Aalborg have unfinished business
Few teams in the EHF Champions League Men would have been left as frustrated by the premature end to last season as Aalborg Håndbold. Having made a breakthrough as one of the surprise packages of the group phase, an enticing clash with Porto was all which stood between them and their first quarter-final appearance.
But the Danish champions are ready to go again, revitalised with exciting young talent and motivated to complete the job they started in 2019.
- won their fifth Danish league last season, adding their first gold star above the club’s crest
- last season’s surprise package in Europe’s top-flight will hope to continue that good form despite becoming a team for the opposition look out for
- entering their sixth season competing in the EHF Champions League and have yet to progress past the last 16
- plenty of change in the line up this summer after four players snatched by Bundesliga clubs
- the senior squad is entirely Scandinavian, with four Swedes and one Norwegian among the majority of Danes
Most important question: Can they emulate last season’s form?
Aalborg were one of last season’s genuinely positive surprises as they stepped up and shook up their opponents in group A.
Victories at home and away against Flensburg and an away point at Szeged proved this side belonged among Europe’s elite and a place in the quarter-finals was well within their grasp before the season was cut short.
If the element of surprise was a factor then, it will not be now and it will be a real challenge to replicate such results. They were also victims of their own success as four of their best players made summer moves to the German Bundesliga. We have not seen a Danish men’s team impress in Europe on a regular basis in quite some time, but Aalborg look capable of setting the record straight.
Under the spotlight – centre back duo Felix Claar and Nikolaj Læsø
The summer departure of Janus Daði Smárason to Göppingen has left a big gap to be filled as not only did he run the Aalborg attack as a playmaker, but also scored an impressive 52 goals in the competition last season.
23-year-old Swede Felix Claar and 24-year-old Nikolaj Laesø have been brought in to take up the role and it will be fascinating to see who will thrive in such an important position.
Laesø impressed in their first competitive match of the season, a cup win on Friday, but Claar may be expected to know the ropes in Europe having played for Sweden and experienced the EHF Champions League as a 17-year-old with Alingsas back in 2014. Either way, Aalborg will need one of them to hit the ground running and drive their attack against some of the world’s best defences.
How they rate themselves
It is clear that coach Stefan Madsen and captain René Antonsen do not see last season as a one-off as they both used the fighting term of unfinished business.
“Our goal is to make it past the group phase. We have some unfinished business from last season. We want to make it to the knockout-phase once again and try to make a run.
“We want to establish us as one of the top teams, not only in Denmark but also as a team, that can be competitive on the biggest international stage,” explained Madsen.
“Our biggest motivation for the upcoming season is that we have some unfinished business from last season.
“We had very good momentum going into the playoffs, and we had a good feeling about our chances in the knockout-phase. Unfortunately, we did not find out, how far we could take it. This year we have many new players with a lot of quality and we are very hungry to make a deep run,” added Antonsen.
Did you know?
None of the five men in Aalborg’s ‘hall of fame’ are Danish. Swede Jan Lennartsson and Norwegian quartet Kristian Kjelling, Ole Erevik, Håvard Tvedten and Sander Sagosen have been honoured.
Sagosen was named in the hall of fame at the age of 21, which some may have felt was premature, but he has certainly gone on to prove the decision-makers right.
What the numbers say?
Aalborg’s record in Europe’s elite club competition is decent in terms of progressing from the early stages, as the made it out of the group phase on three of their five attempts.
However, they have yet to progress any further, losing out to Barça in the last 16 in both 2014 and 15, while the global health crisis scuppered their chances last season.
Arrivals and departures
Newcomers: Simon Gade (TTH Holstebro), Sebastian Henneberg (Elverum Handball), Nikolaj Læsø (Århus Håndbold), Felix Claar (Alingsås), Lukas Sandell (Elverum Handball), Jonas Samuelsson (Skanderborg Håndbold)
Left the club: Janus Smarason (Frisch Auf Göppingen), Ómar Ingi Magnússon (Magdeburg), Kristian Sæverås (Leipzig), Mishels Liaba (Fredericia HK), Tobias Ellebæk (Frisch Auf Göppingen), Knud Ronau (IF Ystad), Søren Westphal (retired)
EHF Champions League:
Participations (including 2020/21 season): 6
Last 16 (2): 2013/14, 2014/15, 2019/20
Group Phase (3): 2010/11, 2017/18
EHF Cup: Quarter-final 2003/04, Group Phase 2015/16
Challenge Cup: Round 4 2002/03
Danish league: 5 titles (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019, 2020)
Danish cup: 1 title (2019)