Defending champions are the huntedArticle
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Women's EHF Champions League countdown - 1 day to go: CSM Bucuresti (ROU).

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Defending champions are the hunted

On Sunday 8 May 2016 in Budapest, CSM Bucuresti broke multiple records in the Women’s EHF Champions League.

They were the first debutant side to win the Women’s EHF FINAL4, the first Romanian women’s Champions League winner, the winner of the first-ever penalty shoot-out in a Women’s EHF Champions League final, plus the second-ever debutants after Russian side Zvezda in 2008 to win the trophy.

Now CSM are the team that everyone wants to beat as the club celebrates its 10th anniversary next year, in 2017.

And the hunted team now have a new coach as their mastermind last season, Kim Rasmussen, was appointed as the new Hungarian women’s national team coach, giving up both his day job with Bucuresti and his dual role with the Polish women’s national team, who he had led twice to successive IHF Women’s World Championship semi-finals.

His successor is fellow Danish countryman and a well-known face in both Romania and the Champions League, Jacob Vestergaard. He steered Viborg to two Champions League trophies in 2009 and 2010 and also led Valcea to the final.

Following this he enjoyed a spell as Sports Director at Bucuresti before taking over the German women’s national team from March 2015 to February 2016. After Rasmussen and Matte Klit, Vestergaard is the third-straight Danish coach at the helm of CSM.

The team he takes over from Rasmussen is different to the squad which won the Women’s EHF Champions League in May.

Three Brazilian players – Mayssa Pessoa, Ana Paula Rodrigues and Fernanda da Silva - left as well as Danish wing Maria Fisker, while Romanian national team goalkeeper Paula Ungureanu and French Rio 2016 Olympic Games silver medallists Gnonsiane Niombla and Camille Ayglon arrived.

Like in their debut season, Bucuresti aim for a trip to Budapest and for all potential silverware in their domestic competition.

“It’s hard to repeat the amazing season that the team had by going all the way in the competition and winning the crown,” says Vestergaard.  “But I have confidence in the players and the current team that we can go far in this season as well.

“Our clear objective is the FINAL4 and then anything can happen there.”

But to get the right stimulus from the start, Bucuresti were drawn into a group that one of their opponents have called the ‘Group of Death’, with matches against their final opponents from 2016, Györ, Russian powerhouse Rostov-Don and Danish league runners-up FC Midtjylland.

“This is probably the toughest group,” continued Vestergaard. “All of the teams are really valuable and for sure it will not be easy to go through. However, we are the current champions and have to always go for the win.

“It’s the most important competition in Europe and probably the world. This will be the second Champions League season for CSM Bucuresti and going into it as current champions is absolutely amazing.”

Team captain Oana Manea is sure her side will “survive” the first stage and even more. “We all want to go back and experience the FINAL4 and we are confident that our team is strong enough to reach that phase of the competition,” she said. 

“We have played against all the teams in our group last year as well, we know all games will be tough but we are confident we can go for the win every game.”

CSM Bucuresti (ROU)

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League Season 2016/17: Romanian champions

Newcomers: Majda Mehmedovic (ZRK Buducnost), Paula Ungureanu (HCM Baia Mare), Gnonsiane Niombla (Fleury Loiret), Camille Ayglon (Nimes), Anastasiya Lobach (HK Gomel), Elena Dache (promoted from the CSM Youth Centre)

Left the club: Mayssa Pessoa (HC Vardar), Ana Paula Rodrigues (Odense/Rostov-Don), Fernanda Franca Da Silva (BBM Bietigheim), Ekaterina Vetkova (Toulon Saint-Cyr), Maria Fisker (Randers HK)

Coach: Jakob Vestergaard (since 2016, successor of Kim Rasmussen)

Team captain: Oana Manea

Opponents in group matches – Group C: Györi Audi ETO KC, FC Midtjylland, Rostov-Don

Women’s EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2016/17 season): 2
Winner (1): 2015/16

Other European competition records:
Women’s EHF Cup: Last 16 - 2011/12

Domestic records:
Romanian league: 2 titles (2015, 2016)
Romanian cup: 1 title (2016)

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc