Champions focus on development this seasonArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 1: SG Flensburg Handewitt’s squad can expect plenty of big challenges to overcome in their quest to return to Cologne and defend the title

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Men's News

Champions focus on development this season

The trophy earned in Cologne just a few months ago will be present at the Flensarena for every VELUX EHF Champions League match this season, providing SG Flensburg-Handewitt with a permanent reminder of their club’s biggest success to date, beating Barcelona and Kiel in the 2014 edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

However, the defending champions will start the new season with a different, younger look. Three key players Michael Knudsen and Sören Rasmussen (both to Bjerringbro-Silkeborg) and Steffen Weinhold (THW Kiel) left, while youngsters from Scandinavia and the club’s own youth programme were brought in.

Nevertheless, coach Ljubomir Vranjes is sure that this team is ready for big challenges: “It is highly important for the development of those young players to perform on the international stage for as long as possible.”

The German club, a three-time EHF Champions League finalist, has a tough group ahead for their quest to return to Cologne.

The biggest focus is on a repeat of the most thrilling semi-final since the implementation of the VELUX EHF FINAL4, when Flensburg came from six goals behind in the final stages to beat FC Barcelona after a penalty shoot-out in Cologne on 31 May.

“Barcelona is the clear favourite to win the group,” admits Flensburg manager Dierk Schmäschke, adding: “The group is tough but interesting for our fans, not only because of the duel with our Danish neighbours from Kolding. It is our dream to make it to Cologne again, which will be a much harder task than last season."

Swedish champions Alingsas and Polish runners-up Plock are the other confirmed opponents for Flensburg, with the winner of qualification tournament 3 to join this group as well.

Team captain Tobias Karlsson shares the opinions and hopes of his manager: “We are truly looking forward the new challenges but we know that we face tough opponents in the group phase.

“It’s our goal to build a good foundation for the knock-out stage, as our dream destination is Cologne once again.

"Our debut there in June was extraordinary and it would be perfect to be part of this event again. To play in the Champions League is something very special. But this season is very hard for us with the Bundesliga, IHF Super Globe and Champions League.

"From end of August until Christmas we have to play 34 matches, so my biggest hope is that all our players stay fit and healthy,” says the Swedish defensive specialist.

After winning the VELUX EHF Champions League, coach Ljubomir Vranjes was a man in demand, first by PSG Handball and then by the German Handball Federation for the national team, but the Swede, who has been in charge since 2010, refused the offers to remain with Flensburg.

Three questions to coach Ljubomir Vranjes:

What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League - regarding your objectives and your group opponents?

Ljubomir Vranjes: The group is hard, but I believe that we have a good chance to proceed to the Last 16. Barcelona is the big favourite, but the fight for the second position is completely open.

What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Ljubomir Vranjes: If you are a professional handball player it is your dream to be part of the Champions League every year, as only in this competition do you have the chance to face the best players and the best clubs in the world.

Even this season, where the individual development of our players is the main task, participation in the Champions League brings you forward enormously and develops the skills of those talents. Personally, I enjoy every single Champions League match, it’s simply great.

Which teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and to win the title this season – and why?

Ljubomir Vranjes: Barcelona, Kiel, Paris, Veszprem and Kielce – as they have the best players, the biggest experience and the best goalkeepers. We do not have such depth in our squad and this is the main difference. My current favourite is THW Kiel with their incredible new squad.

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Third ranked in Germany

Newcomers: Johan Jakobsson (Aalborg Handbold), Anders Zachariassen (Sönderjysk Elitesport), Kevin Møller (GOG Håndbold) und Kasper Kisum (TMS Ringsted) Lukas Blohme and Michael Nicolaisen (both SG youth)

Left the club: Michael Knudsen, Sören Rasmussen (both Bjerringbro-Silkeborg), Steffen Weinhold (THW Kiel), Olafur Gustafsson (Aalborg Handball), Goran Bogunovic (HCM Constanta)

Coach: Ljubomir Vranjes (since 2010), assistant coach: Maik Machulla (since 2014)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 10
Winner: 2013/2014
Final (2): 2003/2004, 2006/2007
Semi-final (1): 2005/2006
Quarter-final (4): 2004/2005, 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2012/2013
Main Round (1): 2007/2008

Other EC records:

Cup Winners Cup:
Winner 2000/2001, 2011/2012

EHF Cup:
Winner: 1996/1997

City Cup:
Winner 1998/1999

German league champion: 2004

German cup winner: 2003, 2004, 2005

German Super Cup winner: 2000, 2013 

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor