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EHF Champions League

Zagreb seek fresh start in 27th season

EHF / Danijela Lemaić

When it comes to men’s handball in Croatia, HC PPD Zagreb are a synonym for it.

Playing the EHF Champions League from its beginning in 1993, the Croatian champions are now going into their 27th season, more than any other team.

After a rollercoaster season with two changes of the head coach position and disappointing results, Zagreb are looking forward to a new edition - with many new faces in the squad.

Main facts bullet points

  • 27 appearances in 28 seasons make Zagreb the all-time record participants in the CL
  • after first replacing Branko Tamse and then Veselin Vujovic, Zagreb have now put their hopes in club legend Igor Vori as head coach
  • Zagreb could not add their 29th consecutive domestic title last season as the Croatian championship was cancelled due to global pandemic
  • Damir Bicanic and Arian Jovic have retired and taken up new roles in the club, while Tonci Valcic has returned to Zagreb as an assistant coach
  • 11 players from last season’s squad are gone, most notably Zlatko Horvat, who left Zagreb for Metalurg after almost 20 years

Most important question: Can Zagreb advance from the group phase?

New playing system in the EHF Champions League, new goals for Zagreb: They have failed to get beyond the group phase two times in the last three years, and already five seasons have gone by since their last appearance in a quarter-final.

This campaign they want to get back on track with at least a place in the play-offs.

“We know it is a difficult task for us to pass the group phase as the last two years were not as we planned. We set a new goal for this season. When you put your goals high, there is a higher possibility to achieve them,” says club director Vedran Supukovic.

Zagreb’s new head coach, Igor Vori, will not have an easy task. A total of nine players have left the club while two others retired, but the team will be reinforced with the likes of Ziga Mlakar, Nemanja Obradovic, and Senjamin Buric.

After 26 years in the EHF Champions League, Zagreb are used to playing against the best teams of Europe. This season they will face the likes of Barça, Veszprém, Kiel, and Celje, starting with a home game against Kiel on 17 September.

New team captain Matej Asanin says: “I am looking forward to the first match. We need the handball world to get back to normal, everyone anticipates the start of the EHF Champions League. There will be interesting matches against big teams, I can’t pick a special one. A treat for all our fans in Zagreb.”

Under the spotlight: Matej Asanin

Following the departure of Zlatko Horvat, who has joined Metalurg, Matej Asanin took over the role of team captain. It is a big responsibility for the goalkeeper, who returned to Zagreb in 2019.

Asanin spent his youth in the Zagreb academy before pursuing an international career at Leon, Balingen, Sporting and Friesenheim.

The comeback in Zagreb has worked out well, as Asanin further improved and even got an invitation for the national team.

He won gold at the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona and silver at the EHF EURO 2020 with Croatia.

While the saying goes: ‘Goalkeepers are like wine, they get better with age,’ Asanin could be a crucial factor to Zagreb’s ambitions of a fresh start.

How they rate themselves

Almost ever present in the EHF Champions League, Zagreb’s players gain international experience at a young age.

No matter the roster changes, that has been the formula for Zagreb in the last couple of years.

“Everything is possible when you have a mix of players. We are part of the Champions League for 27 years, it is already a tradition to us. This tradition has huge importance and impact on us, the city of Zagreb and Croatian handball in total. With experienced players and young talents, we hope to have a more successful season that the previous ones,” says Supukovic.

Did you know?

New head coach Igor Vori started and ended his active career as a line player in Zagreb. Leading the same club will be his first job as a head coach, but he gained some coaching experience from assisting Lino Cervar at the Croatian national team during EHF EURO 2020.

The club legend with two Olympic, four World Championship and three EHF EURO medals will be a great asset to players in the club.

What the numbers say

Zagreb are not only the record participants in the EHF Champions League, they hold several more interesting records.

Since Croatia’s independence in 1991, Zagreb won all 28 national champion titles, and only missed their 29th as the 2019/20 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In total they have won 56 out of 58 possible domestic league and cup titles.

Newcomers and left the club

Newcomers: Nemanja Obradovic (HC Meshkov Brest), Senjamin Buric (HBC Nantes), Vlado Matanovic (RK Gorenje Velenje), Todor Jandrić (Metaloplastika Sabac), Ziga Mlakar (SPR Wisla Plock), Mario Vuglac

Left the club: Aleksandar Spende (RTV 1879 Basel), Kristian Beciri (ThSV Eisenach), Ante Gadza (Vardar 1961), Josip Vekic (Vardar 1961), Gasper Hrastnik, Josip Eres (TuS Ferndorf), Nenad Kostetski (Eurofarm Pelister), Zlatko Horvat (Metalurg), Arian Jovic (retired), Damir Bicanic (retired)

Past achievements

- EHF Champions League:

Participations (including 2020/21 season): 27
Runners-up (4): 1994/95, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99
Semi-final (1): 1999/00
Quarter-final (7): 2000/01, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2008/09, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2015/16
Last 16 (5): 2005/06, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2016/17, 2018/19
Main Round (1): 2007/08
Group Phase (8): 1993/94, 1995/96, 2004/05, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2017/18, 2019/20

- Other:

Cup Winners’ Cup: Runners-up: 2004/05, Semi-final: 2006/07
(IHF) European Champions Cup: 2 titles (1991/92, 1992/93)
SEHA League: 1 title (2013)

Croatian league: 28 titles (1992-2019)
Croatian cup: 26 titles (1991-2000, 2003-2019)

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