Hasselt primed for huge weekendArticle
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FEATURE: It is going to be a big event in the Belgian town of Hasselt when the local handball club Hubo Initia hosts Qualification Group 3 of the VELUX EHF Champions League

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Hasselt primed for huge weekend

The coming weekend will be a big one for Hasselt, a town with a population of around 72,000 in the North East of Belgium.

Not only will it be the first time in 14 years that the local handball club, Hubo Initia is even near the EHF Champions League, but the Belgian champions, the largest handball club in Belgium, are even hosting one of the qualification groups.

“It will be the biggest event in the history of our club,” president of Initia Bruno Willems tells ehfCL.com.

“This will be something new and completely unknown and that is what makes it so exciting. One of our reasons for doing this is the wish to put handball on the map in Belgium. The interest is already big in advance and we in Initia are ready to host the event,” adds Willems, a sentiment the club’s coach agrees with.

“I am very grateful we have this opportunity,” head coach Luc Boiton says ahead of the qualification tournament, where the Sporthal Alverberg in Hasselt will be the venue for Group 3, also consisting of HCM Constanta, Haslum Handballklub and Besiktas MOGAZ HT.

Only the winner of the group will proceed to the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase, and in Initia Hasselt’s case the first hurdle will be Romanian champions HCM Constanta, who reached the semi-final of the EHF Cup last season.

In case of a win against Constanta, the winner of the meeting between Norwegian champions Haslum and the champions of Turkey, Besiktas, awaits Sunday in the deciding show-down for group phase ticket.

“Qualifying for the group phase would be writing handball history in Belgium. It would be a huge step forward and a dream come true for the club, for the players and for myself,” adds Luc Boiton.

“Qualifying is the ultimate dream for us, but we are realistic. The chances are very small. Our first opponent, Constanta is a very strong team with a lot of experience and a long tradition in the European Cup,” he admits.

Hoping for massive support

The coach puts a great part of his hopes in the home crowd at the Sporthal Alverberg.

“Personally I am very pleased with playing at home. Hopefully we can fill the seats with an enthusiastic crowd who will appreciate handball on this high level, and will also support us in the matches.

“This is a unique opportunity for Belgian handball fans. The home advantage is something that can make the difference in a close game. Then it will be up to us to perform well and make the games close,” says Boiton.

“So far it has not been easy to get information about the three other teams in our group. Constanta may be less difficult than last season, but they as well as Haslum and Besiktas are undoubtedly all very good teams and we will have to be at our very best to stand a chance,” adds the head coach.

Aiming to keep heads held high

“There is no doubt that we are the little brother among those four teams. Winning against Constanta will already be astonishing achievement. Qualifying for the group phase would be a miracle. However, we are very motivated and will give everything we have. Who knows – but once again, the chances are very small. We just hope we can give the spectators some great handball matches and that we can leave the court with our heads held high afterwards,” concludes Luc Boiton.

Photo credits: Fotomakers

TEXT: Peter Bruun / cor