All-Croatian roster ready to challenge Europe's eliteArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 21: RK PPD Zagreb came so close to progressing from the group phase two years in a row, will it be third time lucky for the young Croats?

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All-Croatian roster ready to challenge Europe's elite

One of the competition’s stalwarts, Croatian all-time record champions (23 titles in 23 years) RK PPD Zagreb, have reached the finals on four occasions, but the last time the team made an impact internationally, besides winning the SEHA Liga in 2013, was the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals in 2012.

Times have changed in Zagreb, and since last season the club has gone firmly back to its roots. RK Zagreb is the base for hopeful Croatian talents, though the threat of them disappearing elsewhere remains.

Last season, the young squad narrowly missed out on qualification for the Last 16 from a tough group and this year will not be much easier with opponents such as Kiel, PSG, Metalurg, La Rioja and Meshkov Brest all hunting for a top four finish in Group A.

After twice missing the Last 16, manager Božidar Jović hopes to turn the tide despite the strong opponents: “Our main objective is to qualify for the Last 16. In the last two seasons we failed to do so and because of that it is even more important for us to break this negative streak.

“Our group is very strong but also very attractive. I believe that there is no easy opponent in the VELUX EHF Champions League, and if that is the case than I would rather play in the group which is attractive.”

Jović has already calculated what needs to happen to proceed: “THW Kiel and PSG are above the rest of the group but I think we have a solid chance to outplay Metalurg, La Rioja and Meshkov Brest in our arena. Along with those six points we need one away win to qualify for the Last 16. Last season we won eight points but it wasn’t enough. This year I believe that with eight points we can qualify.”

Experienced team captain Zlatko Horvat is proud of the way his club is working now – and is also confident: “We have a very young team which is built with domestic players only. Our strength is the fact that we have played together for three years now and I honestly believe that it is time that we qualify for the Last 16.

“We will give our best in every game but our chance to qualify lies in the games with Metalurg, La Rioja and Meshkov Brest. Although, with the fantastic support from our fans in the arena maybe we could upset some illustrious clubs such us THW Kiel or PSG. You never know!”

Part of the preparation was the participation at several top tournaments all over Europe. Zagreb finished 2nd in the Casino Merkur Spielothek Cup in Germany, 5th in the Sparkassen Cup in Germany and 4th in the Vendee Hand Trophee tournament in Nantes.

RK PPD Zagreb (CRO)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Croatian Champion

Newcomers: Domagoj Pavlović (RK Dubrava), Mateo Lukačec (RK Ivanić Grad), Luka Raković (RK Vardar)

Left the club: Jerko Matulić (Chamberry Savoie), Marino Marić (Melsungen), Marko Matić  (destination unknown), Hrvoje Batinović (RK Zadar)

Coach: Veselin Vujovic (since September 2014)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 21
Finalist (4): 1994/1995, 1996/1997, 1997/1998, 1998/1999
Semi-finalist (1): 1999/2000
Quarter-finalist (5): 2000/2001, 2002/2003, 2003/2004, 2008/2009, 2011/2012
Last 16 (3): 2005/2006, 2009/2010, 2010/2011
Main Round (1): 2007/2008
Group Phase (6): 1993/1994, 1995/96, 2004/2005, 2006/2007, 2012/13, 2013/14

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Finalist: 2004/2005

Cup Winners Cup:
Semi-finalist: 2006/2007

Croatian league champion: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Croatian Cup winner: 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 

SEHA League champion: 2013

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor