Much changed Gorenje Velenje remain optimisticArticle
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Despite a number of departures and a reduced budget, hope for a good VELUX EHF Champions League run remains high

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Much changed Gorenje Velenje remain optimistic

By the time Gorenje Velenje played Flensburg in the last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League last season it was already widely known that the club will have to make do with a more modest budget in the months to come.

The fact that they embarked on the 2,800 km round-trip by bus was confirmation that an era had ended for the reigning Slovenian champions.

The Wasps eventually held on to the Slovenian league with a comfortable seven point margin over their perennial rivals from Celje. That was a fitting swan song for the squad that had to say goodbye to many a starting player.

Marko Bezjak, Fahrudin Melić, Ivan Gajić, Matej Gaber, Dino Bajram, Peter Pucelj and Jure Dolenec all found themselves new clubs, and the coach Branko Tamše had to hand over the proceedings to Ivan Vajdl.

New faces, similar approach

Coach Vajdl arrived from Trimo Trebnje, but he knows his new surroundings pretty well. He grew up in the area, used to be the club's goalkeeper during his playing career and has already coached the team between 2003 and 2005.

Vajdl had to plug a lot of gaps in the squad. Staš Skube, brother of Celje's playmaker Sebastijan, Senjamin and Benjamin - the Burić brothers, comeback kid Marko Oštir, Mario Šoštarič, Klemen Cehte's brother Nejc, and Jernej Papež will all ply their trade in Velenje in the coming season. The preparations are going along smoothly, without any major injury worries.

“We have a solid team, and we will try to preserve Gorenje's characteristic style of handball. I am a big advocate of a compact defence and quick transition. But of course, with all the players having left, our defensive wall might not be as impenetrable as in previous years,” says Vajdl, who is cautiously handing over the nomination for the domestic favourite to the neighbours in Celje.

“They have had less shifting in the squad and they have been building their team for the last couple of years. That said, we will do all it takes to retain the domestic crown,” promises the 55-year-old strategist.

That is the minimum that the enthusiastic home crowd is expecting, while the club's executives are a little more lenient, given the budget cuts the team had to undergo.

Group Phase progression is a must

Nevertheless, Gorenje will again represent Slovenia in Europe’s premier club competition. Although the draw didn't serve them the easiest opposition, a place in the Last 16 remains a clear objective.

The Wasps will play in Group D, along with Aalborg, Flensburg-Handewitt, and Naturhouse La Rioja, with an another Bundesliga team, either Füchse Berlin or the reigning champions from Hamburg, and Halmstad or Esch joining them after the qualifiers.

“We will play two German teams, the champions of Denmark, and second best team in Spain, which means we have a very difficult group. Our main objective is to win all home games and to pluck away points whenever we can.

“We have a young squad, many of the guys haven't tasted Europe yet, but I am confident that we will present ourselves as a good team,” concludes Vajdl, who also hopes that there will be no more “bus trips” during this European campaign. 

TEXT: Grega Sever / cor