Debutants with familiar faces and family affairsArticle
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Women’s EHF Champions League countdown: 9 days to go – Team Esbjerg (DEN) are eargerly awaiting their debut in Europe’s most important club competition

»EHF CL Channel »2016-17 Women's News

Debutants with familiar faces and family affairs

The season 2015/16 was a historic one in Danish handball as both the men’s and women’s league first-time champions won the final series. While Bjerringbro took the male trophy, Team Esbjerg beat former champions FC Midtjylland in the female finals.

Thus the team from head coach Lars Frederiksen qualified for their first ever EHF Champions League season. A year ago, the 2014 EHF Cup finalist failed in the qualification against Baia Mare of Romania.

“Both the players and the club are looking forward to participate in the Champions League for the first time, since this is the highest level to compete on in club handball,” manager Thomas Hylle says. “For the club it is also of importance to be exposed on the biggest international scene.”

Norwegian goalkeeper and team captain Emily Stang Sando says “this is going to be a dream come true for all of us. Our goal for this season is to go to the main mound and show everyone that we belong in international handball.”

Besides handball, two family affairs are in the focus in Esbjerg. Dutch left back Estavana Polman is the new girlfriend of Dutch football professional Rafael van der Vaart, and Swedish line player Ulrika Toft Hansen – formerly known as Agren – is married to Flensburg’s EHF Champions League winner Henrik Toft Hansen.

Polman is one of two Dutch world championship 2015 silver medalists in the squad alongside Laura van der Heijden. They are, together with Spanish new arrival Lara Gonzalez Ortega, the only non-Scandinavian players in Esbjerg’s squad.

Team Esbjerg have been drawn into the ‘Scandinavian’ Group D, with Swedish champions Sävehof and Norwegian record champions Larvik alongside with Krim.

“I think we have a chance to win against all of them, but then we have to play smart,” says Sando, a former Larvik player.

“Some of the teams have been part of the Champions League many times before and know what it takes to play this type of matches. So I hope we can be a joker, that can come in and surprise.”

Sando is confident to have a successful debut season.

“Larvik are probably the hardest team to beat, they play Champions League for many years and have a lot of experience players. It will really be exciting to come ‘home’ to Larvik and play against them for me personally. Larvik is where it all started for me,” Sando says.

“Sävehof are a good team but we have a good chance to beat them, because we play in a better league and have better players. We start against Krim home in Esbjerg and I think we should win this is a game. We have a great home court and audience.”

Team Esbjerg (DEN)

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2016/17 season: Danish champions
Newcomers: Mette Hjort Knudsen (Youth), Alberte Stenderup Rasmussen (Youth), Lara González Ortega (Siófok KC), Anne Brinch-Nielsen (Youth), Vilde Mortensen Ingstad (Oppsal IF Håndball), Lærke Winther Møller (Team Tvis Holstebro)
Left the club: Stine Bodholt Nielsen (Viborg HK), Betina Riegelhuth (Storhamar Håndball)
Coach: Lars Frederiksen (since 2010)
Team captain: Emily Stang Sando
Opponents in the group matches: Larvik, Sävehof, Krim in Group D

Women’s EHF Champions League record:

Participations (including 2016/17 season): 2
Qualification (1): 2015/16

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Finalist (1): 2013/14
Quarter-finalist (2): 2010/11, 2014/15

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Last 16 (1): 2012/13

Danish champions: 2016
Danish Cup winner: -

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew