Countdown, part 8: Oltchim Rm. ValceaArticle
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With the best squad in the club's history assembled for 2012/13, the Romanian champions are among the favourites for the title.

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Countdown, part 8: CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea

Some call it a world selection, others say that this is the best squad which has ever participated in the Women’s EHF Champions League – and the club itself has set the bar as high as possible: "We want to win our first ever title in the Women’s EHF Champions League" is the clear message of CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea.

With six world-class newcomers and a new coach who already had won the Champions League, Oltchim are supposed to be the major candidate for lifting the trophy in May.

Even though their previous squad had already reached the semi-finals last season and the final in 2010, the Romanian record champions have strengthened their roster in extraordinary fashion. Olympic top scorer Katarina Bulatović was transferred from defending Women´s EHF Champions League winners Budućnost, and former world handball player of the year Allison Pineau and superb goalkeeper Amandine Leynaud arrived from Metz (France). The best goalkeeper (by number of saves) in the Olympic tournament, Silvia Navarro comes from 2011 Spanish Champions League finalist Itxako, as does top shooter Alexandrina Barbosa.

But despite having three top goalkeepers, including Romanian international Paula Ungureanu, Vâlcea have a problem in the goal. Talida Tolnai left to play with  Üsküdar  in Turkey, while Leynaud is out for six months after a rupture of the anterior crucial ligament at the end of August.

The new coach is Dane Jakob Vestergaard, who had won the Women´s EHF Champions League trophy twice with Danish side Viborg HK. Vestergaard is the successor of Radu Voina, who not only quit as Oltchim coach but also as Romanian national team coach after failing to make it to the Olympic Games in London. Vestergaard is assisted by former Oltchim player Steluta Luca and Mete Klit, his former assistant at Viborg.

A total of nine players have left Oltchim, so Vestergaard has a tough challenge ahead in building up a nearly new team. And as well as the new signings, former world handball player Cristina Neagu has to be integrated again after a break of more than 14 months after a shoulder injury. Among those nine who left the club, six are former or current Romanian internationals and Turkish top star Yeliz Özel.

But thanks to those major improvements in the squad, vice-president Nicolae Luca has high hopes: "This season we succeeded to transfer some of the best players in the world and we will try to integrate them as soon as possible. Besides, we changed the coaches and together with the new transfers we are aiming to play again the final of the EHF Champions League - and why shouldn't we win it this year?

"But this season will be tough; we will play against good teams like Randers HK, Hypo with their big number of strong Brazilian players and Buxtehude in the Group Matches. We have to focus on our game and avoid further injuries to our players - and we want to make our matches a good show for fans, too."

Montenegrin newcomer and defending winner Katarina Bulatović is confident that the newly-built team will fit: "I have no doubt that we will integrate as soon as possible and when the Champions League starts we will be in good shape. We expect our supporters to be close to us like an eighth player and we will do our best to win all games and out on a good show for them."

Three questions to coach Jakob Vestergaard: What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League?
Jakob Vestergaard: The Champions League is by far the biggest competition and this year it will be extremely hard – maybe the hardest ever. Our goal is to get as far as possible and hopefully again try to play in the Champions League final. We are in a tough, but also an exciting group. All four teams have the chance to advance to the Main Round. What does participating in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?
Jakob Vestergaard: I have won the Champions League twice as coach of Viborg and my thirst for another win is very big. Oltchim are also highly motivated to do well so it is a perfect match. The club have shown great professionalism. What teams are your personal favourites to win the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?
Jakob Vestergaard: Many teams have opportunities this season. Budućnost are defending champions and although they have lost some important players, I always have expectations from them. Györ have virtually the same team as last season. Therefore, in my eyes they are the favourites this year. My own team and Krim Mercator have many new players, but both teams have the potential to go all the way. And we must not forget Larvik. Their defence and their counter-attacks will cause problems to many teams.

CS Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea (ROU)
Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2012/13 season: Romanian champions
Coaches: Jakob Vestergaard (since 2012, former club FC Midtjylland, successor of Radu Voina), assistants: Steluta Luca (since 2011), Mette Klit (former club Viborg)
Newcomers: Katarina Bulatović (Buducnost Podgorica/MNE), Allison Pineau (Metz Handball/FRA), Amandine Leynaud (Metz Handball/FRA), Alexandrina Barbosa (Grupo Asfi Itxako Navarra/ESP) Silvia Navarro (Grupo Asfi Itxako Navarra/ESP)
Left the club: Valentina Ardean Elisei (pregnant), Daniela Babeanu (S.C.M. Craiova/ROU), Oana Chirila (pregnant), Melinda Geiger – H.C.M. Baia Mare/ROU), Roxana Han (S.C.M. Craiova/ROU), Sanela Knezović (Dunaujvaros/HUN), Yeliz Özel (Uskudar BSK Istanbul/TUR), Mihaela Smedescu (H.C.M. Baia Mare/ROU), Talida Tolnai (Uskudar BSK Istanbul/TUR)

Women’s EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2012/13 season): 14
Finalists: 2009/10
Semi-finalists: 2008/09, 2011/12
Last 32: 1999/00
Main Round: 2007/08, 2010/11
Group Phase/Champions League: 1995/96, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 2000/01
Qualification: 2002/03

Other EC records:

Cup Winners Cup:
Winner: 2006/07
Finalist: 2001/02

Romanian champions: 18 times (1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
Romanian Cup winners: 14 times (1984, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2011)
Romanian Super Cup winners: 2007

Further information
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TEXT: Björn Pazen