Podravka keen to reach knockout stage
This is the first article in our club countdown series looking ahead to the DELO EHF Champions League 2021/22 season.
From the three clear goals that HC Podravka Vegeta have set for the upcoming season, the Croatian champions' main goal is reaching the DELO EHF Champions League knockout stage.
The stronghold of women’s handball in Croatia experienced some difficult times last season, but big changes to their squad have created the belief that they can light up Europe’s elite competition in 2021/22.
- after a challenging season, Podravka have clear goals for the 2021/22 season
- entering the CL group phase for the 22nd time and the fourth consecutive season
- two important players retired at the end of last season: Dragica Dzono and Magdalena Ecimovic
- Podravka won their 26th domestic title 2020/21 but lost the cup title to Lokomotiva Zagreb
- Neven Hrupec is returning to Podravka after coaching in Italy, Poland and Romania
Most important question: Has Podravka’s time finally come?
The Koprivnica-based club have not reached the EHF Champions League quarter-finals since the 1997/98 season – but in the new competition format that was introduced prior to the 2020/21 season they might have a chance of reaching the play-offs.
Podravka were drawn in group A alongside Brest Bretagne Handball, FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, Budućnost BEMAX, CSM Bucuresti, BV Borussia Dortmund 09, Rostov-Don and Team Esbjerg.
"We have three targets set for next season: the domestic league, the cup and to qualify for the next round of the DELO EHF Champions League. We have acquired several new players who can play both ways and I hope we will perform better in both offense and defence," said sports director Miranda Tatari Simunovic.
Podravka’s preparations for the new season began on 15 July. Ahead of the new season they will face Siófok KC, RK Krim Mercator and FTC in Koprivnica at the traditional Josip Samaržija Bepo tournament, which will provide their new-look squad with a great test.
Another season in Europe’s top-flight competition is very important for the club and the small city of Koprivnica.
"Our participation in the Champions League has encouraged our main sponsor to stand by the club even stronger. All of our sponsors believe in us and I hope this new season will bring handball where it belongs – to its fans. We can’t wait for the new season to start and I hope all of the pandemic problems will be behind us," concluded Tatari Simunovic.
Under the spotlight: Selena Milošević
The Croatian left back is returning after surgery in January 2021 for a season-ending ACL injury. As one of the most important players in Podravka’s back court, Miloševic's absence during the second half of last season was noticeable.
Under the guidance of fitness coach Nikola Golub, Miloševic is already training hard to perform at an even higher level in the new season. Her comeback to the court will be important for Podravka’s style of play.
How they rate themselves
With DELO EHF Champions League 2020/21 runners-up Brest Bretagne and two-time EHF FINAL4 participants Rostov-Don among the teams in group A, Podravka will face tough opponents this season.
Although Podravka are aware of the quality that their opponents possess, they believe that their own fast transition game can help them fight against the best.
FTC, Brest Bretagne and Rostov-Don will be tough nuts to crack, but Tatari Simunovic says it will be a privilege to play against them.
Did you know?
New head coach Neven Hrupec has come home after eight years abroad. Hrupec started his professional career in Podravka’s academy back in 1998. He first became a head coach in 2003 and led the senior team from 2010/11 until 2012/2013.
Hrupec, who was also head coach of Croatia’s youth and junior women’s team, is a well-known coach in Croatian handball. He has a hard task in front of him, as Podravka’s ambitions are always high.
News of Hrupec taking the helm in Koprivnica was known in January 2021, but the tragic death of Podravka’s long-time head coach and Croatian legend, Zlatko Saracevic, after the match against Lokomotiva Zagreb had a huge impact on the whole team and Hrupec.
What the numbers say
May 2021 marked 25 years since Podravka lifted the EHF Champions League trophy in Koprivnica. In the 1995/96 season, Podravka Vegeta's one-goal win on aggregate in the final put Koprivnica on the women’s handball map. In honour, they produced a short film featuring everyone involved in that success.
Newcomers and left the club
Newcomers: Bianca Maria Bazaliu (CSM Bucuresti), Bojana Milic (H.C. Dunarea Braila), Dziyana Ilyina (CS Gloria 2018 Bistrita-Nasaud), Iryna Stelmakh (Astrakhanochka), Larissa Kalaus (HC Lokomotiva Zagreb), Sara Šenvald (Neckarsulmer SU)
Left the club: Lamprini Tsakalou (Thüringer HC), Aneja Beganović (Szombathely KKA), Magdalena Ecimovic (retired), Lucija Jandrašić (ZRK Bjelovar), Bruna Zrnic (ZRK Bjelovar), Dragica Džono (retired), Ivona Mrđen (Osijek), Azenaide Danila José Carlos (unknown), Margarita Škarić (unknown)
EHF Champions League:
Participations (including 2021/22 season): 28
Winners (1): 1995/96
Runners-up (1): 1994/95
Semi-finals (1): 1997/98
Quarter-finals (1): 1996/97
Main Round (1): 2008/09
Play-offs (1): 2020/21
Group Matches/Champions League (15): 1993/94, 1998/99, 1999/00, 2002/03, 2006/07, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2018/19, 2019/20
Qualification (6): 2000/01, 2001/02, 2003/04, 2005/06, 2016/17, 2017/18
Champions Trophy: Winners 1995/96
Cup Winners’ Cup: Runners-up 2004/05, Semi-finals 2007/08
EHF Cup: Runners-up: 2000/01, 2005/06
Croatian league: 26 titles
Croatian cup: 23 titles