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01.09.2018, 09:00
Zagreb want back in Last 16
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: HC PPD Zagreb (CRO). After a disappointing 2017/18 season, Zagreb aim to return stronger with a new roster and legendary coach Lino Cervar at the helm
 

Zagreb want back in Last 16

The Croatian champions start another season with a new coach and a significantly changed roster. Last season they were in the similar position and, for the first time in four years, failed to qualify for the Last 16. This year, the goal is again the same: reach the Last 16 under the guidance of experienced Lino Cervar, who will lead this young team into Zagreb’s 25th VELUX EHF Champions League season.

Three questions before the new season:

Will Zagreb return to the Last 16?

The club had the same wish last year, but the team could not achieve the goal and reach the Last 16. They won six points and finished at the bottom of Group A. Arena Zagreb was not the strong fortress it had been in previous seasons. However, new sports director and former player Josip Valcic hopes that his team can restore the power of the home arena.

“Our goal is to try to win every much in Arena Zagreb and hopefully to put on some good performances playing away. I think that should be enough to achieve our goal.”

How will the numerous youngsters perform under pressure?

Experienced players like Igor Vori, Josip and Tonci Valcic have retired. Now all the experience lies in captain Zlatko Horvat and Damir Bicanic. Even though many of Zagreb’s players already have experience on the big stage in the VELUX EHF Champions League, the question is: are they ready to play under such pressure in every game?

It is up to Lino Cervar to combine a few experienced players with the youngsters, who have never played such big roles in the club. Captain Zlatko Horvat thinks his team are ready for the challenge: “We have a young but well-balanced team and I believe that this season is going to be good for us.”

What are Zagreb’s chances in Group B?

There are going to be very interesting obstacles for Zagreb to jump in Group B. They will certainly be looking to take some points away from Motor Zaporozhye, Celje and even Skjern. However, in every season, Zagreb managed to surprise one of the big teams in Arena Zagreb, where they again hope to win important points.

“There are no easy opponents and we have great respect for all of the other teams. PSG are definitely number one favourites, but I think we can play against all other teams as equals,” says sports director Josip Valcic.

Under the spotlight: Senjamin Buric

The biggest name Zagreb signed for the new season is former Nantes line player Senjamin Buric. He will have a tough task in replacing Igor Vori, but what he was showing in Nantes before an ACL injury last season says that Zagreb will have an excellent line player.
 
Buric is an experienced Bosnian international who has played for Izvidac, Gorenje and Nantes. He was not in the squad at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2018 due to the injury but was there to support his team and share in the amazing result.

One of the reasons Buric returned to Zagreb is his wife Sonja Basic, former Croatian international, who recently gave birth.

Self-esteem

As Zagreb join the Croatian championship only for the play-offs that start in March, all of their focus during the season is on the Champions League and SEHA – Gazprom League.

“It’s definitely going to be interesting to see the young lads in the main roles now. Our goal is to reach the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League. For our young team this would be a great result and I believe we are good enough to achieve this goal,” says Valcic.

Team captain Horvat has a small addition to this goal: “Our objective is to go at least to the Last 16 and I personally hope that we can go even further.”

Fun facts

The Valcic brothers have maybe retired, but they are both still with the club. After being the most important part of Zagreb’s defence, Tonci Valcic will now have a slightly different role. This time he will be on the bench as one of Cervar’s two assistants. Of course, Tonci’s forte is defence and that will be his main task with the young Zagreb team.

His younger brother Josip now sits behind the office desk as sports director of the club.

What the numbers say

Zagreb hold many interesting records. One of them is the most seasons in the EHF Champions League (25). The other is almost hard to believe: Zagreb has been domestic champions a total of 27 times.

Since Croatia became independent, Zagreb have been lifting the national championship trophy. Out of all domestic trophies they have missed only two Cups, won by Metkovic in 2001 and 2002.

Nexe have been ‘knocking on the door’ for quite some time but Zagreb always lift all Croatian trophies in the end.

HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)

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

Newcomers: Filip Vistorop (Zrinski Mostar), Senjamin Buric (HBC Nantes), David Mandic (Izvidac Ljubuski), Gregor Potocnik (Gorenje Velenje), Lovro Jotic (Aalborg), Nikola Potic (Cangas de Morazzo), Ivan Srsen (Nexe), Vito Bahtijarevic (PPD Zagreb Youth Academy)

Left the club: Igor Vori (retired), Josip Valcic (retired), Tonci Valcic (retired), Mario Vuglac (retired), David Miklavcic (Gorenje Velenje), Dobrivoje Markovic (-), Domagoj Pavlovic (MT Melsungen), Stipe Mandalinic (Füchse Berlin)

Coach: Lino Cervar (since July 2018)

Team captain: Zlatko Horvat

VELUX EHF Champions League record:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 25
Finalists (4): 1994/95, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99
Semi-final (1): 1999/2000
Quarter-final (7): 2000/01, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2008/09, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2015/16
Last 16 (4): 2005/06, 2009/10, 2010/2011, 2016/17
Main round (1): 2007/08
Group phase (7): 1993/94, 1995/96, 2004/05, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2017/18

Other EC records:

Cup Winners' Cup:
Finalist (2): 1997/98, 2004/05
Semi-finalist (1): 2006/2007

Croatian league: 27 titles (1992-2018)

Croatian Cup: 25 titles (1992-2000, 2003-2018)

SEHA League: one title (2013)


TEXT: Jelena Bagaric / cg
 
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