One former champion and three newcomersArticle
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QUALIFICATION GROUP 1 PREVIEW: While HC Podravka Vegeta are former Women’s EHF Champions League winners, the other three teams contesting qualification Group 1 in Kristiansand have never made it as far as the group matches.

One former champion and three newcomers

One team with proud Women’s EHF Champions League traditions and three hopeful newcomers form qualification Group 1, who vie for one place in the group matches this weekend in Kristiansand, southern Norway.

HC Podravka Vegeta won the Champions League in 1996 after their second final in a row. The other three participants in the tournament in Kristiansand Aquarama – Vipers Kristiansand, HC Gomel and Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK – have never played the group matches.

• After being reunited at Vipers, twin sisters Katrine Lunde and Kristine Lunde Borgesen are playing in the same club team for the first time in seven years
• HC Podravka Vegeta won the Champions League in 1996, but since the 2008/09 season, have not made it further than the group matches
• HC Gomel were also in the qualifiers last season, but did not make it to the group matches
• HC Kastamonu Belediyesi and Vipers are completely new to the Champions League

Viper Kristiansand (NOR) vs HC Gomel (BLR)
Saturday 9 September, 17:00 local time, live on

While Gomel had an unsuccessful attempt in the Champions League qualifiers last season, Vipers are debutants in the competition. So far, the Norwegian team’s European experience is limited to the Cup Winners’ Cup and EHF Cup, but after being reinforced considerably ahead of this season, the hosts enter the qualification matches with confidence and optimism.

“At first, we have focused mainly on Gomel, who are our opponents in the semi-final. I think we have good chance against them, while I consider the Turkish side (Kastamonu Belediyesi) to be the strongest team in the other semi-final. However, I think we would stand a good chance there as well,” says Vipers coach Kenneth Gabrielsen, who counts Katrine Lunde and Kristine Lunde Borgesen among his assets.

After being reunited at Vipers, the twin sisters are playing in the same club for the first time in seven years.

Tomaz Cater, head coach of Gomel, is realistic about the opposition his team will be up against.

“Kristiansand is a very strong team with very big plans. We will hardly have a chance against them, but we will try. At least, our team is better this year than in the past,” says Chater.

HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) vs Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK (TUR)
Saturday 9 September, 19.30 local time, live on

Podravka have the proudest European traditions of the two teams who meet in the later game in Kristiansand on Saturday.

Champions League winners in 1996 and participants in the final the year before; winners of the Champions Trophy in 1996; finalists of the EHF Cup twice and once finalists in the Cup Winners’ Cup – this is the Croatian champions record.

All those achievements were long ago, but head coach of the current Podravka team, Snjezana Petika, is confident before going to Norway.

“We are familiar with the quality of all teams participating in the qualification tournament. We respect all of them but fear none. We are ready to play with maximum engagement and a hand-to-hand approach. On Sunday, we will find out if that is enough,” says Petika.

While the Podravka team consists entirely of Croatian players, no less than eight nationalities are represented in the roster of Kastamonu Belediyesi, whose greatest European achievement thus far has been reaching the Challenge Cup Final in 2016.

TEXT: Peter Bruun / cg