Ortega not ready for the journey to endArticle
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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Veszprem’s Antonio Carlos Ortega talks about the success of Spanish coaches and the chances to beat THW Kiel in Cologne

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Ortega not ready for the journey to end

None of the four coaches present in Cologne on 31 May/1 June have risen more Champions League trophies than Antonio Carlos Ortega. While Ljubomir Vranjes (Flensburg) did not have the touch of special silverware in his hands, Alfred Gislason lifted it three times, Xavi Pascual once, Ortega managed to become a six-time winner as a player of FC Barcelona, where he was part of the “golden generation”.

In 2005, right after his last, the 42-ear-old Spaniard started his coaching career in Antequera, in 2012 he went abroad to take over MVM-MKB Veszprem.

Right in his first season, Ortega was close to Cologne, but narrowly failed against THW Kiel in the quarter-finals. This year the newly crowned Hungarian champions made their dream come true, beating PSG Handball in the quarter-finals. And at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 his team has the great chance to make up for last season’s disappointment against Kiel in the semi-final.

Ortega rates his chances and how he sees the special success of Spaniards in Hungary in this exclusive interview with ehfCL.com.

ehfCL.com: First of all, congratulation for winning the Hungarian championship after winning both finals against Pick Szeged. How important is this title for MVM MKB Veszprem on their way to Cologne?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: It is great for the club to take our 22nd trophy in the Hungarian championship, as it was our main goal for this season. Only by winning this championship we can be sure of taking part in the Champions League next season, and again to dream of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

To become Hungarian champions becomes more and more difficult as our main opponent Pick Szeged constantly improve their squad. So this title boosts us in our preparation for Cologne, it really feels good – and now we have freed our minds to focus solely on our semi-final with THW Kiel.

ehfCL.com: Like at Veszprem, Szeged are coached by a Spaniard, Juan Carlos Pastor. Is it strange to have a fellow countryman as the major opponent?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: I really like Juan Carlos Pastor. When I started coaching, he was already a big name in Spain. I like the style he plays, mainly in attack. Due to the development of handball in Spain, a lot of top coaches and top players are on the market, and their success all over Europe is good for the reputation of Spanish handball.

ehfCL.com:  Having so many Spanish top coaches spread all over Europe – and mainly in Hungary – could lead to three Spanish coaches winning three European club competition titles with Hungarian teams, after Ambros Martin defended the title with Györ in the Women’s Champions League and Pastor/Szeged are in the semi-final of the EHF Cup. How crazy do you find this scenario?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: It sounds a little bit crazy and to be honest if those three titles would happen, it would really be crazy. Those successes prove that our work is good.

However, without good players a coach is nothing, you can win a title with a bad coach, but not with weak players. So we all depend on the players we have in our squads. And all three Hungarian sides, coached by Spanish coaches, can rely on top squads.

ehfCL.com: After a long, steep and at moments unlucky journey, Veszprem finally made it to Cologne this season – what were your personal emotions when the ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 was booked?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: I was so happy, the players were so happy and mainly the fans were so happy that our dream came true after eliminating Paris in the quarter-finals. But we all know that our journey should not end by “only” qualifying for Cologne. We are not ready yet, because in one game we can beat every opponent and we all know that.

ehfCL.com: In the 2012/13 season Veszprem were already close to the VELUX EHF FINAL4, but lost both quarter-finals by one goal each against THW Kiel. Now your team face Kiel in the 2014 semi-final. Has the time come to take revenge?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: One of the good things in sports is that you might get the chance to take revenge quite quickly. After only one season we face Kiel again in another big match, and this year we really have a big chance to make it. Kiel have a more experienced squad than we have, but their roster is not as wide as last season after players like Omeyer, Ilic, Ahlm and Narcisse left.

So I believe that we can be on the same level as Kiel. Since we became Hungarian champions I began to study their matches, and we will see the outcome in Cologne. I am sure we can do it.

ehfCL.com: How important is your newcomer Momir Ilic in this semi-final, as he knows all about Kiel?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: He really can help us in preparation, but they are different to last season, as also we changed some players and partly our playing system and concept. Although it is my credo that all players are important for the success of the team, Momir Ilic is a little bit different. He adapted so quickly to our team, to our style of play, to the mentality and everything. He is one of the main keys of our success, as he is a brilliant defensive player and has brilliant skills and experience in attack, knowing exactly when the right moment to shoot has come or to pass the ball. The conclusion about Momir Ilic is very simple: He played a brilliant first season.

ehfCL.com: Under certain circumstances Veszprem could face your former team FC Barcelona, with which you won six Champions League titles. Do you already anticipate a duel with Barca?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: Why should I? We play against Kiel and if we only have a little thought on what might come on Sunday, this could be the reason why we miss the final. We have to forget everything around us and only focus on Kiel. We have a short period of time to prepare for Sunday’s match, but we should not prepare on anything else than Kiel.

ehfCL.com: Are Barcelona your main favourite in the second semi-final and for the trophy in Cologne this year?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: On paper they clearly have the best and widest of all four squads in Cologne. But they were taught a lesson last year that two matches in the space of 24 hours is a very tough task. Barcelona have the highest quality, but everybody knows that SG Flensburg-Handewitt always play their best matches against the best possible opponents.

ehfCL.com: Finally: Is there any favourite in your semi-final?

Antonio Carlos Ortega: If we would compete in a neutral venue, I would say it is 50:50. But as only 2,000 or 3,000 Hungarians and more than 15.000 fans supporting Kiel will be in the arena, I would say it is 55:45 in favour of Kiel. I have never been to this event, but my coaching colleague Talant Dushebajev told me about this very special atmosphere, when facing a German team in Cologne.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor