Foxes on the runArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 2: Füchse Berlin (GER)

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Foxes on the run

Four years after promoting to the German Bundesliga „Füchse Berlin" (Berlin "Foxes") have qualified for the VELUX EHF Champions League for the first time ever.

They call themselves the hunters, but in the end they turned out to be the hunted in the Bundesliga. But Füchse Berlin stood against the pressure from the rest of the league and remained on third position until the end of the season.

Strong Bundesliga season

At the start of the season their aim was to "get close to the European Cup qualification".

But after a highly stable performance in 34 Rounds the club from the German capital took the third place equal in points with THW Kiel.

They even ended up ahead of teams like the Rhein Neckar Löwen (participant of the VELUX EHF FINAL4), VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finalists SG Flensburg or the European Cup winners from Gummersbach and Göppingen.

Men in charge

The two masterminds behind are Bob Hanning and Dagur Sigurdsson. Hanning, former assistant coach of the German national team, started the project to install top handball in Berlin five years ago after having worked for Hamburg in basically the same project.

Currently Hanning is manager, director and youth coach in one person. And he signed the Icelandic Dagur Sigurdsson as the Füchse coach. Until the EHF EURO 2010 Sigurdsson combined two jobs as he was also the coach of the successful Austrian men’s national team, since then he is fully concentrating on Berlin.

Good mix in squad

And he has formed a top team with some star players and several young "no name" players, which have become the biggest sensation in German handball last season.

And they reached new heights in spectator figures in a city which before was dominated by football, basketball and ice hockey. In average 8.172 spectators attended their league matches in the famous Max-Schmeling-Halle (named after the German boxing legend) last season.

Before last season they lifted their objectives by signing international top players like Danish international Torsten Laen (team captain) from Ciudad Real and defence specialist Denis Spoljaric from Zagreb.

Those players but especially German national keeper Silvio Heinevetter and Icelandic international Alexander Petterson became the keys to success.

"I really cannot believe what the team have reached," manager Hanning said when the direct qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League was secured on the last match day.

Premiere on the European scene

It is the first ever appearance for the "Füchse Berlin" in an international competition since they separated from their founding club "Reinickendorfer Füchse", a traditional multi sports club in the Western part of Berlin.

In the 1980’s this club already left some footprints in German and international handball. In 1982 they reached their best result ranking third in the German league. They qualified for the IHF Cup and sensationally reached the semi finals against Zaporozhe (former Soviet Union, now Ukraine), but failed.

In 1984 they made their way to the German Cup final – but then the star declined. One of the best known Füchse players of this era was Noka Serdarusic, later-on the most successful handball coaches in Germany having won more than 20 titles with THW Kiel, including the EHF Champions League in 2007.

When Hanning arrived in Berlin, he reanimated the club, installed professional structures and a successful youth academy. Berlin became German youth champion several times, all teams coached by Hanning.

Squad improvements

And Hanning & Co. improved the squad for the upcoming season: Even before it was clear that they would reach the VELUX EHF Champions League they secured the most spectacular transfer of the club’s history: Berlin signed Spanish international Iker Romero.

In his last match for his former club FC Barcelona-Borges he took the VELUX EHF Champions League title for the second time in his career.

Aside Füchse signed the Swedish international Jonathan Stenbäcken from EHF Champions League participants Sävehof and the young Russian line player Evgeni Pevnov from the German club TSG Friesenheim.

Last 16 as a goal

Now the hunters are the hunted, but despite the heavy group in the VELUX EHF Champions League with opponents like Madrid, Veszprem or Chekhovskie Medvedi, their main goal is to reach the Last 16 and to remain among the top six teams in Germany.

The preparation went successful: They beat teams like Hamburg, Flensburg or Montpellier at several tournaments.

Manager Hanning is now looking forward to the top league: "We are very proud to play in VELUX EHF Champions League. It was surprising that we skipped EHF Cup and went directly to the VELUX EHF Champions League. We have great respect for the group opponents, but we have the courage to say that we want to reach the Last 16. There is no harder group in the VELUX EHF Champions League, but we want to do everything we can to reach our objectives."

Danish player Torsten Laen has the same hopes: "It is a privilege for us to play in VELUX EHF Champions League. If we can show the stability of the last season I hope that we can reach the next round."

Three questions to coach Dagur Sigurdsson What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League - concerning your objectives and your group opponents?

Dagur Sigurdsson: First of all we landed in a very difficult group. It makes it difficult for a newcomer in the VELUX EHF Champions League to start like this. Nevertheless I think we are strong enough to stand on our own feet against all opponents. What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Dagur Sigurdsson: It means a lot to the club. We are competing with all other professional sports in the big city of Berlin. It is a fantastic opportunity for the club to present handball in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

For the team it is a great chance to develop and give young players the possibility to play on highest level. I played EHF Champions League as a coach with Bregenz (AUT) before, now I am coming back with a stronger team. It is a great opportunity to study the styles again and measure with names like Dujshebaev or Maximov. What teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and for winning the title this season – and why?

Dagur Sigurdsson: I think Kiel and Hamburg obviously are candidates for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 as the two big clubs from Spain – Barcelona and Madrid – would be my choice right now. But nobody knows what will happen in the season, maybe a different team will break through. Maybe it is time for the Danish club AG Kobenhavn to make this big step. In my opinion Kiel actually has the best chances for winning the title.

Club facts – Füchse Berlin (GER)

Newcomers: Iker Romero (FC Barcelona), Jonathan Stenbäcken (IK Sävehof), Evgeni Pevnov (TSG Friesenheim), Ramon Tauabo (Füchse youth team)
Left the club: Stian Vatne (end of career), Konrad Wilczynski (SG Handball Westwien/AUT), Michal Kubisztal (Wisła Płock/POL)
Dagur Sigurdsson, since 2009

Qualification for the 2011/2012 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Third ranked in Germany

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2011/2012 season): 1

Further information

Find more information on Füchse Berlin HERE.

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All photos by Steffen Wollmann

TEXT: Björn Pazen