Defence is the key for debutantsArticle
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Women’s EHF Champions League countdown, part 14: After claiming the Croatian championship title for only the third time, HC Lokomotiva Zagreb, will make their debut in the group phase of the competition this season.

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Women's News


Since the Croatian championship was introduced the men’s competition has always belonged to RK Zagreb, and with two exceptions (when the title went to Zagreb in both 1992 and 2004), former EHF Champions League winner Podravka have always been the women’s champions. 

HC Lokomotiva Zagreb have been in hot pursuit of the title for ten years, and last season, after changing the coach from Nenad Sostaric to legendary Irfan Smajlagic in March, Lokomotiva Zagreb finished on top of the league and raised the trophy for the third time.

In contrast with their coach, who has previously worked with men’s side Bosna Sarajevo, Lokomotiva have no EHF Champions League experience. Twice – in 2004 and 2013 – they were eliminated in the qualification stage. 

Now, they are finally one of Europe’s top 16 women’s handball teams. 

Klaudija Bubalo, manager of Lokomotiva, is looking forward the new challenge: “This is our first season in the Women’s EHF Champions League. It is an honour to play in such a big competition with the best European teams. We want to present ourselves in the best possible ay. Objectively, we appear to be the underdogs of our group, but even this can be positive for us, because other teams don’t know us.”

During the off-season Lokomotiva signed five new players, but lost one of their stars, as Croatian international Anita Gace joined Russian champions Dinamo-Sinara. 

As they prepare for their first participation in the group phase, the Croats are facing high hurdles: defending champions Györ, three-time champions Viborg and Swedish champions Sävehof. 

“In the Women’s EHF Champions League there is no weak team,” says Bubalo, adding: “We are in a group with two-time winner Györ. They deserve respect, but I think we can compete with them thanks to our good defence. But Györ have a huge budget on top of their high-quality players, as do Viborg. The Danish champions can also count on a very good team, which plays as fast as long-term Swedish champions Sävehof do. For us the most important thing is to focus on our defence.” 

Lokomotiva’s team captain Sonja Basic also praises the upcoming opponents.

“Györ are the best team in Europe and they have a few new players, but they are not invincible. Sävehof constantly demonstrate their strength in attack, but they are weaker in defence. Viborg do not have the team structure as in the previous years, but they are still good. So we have to concentrate on our game; as Klaudija Bubalo said, defence is the key. With good defence we can keep up with everyone. In home matches we have to give all we can to satisfy our fans and supporters.” 

Three questions to coach Irfan Smajlagic: 

Concerning your objectives and your group opponents, what are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League? 

Irfan Smajlagic: You can expect that my team will play in the Women’s EHF Champions League with lots of passion and motivation. 

What does participation in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club? 

Irfan Smajlagic: This is the first time in the history of the club that we are part of the Women’s EHF Champions League, so it is a very big honour to play in this elite competition.

Which teams are your personal favourites to reach the FINAL4 tournament of the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why? 

Irfan Smajlagic: WHC Vardar SCBT, Györi AUDI ETO KC and Buducnost. They have a huge budget, which you need for signing quality players. 


Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2014/15 season: Croatian champions

Katarina Jezic (Buducnost)
Michaela Hrbkova (DHC Sokol Poruba)
Neli Irman (RK Krim Mercator)
Ivana Lovric (ZRK Samobor)
Dina Havic (HC Podravka Vegeta)

Left the club:
Dubravka Bukovina (RK Zelina)
Anita Gace (Dinamo-Sinara)

Coach: Irfan Smajlagic (since March 2014)

Women’s EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2014/15 season): 3
Qualification (2): 2004/05, 2013/14

Other EC records:

Cup Winners’ Cup: Finalist (2): 1995/96, 1997/98, Quarter-finalist (3): 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2002/03, Last 16 (3): 2007/08, 2010/11, 2013/14
EHF Cup: Last 16 (1): 2006/07, Last 32 (1): 1996/97
Challenge Cup: Semi-finalist (1): 2011/12

Croatian championship: three titles (1992, 2004, 2014)
Croatian cup: four titles (1992, 2005, 2007, 2014)

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg