

City Cup:
Winners 1998/99

German league:
2 titles (2004, 2018)

German cup:
4 titles (2003, 2004, 2005, 2015)


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg, ew
 
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