Sporting’s strength to be tested in rock-hard group
Following three seasons competing in the rough-and-tumble world of groups C and D of the EHF Champions League, Sporting CP should be well-set to deal with the challenges posed in the European League group phase.
Rui Silva’s men already came through one nervy test in qualification, beating Constanta by a single goal, and now have 10 matches to prove themselves a true contender for the crown.
- competing in the second tier after three years in the EHF Champions League
- reached the Last 16 in 2019, losing to Veszprém
- won the Challenge Cup in 2010 and 2017
- coach Rui Silva and right wing Darko Djukic are their big summer arrivals
The burning question – can Sporting emerge from the group of death?
Group B was on everyone’s lips at the end of last week’s European League group phase draw as Sporting were thrown in alongside USAM Nimes Gard, Dinamo Bucuresti, Tatran Presov, Füchse Berlin and IFK Kristianstad.
It is a group chocked full of teams with recent EHF Champions League experience coupled with clubs from Europe’s top league, in which two teams will be left incredibly disappointed with an early exit.
“We know the group phase is going to be tough, because we are going to play with really strong teams, but we are preparing to face anyone. All I know for sure is that the team is looking forward to start the group phase and honour this great club and its supporters,” says club captain Frankis Marzo.
This kind of tense situation is nothing new to Sporting. In fact, this group feels an awful lot like the old groups C and D of the EHF Champions League, which they progressed from in the last two seasons.
They will also face Dinamo Bucuresti for the third straight season, having won once and lost once in the elimination knockout round. All in all, these experiences should work in Sporting’s favour as they hunt a top four spot.
Captain fantastic - Frankis Marzo
A leader for the club on and off the court, Frankis Marzo has been through thick and thin with the Lions since arriving in 2011.
The Cuban-born Qatari international is still banging in the goals with ease at the age of 33. Having passed the 50-goal mark in the past three European seasons, the left back looks set to deliver again this season having scored 13 in Sporting’s narrow qualification win over Constanta.
Magician – Carlos Ruesga
The king of the bent-over-sideways shot, a man who can bend his way around, under or behind any defence with his variety of unpredictable shots.
The 2013 world champion has experienced it all during his spells with Ademar Leon, Veszprém and Barcelona and will be key to Sporting’s journey through a tough group.
New blood - Darko Djukic
It is hard to believe Djukic is still only 25, having seemingly been around Europe’s top flight for ages. After making a name for himself with Besiktas in 2015/16, the right wing has continued to show signs of promise with Kielce and Brest.
The Serbian international could also have been nominated as the team’s magician with his brilliant array of shots from the wing and gorgeous control of the ball.
A night to remember
Sporting have a number of recent memories from European handball to choose from, including pushing Veszprém hard in the Last 16 of the EHF Champions League. But here we will go back to the beginning of their current European journey and their Challenge Cup triumph in 2017.
The Portuguese side tore through the competition, winning all four rounds en route to the final with ease.
Facing AHC Potaissa Turda in the final and with the prospect of a tricky second leg in Romania, Sporting wanted to get the job done in leg 1 and they did exactly that.
Sporting maintained a very strong and cohesive defence with Matej Asanin a barrier in goal which the Romanians could not overcome.
Carlos Ruesga was always finding spaces in Potaissa Turda's defence, creating various scoring opportunities. Ivan Nikcevic also seemed unstoppable and found the way to Potaissa Turda’s goal several times, scoring 10 goals as Sporting won the first leg 37:28.
They completed the task a week later, beating Turda 30:24 in front of 3,000 fans to claim their second European title.
Arrivals and departures
Newcomers: Salvador Salvador (Boa Hora), Joel Ribeiro (Boa Hora), Jens Schongarth (Flensburg Handewitt), Darko Djukic (Meshkov Brest), Dmytro Doroshchuk (Dynamo Zaphorozye), Nuno Roque (CF Belenenses)
Left the club: Edmilson Araujo (Baia Mare), Gonçalo Vieira (Fenix Toulouse), Luis Frade (Barca), Ivan Nikcevic (Benidorm), Carlos Carneiro (retired)
VELUX EHF Champions League
Last 16 (1): 2018/19
Group phase (2): 2017/18, 2019/20
Group matches (1): 2001/02
Quarter-final: 2000/01, 2013/14
Cup Winners’ Cup:
Winners: 2009/10, 2016/17; Semi-final: 2011/12
Portuguese league: 21 titles (1952, 1956, 1961, 1966-67, 1969-73, 1978-81, 1984, 1986, 2001, 2017, 2018)
Portuguese cup: 15 titles