Countdown, part 12: Viborg HKArticle
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Experienced players left, youngsters arrived and severe injuries hit the three times EHF Champions League winners hard, but after two early eliminations in previous seasons Viborg are hoping to reach the Main Round now.

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Countdown, part 12: Viborg HK

They are three times Women’s EHF Champions League winner and twice finalists, but in the past two seasons Viborg HK have been eliminated after the Group Matches. In 2011/12 they made their way to the Cup Winners’ Cup final, but missed another trophy for their cabinet against FTC from Hungary.

Now an era has come to an end, as several experienced players left the club such as Christina Pedersen, Anja Althaus or Cristina Vărzaru, or finished their career like Louise Bager Due of Henriette Mikkelsen. The rejuvenated team was supposed to be led by German right back Grit Jurack, but at the end of August both her and the club were shocked to learn of her forced retirement due to a shoulder injury.

So before the start of the new Women’s EHF Champions League season, Viborg have big problems on the right, as newcomer and left-handed Olympic champion Amanda Kurtovic is also out with a long-term injury.

Viborg signed a new – and internationally experienced - goalkeeping duo in Frenchwoman Cléopatre Darleux and Swede Cecilia Grubbström, and additionally added some hopeful talents to the squad.

But despite the loss of experience Viborg still aim to reach the Main Round, even in the face of strong opponents such as defending champions Budućnost or Russian powerhouse Zvezda.

New goalkeeper Darleux starts her first international season at Viborg with mixed emotions: "I think it is a very hard group with three strong opponents, including last years champions Budućnost. I hope Bojana (Popović) won't play for them, but they are strong even if she doesn't. Thüringer HC are also a very good team with many good players, and the same goes for Zvezda."

"I obviously played with Alexandra Lacrabère, but they also have a lot of Russian national team players, so they will be very strong as well. It's going to be a very hard group for us, but I believe we can do something good, if we play our best. We need to win all our home matches, and then find some points away as well."

To proceed to the next stage would be the icing on the cake for the club which celebrated its 25th anniversary this summer. Their celebrations included voting for the all-time best Viborg HK players. Heidi Holme Astrup received the award for the most valuable player in their history. This is the All-Time All-Star team which was selected: Goalkeeper: Susanne Munk Wilbek, left wing: Anette Hoffmann, left back: Bojana Popović, playmaker: Heidi Holme Astrup, right back: Grit Jurack, right wing: Janne Kolling, pivot: Natalia Deriouguina.

However, now it is the hands of the current squad to introduce more successful seasons for the club, which won the qualification tournament they had hosted to make it to the Group Matches again.

Three questions to coach Martin Albertsen: What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League?
Martin Albertsen: Our official goal from the start of the season was to reach the Main Round. Of course we still aim for this, and we want to work very hard for it. But we will see how it all goes, because with a career-ending injury to Grit Jurack and a long-term injury to Amanda Kurtovic we are in a different situation than we were when we set that goal. The way I see it, everybody can beat everybody in this group and every match will be contested fiercely. But we will be aiming to win every match we play. First of all our home matches, but we will probably also need to get some points away in order to progress. Last season eight points were enough to progress from all of the groups, so if we can get that, things look good. What does participating in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?
Martin Albertsen: It means everything. A club of our stature and with our history should be in the Champions League. This is important for both our fans and our sponsors. Also for the team it is very important. We are trying to build a new team that in time will be able to live up to past results. In this respect we need matches at the highest possible level, and it doesn't get any higher than the Champions League. And then of course it's just a fantastic competition to be part of, and we look forward to every single match with great excitement. What teams are your personal favourites to win the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?
Martin Albertsen: Vâlcea have assembled a fantastic team, so obviously they are one of the great favourites, along with Györ, who haven’t been weakened since they made the final last season. I also believe Krim Ljubljana are a very good team. We saw that when we played them last season, and they continue to have a great squad. Larvik is another great team, and with Gro Hammerseng back, they can go very far as well. Finally I will say, that the team that will do best in our own group, could probably be a good bid for an outsider.

Viborg HK (DEN)
Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2012/13 season: Winners of Qualification Tournament 1, second ranked in Denmark
Newcomers: Cléopatre Darleux (Arvor 29, France) Søs Søby (Aalborg DH, to which she is loaned out at the moment), Cecilia Grubbström (IK Sävehof), Sabine Pedersen (Aalborg DH), Amanda Kurtovic (Larvik), Holly Lam-Moores (British National Team), Louise Lyksborg (HC Leipzig), Johanne K. Andersen (Youth Team), Anita Bulath (Podravka Vegeta)
Left the club: Christina Pedersen (FIF), Louise Bager Due (retired), Grit Jurack (retired), Henriette Mikkelsen (retired), Anja Althaus (Thüringer HC), Cristina Vărzaru (CSM Bucharest), Camilla Mikkelsen (Hadsten)
Coach: Martin Albertsen, since 2011

EHF Women’s Champions League records:
Participations (including 2012/2013 season): 17
Winner: 2005/06, 2008/09, 2009/10
Finalist: 1996/97, 2000/01
Semi-finalist: 2002/03
Quarter-finals: 1997/98, 2004/05, 2006/07
Last 16: 1994/95
Main Round: 2007/08
Group Phase: 1995/96, 1999/00, 2001/02, 2010/11, 2011/12

Other EC records:
EHF Cup:
Winners: 1993/94, 1998/99, 2003/04

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Finalists: 2011/12

Danish champions: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010
Danish Cup winners: 1994, 1996, 1997, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011

Further information
Find more information about Viborg HK HERE
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TEXT: Björn Pazen