Alingsås pumped for group phase party
For only the third time in 11 years, Swedish club Alingsås HK have reached the group phase of a European competition.
While they are under no illusions about the task at hand, they expect to make the most of their opportunity in the European League.
- sat top of the Swedish league when it came to a premature end last season
- competing in the group phase of Europe’s second tier for the first time, having lost in qualification rounds three times in recent years
- EHF Cup 2016 winner Niclas Barud is the team captain
- star player Felix Claar left for Aalborg over the summer
The burning question – can Alingsås finally enjoy some success in Europe?
Since their second appearance in Europe’s top flight in 2014/15, the Swedish club have been regular contenders in their domestic league and consistently entered European competition.
However, they have yet to really make an impact, bowing out early in every competition they have played.
And it is not for want of trying, as coach Mikael Franzén alludes to the importance of Europe for the club.
“It is a great environment for us as a club to develop players. For us it’s a party every time we can reach a place in a European tournament. The audience in Estrad Alingsås loves games against top European clubs.”
As they were designated as series winners in a shortened Swedish championship, the west coast club will not have to contend with qualification rounds this year and the direct seeding for the group phase offers an opportunity to enjoy some big nights.
“We understand that this competition is very tough for us as a club but we are confident that we can beat every team in our group. For us is important to take game after game to maximise our performance,” says Franzén.
The wise owl - Niclas Barud
Alingsås’ club captain has seen it all before at this level. The 32-year-old line player has enjoyed a spell at Aalborg, where he played in the EHF Champions League, and Frisch Auf Göppingen, where he won the EHF Cup in 2016, so he knows what it takes to navigate a group phase and remote journeys around Europe.
Barud is an experienced Swedish international whose skill on the line coupled with his physical attributes will cause any team troubles.
Goal machine - Andreas Lang
The 24-year-old right back was a star in the Swedish league last season. As well as leading the club in scoring with 145 goals, Lang picked up the player of the month award in November and his ability is unquestionable.
This season’s EHF European League will be a whole new ball game for the left-hander but his 30 goals in six Challenge Cup games last season suggest he is up to the task.
Wildcard - Naoyuki Shoji
Having visited and trained with the club a year ago, Japanese playmaker Naoyuki Shoji signed a one-year deal with the club in a truly fascinating move.
25-year-old Shoji played with Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s second team, which makes this move a big jump for him. Although it is hard to predict how he will fit into the team, his self-described speed and strong one against one skills should see him blend in nicely with Alingsås’ attack and give opponents a few headaches.
A night to remember
Devoted fans of the club will never forget their first season in the EHF Champions League, when they pushed reigning champions Ciudad Real all the way.
It was 14 November 2009, the first-time Swedish champions had just won their first match in the top flight against Fyllingen Bergen and were set for their second home match of the campaign, except it was not really a home match.
Over an hour from home, in Jönköping, 4,700 fans packed into the Kinnarps Arena to enjoy the visit of the mighty Ciudad Real, featuring the likes of Arpad Sterbik, Talant Dujshebaev, Luc Abalo and Swede Jonas Källman among many others in a star-studded team.
Despite Ciudad Real controlling the first half, the home side clawed their way back into the contest with the big-shooting Kristian Bliznac and skilful right wing Marcus Enström scoring seven each. The guests just came away with the victory 26:24 but Alingsås had done themselves proud and inspired a party-like atmosphere that day.
Arrivals and departures
Newcomers: Anton Hagvall (LUGI HF), Naoyuki Shoji (Rhein-Neckar Löwen)
Left the club: Niklas Kraft (Ystad IF), Felix Claar (Aalborg Handbold), Andreas Berg (Onnered HK), Alexander Regen (Kungalv HK), Erik Andreasson (Sorhaga HK)
EHF Champions League:
Group Phase (2): 2009/10, 2014/15
Round 3: 2010/11
National champion (2): 2009, 2014
National cup winner: -
Photo Daniel Blomgren: Alingsås Facebook | Jörgen Jarnberger