Big signings bring big hopes at KielArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 7: THW Kiel will be satisfied with nothing less than titles galore this season and have the squad to warrant those expectations

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Big signings bring big hopes at Kiel

The 2013/14 season of the VELUX EHF Champions League was something of a double-anniversary for THW Kiel, reaching the quarter-finals for the 15th time and the semi-finals for the tenth time – but alas, that was all forgotten in their seventh final participation as they missed out on their fourth trophy, beaten by their local rivals SG Flensburg-Handewitt.

It was their fourth appearance in Cologne, but for the first time the Zebras lost a final after becoming champions in 2010 and 2012 and finishing fourth in 2013.

Now the German record champions launch their next assault on the title, signing big names such as Croatian World Handball Player of the Year Domagoj Duvnjak, Spanish world champion and EHF EURO 2014 top scorer Joan Canellas (both from Hamburg) and German Champions League winner Steffen Weinhold (Flensburg).

On the other hand, Kiel legend Christian Zeitz bid his farewell after eleven years to play abroad for the first time in his career at one of Kiel’s main rivals, Veszprem. Additionally Tunisian talent Wael Jallouz and Icelandic left wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson moved to another Champions League favourite, FC Barcelona.

Nevertheless, with perhaps the best back court axis in the world (Jicha, Duvnjak, Palmarsson, Canellas, Weinhold, Vujin) hopes are high to win all four possible titles this season.

After raising the German Super Cup trophy at the end of August, THW are aiming to add the Bundesliga, VELUX EHF Champions League and German Cup.

In the 2013/2014 season they had taken their 19th German title in the closest final round in years, leaving Rhein Neckar Löwen (level in points) behind by only two goals.

And Kiel did not only make remarkable signings on, but also off the court: Thorsten Storm, manager of the Rhein Neckar Löwen, returned to where his management career had started.

Additionally, THW already set the signs for the future with the signing of Löwen goalkeeper Niklas Landin. Chased by a number of Europe’s top clubs, he signed a three-year contract valid from 2015 to 2018 with the zebras.

Kiel’s group contains two of last season’s quarter-finalists, PSG Handball and Metalurg Skopje, as well as La Rioja, Zagreb and the winner of qualification tournament 1 in the Champions League group phase.

“This group is highly attractive and we are really looking forward to meeting our former players Thierry Omeyer and Daniel Narcisse with PSG, the hardest nut to crack in this group.

“But all remaining teams have either a long successful tradition or big names, so we expect an exciting race for the top position,” says club director Sabine Holdorf-Schust, adding: “Our main target is to make it to Cologne again. The VELUX EHF FINAL4 is the flagship event of European club handball and has become a big brand, at which we absolutely want to be present.”

Team captain and two-time Champions League winner Filip Jicha expects a “long and tough journey on the winding road to Cologne,” in the 18th participation of his club in the EHF Champions League.

“Our group is incredibly strong and we all know that in the knock-out stage you also need some luck to make it to Cologne. So my biggest hope is that we can make it through the season without any major injuries,” added the Czech superstar.

One other morale boost for the team is that long-term injured player, Danish cantre back Rasmus Lauge, is set for a return in autumn after suffering from two nasty knee injuries.

Three questions to coach Alfred Gislason:

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

Alfred Gislason: To make it to the final destination Cologne is our main goal. But beforehand, there will be a thrilling and close race for the top position in our group, as we were drawn with absolute top teams.

Paris has an incredible squad, which was strengthened by Thierry Omeyer and William Accambray, Metalurg are a candidate for reaching the VELUX EHF FINAL4 this season, Zagreb have a long tradition and a squad full of the best Croatian talents and La Rioja is the second best team from Spain. So I am looking forward to those great matches.

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

Alfred Gislason: The EHF Champions League is the most important European competition and it is our approach and ambition to permanently belong to the best European teams. Therefore the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League is enormously important for THW Kiel.

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

Alfred Gislason: In this season the number of potential FINAL4 participants is longer than ever before. Of course, the usual suspects like Barcelona, Veszprem, Kielce and hopefully Kiel. All those teams have incredibly deep, balanced and strong squads in common.

Additionally I give a big credit to both sides from Skopje. Macedonian club handball is improving constantly and we had experienced last season what it means to play in Skopje.

THW Kiel (GER)

Newcomers: Joan Cañellas (HSV Hamburg), Domagoj Duvnjak (HSV Hamburg), Steffen Weinhold (SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Rune Dahmke (THW Kiel youth team), Fynn Ranke (TSV Altenholz), Kim Sonne Hansen (Skive FH)

Left the club: Wael Jallouz (FC Barcelona), Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (FC Barcelona), Christian Zeitz (MKB Veszprem)

Coach: Alfred Gislason (since 2008)

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

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 18
Winner (3): 2006/2007, 2009/2010, 2011/2012
Finalist (4): 1999/2000, 2007/2008, 2008/2009, 2013/2014
Semi-finalist (3): 1996/1997, 2000/2001, 2012/13
Quarter-finalist (5): 1998/1999, 2002/2003, 2004/2005, 2005/2006, 2010/2011
Group Phase (2): 1994/1995, 1995/1996

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Winner: 1997/1998, 2001/2002, 2003/2004

German league champion: 1957, 1962, 1963, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014

German Cup winner: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor