Spanish runners-up aiming high with tall signingArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League club countdown: 22 days to go - Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP). With some fresh faces in their ranks, the Logrono-based side will look to improve on being knocked out last season in the C+D Elimination Round.

»EHF CL Channel »2016-17 Men's News

Spanish runners-up aiming high with tall signing

For the third straight time, the Logrono based team of Naturhouse La Rioja finished second in the Spanish league, only topped by FC Barcelona Lassa.

After qualifying for the Last 16 in 2015 and missing the knock-out stages narrowly in the playoffs against Zaporozhye in 2016, the Spanish runners-up are out looking for another spot among the best 16 teams in Europe once again.

While Swedish back court ace Philip Stenmalm left for Kolding (Denmark), La Rioja managed to sign the tall right back Angel Montoro from Plock (Poland) and the Egyptian Mohamed Sanad from Hungary. Like their Brazilian player Vincius Langaro, Sanad was part of his national team at the Olympic Games in Rio.

“Proceeding to the Last 16 would be a major success for us,” coach and manager Jesus Javier Gonzalez Fernandez adds: “We play in a tough group. The big favourite for the top position is Montpellier, so there will be a tight race for second.”

Goalkeeper and team captain Gurutz Aguinagalde Akizu - brother of Spanish international Julen Aguinagalde - expects a tough fight for the two top positions: “Our opponents are big teams and a few of them are leaders in their domestic league, so I am sure they will be tough teams to beat. I think the best team is Montpellier, they are on a higher level compared to the rest of our group.”

In general, the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League is something great for Gonzalez Fernandez: “For a small club like us, playing in the best club competition in the world is important keeping and reaching new sponsors.”

Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)

Qualification for the 2016/17 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Spanish runners-ups

Newcomers:  Angel Montoro Cabello (Orlen Wisla Plock), Javier Munoz Cabezon (BM Villa De Aranda), Mohamed Hisham Mohamed Anis Aly Sanad (Sport 26 Kolmo)

Left the club:  Alberto Val Sancho (Bada Huesca), Cristian Malmagro (Saudi Arabia), Philip Stenmalm (KIF Kolding), Pedro Rodriguez Alvarez (MOL Pick Szeged)

Coach: Jesus Javier Gonzalez Fernandez (since 2007)

Team captain: Gurutz Aguinagalde Akizu

Opponents in the group phase: Metalurg, Medvedi, Montpellier, Elverum and the winner of the qualification tournament 1 in Group C

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2016/17 season): 4
Last 16 (1): 2014/15
Group Phase (2): 2013/14, 2015/16

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Semi-finalist 2009/10, 2010/11
Group Phase 2012/13

Spanish champion: - (runners-up in 2014, 2015, 2016)
Spanish cup winner: - (runners-up in 2013)

TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc