Ready for take-offArticle
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Rhein Neckar Löwen Mannheim can secure qualification for the CL group phase within 21 hours, but the club has even more ambitious plans.

Ready for take-off

From countryside to big halls and bigger cities: this development is typical for German handball in the last decade. Just as Gummersbach – playing today in the big Kölnarena of Cologne – or Berlin that reinforced the squad to become a first league team again.

RNL in the CWC Final last seasonAnd it is especially true about Mannheim. The club Rhein Neckar Löwen (RNL, “the lions”) 2005 succeeded the former club SG Kroanu/Östringen. Not only the name changed in Mannheim, but also the venue: the “Lions” have been playing in the SAP Arena for three years. This sports hall has a capacity of 14 500 spectators.

For the upcoming season the club plans with an average of over 10 000 spectators each game. The “Lions” have great plans, not only for the Bundesliga, but also for the Champions League. As Germany’s number four last season, RNL received a wild card for the CL qualifications and this weekend they have the chance to qualify for the group phase – within 21 hours.

The opponent seems to be quite easy as they will play against the champions of Luxemburg, HB Dudelange. On Friday evening they will play in Dudelange and on Saturday afternoon the second leg will be in Trier.

“I believe that this should not be a major problem,” manager Thorsten Storm said after the draw. Storm has experience in CL matches as he was the manager of SG Flensburg-Handewitt until 2007. His former club played two finals in the European “king’s class”.

The “lions”, sponsored by the local SAP company (multinational software giant) and now also by Danish company Kasi, would play against Zagreb, Plock and Szeged in the group phase.

A team with experience

Chevtsov can build on expreineced handballersAfter changing name and arena, RNL also changed team completely. A lot of international experienced players joined the club coached by Belarus Youri Chevtsov. The former player won EHF cup with Essen in 2005.

There are all together eight players in the RNL team who played in the World Championship final in 2007. Four Germans (Fritz, Schwarzer, Roggisch and Klimovets) and four Polish (Szmal, Bielecki, Tkaczyk and Jurasik).

Bielecki and Tkaczyk joined the “Lions” in the winter of 2008 from Magdeburg. With these two coming, RNL could transfer German international Oleg Velyky to HSV Hamburg.

Before the start of this season only two new players joined, both for the wing positions: Olympic silver medallist Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (Iceland) from Gummersbach and an experienced Czech international, Jan Filip from EHF Cup winner Nordhorn.

Focus on the youth

Signing experienced players apart, RNL invest a lot of money and effort into developing young and talented players. The club has a new youth handball academy. The first result of this work was a German title for the juniors this year and giving five RNL players to the German European champion and World championship second youth team.

The players are going for titles“Though we have the money to buy complete players, it’s our main target to invest in the future of our club,” Storm says.

And the objectives are ambitious:

“We will threaten the top teams this year. We want to cut the distance to them in all competitions,” Storm said.

The “Lions” want to break into the phalanx of the “Northern lights”, Kiel, Flensburg and Hamburg. But also in the Champions League, the club believes to make a step further. Last season RNL missed their first international title by losing the Cup Winners’ Cup finals against Hungarian Veszprém.

The first title is still to come for the lions after losing two cup finals and reaching only fourth place in the Bundesliga (last year).But now they seem “ready for take-off” in national and international competitions.

TEXT: Björn Pazen