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25.08.2018, 12:00
Slim changes, same ambitions for Leon
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VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: Abanca Ademar Leon (ESP). After going out against eventual champions Montpellier in last season’s play-offs, the Spanish side is vying for a Last 16 berth this time
 

Slim changes, same ambitions for Leon

After a five-year hiatus, Abanca Ademar Leon came back ambitious to the VELUX EHF Champions League last year. They only just made it to the play-offs, where they lost twice to Montpellier, the French side which would lift the trophy nearly three months later.

With a more experienced side and a year of tough European competition under their belts, Leon are eyeing the first place in what appears to be an easier group as they relish the challenge for a new successful season.

“We faced two opponents from this group last season, but we see that there are other hungry teams coming, so it will be a difficult season,” Leon team manager Jose Cabrero says.

Three questions before the new season:

- What can Leon do to better their previous performances?


Three losses in their first four games left Leon with a mountain to climb last season. However, they mounted a superb comeback, earning five wins in the last six games, to get to the play-offs.

For a lengthy outing in the VELUX EHF Champions League, Leon must improve their consistency and their grit, but also protect their home court better after losing two games in the Palacio de los Deportes. Experience in this kind of situations counts huge in the competition, therefore Leon should be better equipped to deal with their opponents in this season.

- Will the departure of a few players hamper Leon this season?

Losing a left back who was the team’s second-best top scorer with 38 goals in the competition last season (Costoya Rodriguez) and an important goalkeeper (Vladimir Cupara) will likely have an impact on Leon’s challenge for this season. But otherwise, the Spanish side remains mostly unchanged from last season. So coach Rafael Guijosa Castillo will trust the system he built and developed over the last three years in Leon.

- Will Rafael Guijosa leave his mark?

Guijosa will surely try to improve his team for the European premium competition. Leon’s main objectives will be finishing second once again in the domestic league and a lengthy outing in the domestic cup, but the path for another play-off berth in the VELUX EHF Champions League should be easier this season. More attention in the key parts of the games, a lack of injuries and Rafael Guijosa could lead his team to another Last 16 berth.

Under the spotlight: Mario Lopez Alvarez

The 23-year old right wing broke through the youth’s ranks six seasons ago and has quickly become an anchor for the Spanish side. His youth does not reflect in his style of play, as Lopez Alvarez became the top goal scorer of Leon in last season’s VELUX EHF Champions League, with 44 goals in 10 matches. Born and bred in Leon, the young Spanish player has been named the team’s captain for the new season.

Self-esteem:

With Barça Lassa likely to be as dominant as in recent years, Leon are not expected to have a shot at the Spanish domestic title. But Leon definitely have serious ambitions. They want to finish runners-up in the ASOBAL league and get to the final of the Copa del Rey. As for the VELUX EHF Champions League, Leon have the same ambitions like last season: reaching the Last 16.

What the numbers say

Statistically, Leon have every chance of getting to the Last 16. In their previous 12 outings, they reached that stage eight times, or in 66.7 percent of their participations. And they even went on to reach the quarter-final four times.

Qualification for VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: Spanish runner-up

Newcomers: Jose Mario Carrillo Gutiérrez (FC Porto), Dino Slavic (RK Umag), Ivan Mosic (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai), Álvaro Rozas (youth team), Álvaro Robles (youth team)

Left the club: Diego Piñeiro Martín (Dunkerque HB), Alejandro Costoya Rodríguez (Chambery Savoie), Vladimir Cupara (PGE Vive Kielce)

Coach: Rafael Guijosa Castillo (since 2015)

Team captain: Mario López Álvarez

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 13th
Quarter-final (4): 1997/98, 1999/2000, 2001/02, 2011/12
Last 16 (4): 2003/04, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2012/13
Main Round (2): 2007/08, 2008/09
Group phase (1): 2017/18
Qualification: (1): 2010/11

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:

Quarter-final: 2010/11; Group Phase 2013/14

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Winners: 1998/99, 2004/05; Final: 2000/01, 2006/07

Spanish league:
1 title (2001)

Spanish cup:
1 title (2002)

Asobal cup:
2 titles (1999, 2009)


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ew
 
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