Age not an issue for the young brewersArticle
«Go back

VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 5: RK Celje Pivovarna Laško maintain high hopes to upset Europe’s elite with their youngest squad to date

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Men's News

Age not an issue for the young brewers

It took them four tough years, but after the 2013/14 season the record champions from Celje were on top of the Slovenian league again.

So exactly ten years after winning the EHF Champions League for the first and only time, the team of coach Branko Tamše qualified straight for their in 20th participation in the Champions League, a record held alongside Zagreb and Veszprem.

Branko Tamše has spent the summer seeing his team undergo many changes, with established players leaving, such as Gasper Marguc and Mate Lekai (both to Veszprem), Sebastian Skube (to Silkeborg) or Borut Mačkovšek (to join the large Slovenian contingent at MAHB Montpellier).

This means that we will see the youngest Celje squad ever competing in Europe, with an average age of only 23 years.

Hopes lie on the shoulders of many young talents, including two Olympic gold medalists - goalkeeper Urh Kastelic and right wing Gal Marguc, who led Slovenia to the title at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing two weeks ago.

The group phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League has set high hurdles for the youngsters, with Veszprem, Rhein Neckar Löwen, Medvedi, Vardar and Montpellier (with five Slovenian players) lying in wait.

But after the 19th title on home ground and also winning the Slovenian Super Cup for the third time, international ambitions are high, particularly with victories last season over Kiel, Flensburg and Hamburg over the last two seasons.

“We are out for more surprises,” is the goal for this international season, in which reaching the Last 16 is the main goal, despite changing half of the squad and mascot – the new one is called Poki.

New manager Gregor Planteu hopes for a full Zlatorog arena against either top teams or traditional rivals: “From a marketing point of view we have same goals as last season.

“Opponents such as Veszprem, Vardar, Montpellier and Rhein Neckar Lowen should attract many fans. So from this point of view we are very happy with draw. We will see also a lot of former RK Celje Pivovarna Laško players such as Marguč, Lekai, Harbok, Toskić, Brumen, Mačkovšek and Gajič at Montpellier.”

Planteu’s aim is set at the knock-out stage: “Our objective this year is to fight until the last group match to qualify for the Last 16, where we have been in last two years.

More than half of our players have never played in the Champions League before, so they have to prove that they are capable of playing at the highest level. So far we are very happy with their preparation. They are improving from training to training, from match to match.

“I am really looking forward to our first match against Vardar. I am sure that our team will leave their hearts on the court at Zlatorog.”

For team captain Luka Žvižej, one of the most experienced Celje players, age does not matter: “This year we have the youngest squad ever, but we are really well prepared. We have some inexperienced players, but we are working very well as a team.

“We won against Kiel, Hamburg and Flensburg in the last two Champions League seasons and we were very close to beating Veszprem at Veszprem.

“This is a huge motivation for our team, but also an obligation. I can promise that we will fight in every match and I am very sure that we will be very hard opponent for every team in Zlatorog.”

Three questions to coach Branko Tamše:

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

Branko Tamše: Our group opponents are really top teams such as Vesprem, Vardar and Rhein Neckar, all of them candidates for the VELUX EHF FINAL 4. Also MAHB Montpellier and Checkhovskie Medvedi are good teams.

Playing against top teams ensures that we can learn and improve in every match. I am sure that we will be very hard opponent for every team in our home Zlatorog.

I always have the highest possible expectations for me and my team. We will be fully prepared for our first match against Vardar and we are all looking forward to the start.

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

Branko Tamše: The VELUX EHF Champions League represents the highest possible competition level and quality of handball in Europe. And RK Celje Pivovarna Laško is part of this competition for a very long time and this proves that we are on the right track.

Also we have the chance to compete with top European teams, we fight against them and we are trying to upset them. We are training to be at the same level as those top level teams. It is also very important for our young team to be part of the Champions League, because we can only improve with those hard matches.

What teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and for winning the title this season – and why?

Branko Tamše: MKB Veszprem, FC Barcelona and THW Kiel, which have really good teams, are always in competition for the title. It is hard to predict which team will make it, but those three teams have the best rosters at the moment.

Then we have a wide range of teams that will compete for a FINAL4 spot - and we have three candidates in our group, Veszprem, Rhein Neckar and Vardar. Also I hope for one surprise in VELUX EHF FINAL4, this adds excitement. Like Flensburg last year – I said before our Last 16 match that they play the most beautiful handball in Europe and in the end they won the competition.

RK Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Slovenian champions

Newcomers: Miha Zarabec (RK Maribor Branik), Šime Ivić (RK Nexe Našice), Živan Pešić (MKB Veszprem), Michal Kasal (FC Barcelona), Tilen Kodrin (youth team RK Celje Pivovarna Laško), Gal Marguč (youth team RK Celje Pivovarna Laško), Jaka Malus (youth team RK Celje Pivovarna Laško), Urh Kastelic (youth team RK Celje Pivovarna Laško).

Left the club (including new club): Gašper Marguč (MKB Veszprem), Mate Lekai (MKB Veszprem), Sebastjan Skube (Silkeborg), Nemanja Zelenović (Wisla Plock), Borut Mačkovšek (MAHB Montpellier), Uroš Bundalo (Tremblay), Žiga Mlakar (RK Maribor Branik),  Igor Žabič (loan to RK Maribor Branik), Gregor Potočnik (loan to RK Trimo Trebnje) Nikola Ranevski (Gorišnica).

Coach: Branko Tamše (since December 2013)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 20
Winner (1):  2003/2004
Semi-finalist (6): 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2004/05
Quarter-finalist (2): 2001/02, 2005/06
Last 16 (3): 1995/96, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14
Main Round (2): 2007/08, 2008/09
Group Phase (3): 1993/1994, 1994/95, 2010/11
Qualification (1): 2009/10

Other EC records:

Cup Winners Cup:
Semi-finalist: 2002/2002, 2011/12

Slovenian league champion: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014

Slovenian Cup winner: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor