IFK Kristianstad's triumph for the whole townArticle
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FEATURE: Three weeks after making it to the knockout phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League for the first time, captain Olafur Gudmundsson and the Swedish fans look forward to the Last 16 clash with Flensburg

»EHF CL Channel »2017-18 Men's News

IFK Kristianstad’s triumph for the whole town

On their third attempt, IFK Kristianstad have finally gone beyond the group phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

A sixth place in Group A, secured only in the 14th and last round, sent the Swedish champions of the past three seasons through to Last 16. Next up are SG Flensburg-Handewitt, with the first leg being played in Sweden on Saturday at 18:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com).

“It is a triumph for the whole town of Kristianstad that we have taken this historic step,” Kristianstad left back and captain Olafur Gudmundsson says. “We can really feel how big this is for the town, and the local support is very important to us.”

Gudmunsson has been part of all three of Kristianstad’s Champions League seasons, and he praises the supporters have been following the team closely on their European adventures.

“The many enthusiastic fans who turn up in the Kristianstad Arena at all our home matches really mean a lot,” Gudmundsson says.

The journey started in 2015 after IFK won the Swedish championship for the first time in 56 years. The team from southern Sweden finished seventh in the group upon their Champions League debut, and even dropped a place the following year.

But this season they finally booked a ticket to the Last 16.

“It is a combination of hard work and experience,” Gudmundsson says. “This is our fifth year in succession in Europe and our third in the Champions League. I think we have finally benefitted from the experience we gained over those five years.

"Our win in Zagreb was a great tactical triumph"

Kristianstad’s dream became a reality only on the very last match day of the group phase, in a direct duel with rivals HC Zagreb - and even in the Arena Zagreb.

While both teams were still in the balance a half-time (10:10), Kristianstad dominated the last 30 minutes, leading by six goals at one point before winning by three (27:24), allowing them to celebrate their first ever ticket to the Champions League knockout phase.

For Gudmundsson, the victory in Zagreb illustrated the difference between this and previous Champions League seasons.

“This year we have been able to win the matches against the teams around us, like Zagreb and (Orlen) Wisla Plock,” the 27-year-old Icelandic captain says. “Our win in Zagreb was a great tactical triumph. We increased the pace in the second half and had success with our fast breaks.”

The success for the club from the Swedish town with 41,000 inhabitants has come against all odds.

Every year, IFK Kristianstad are losing some of their best players, mainly to clubs in the German Bundesliga.

After the current season, for instance, right back Albin Lagergren will be joining SC Magdeburg, while Danish right wing Tim Sørensen is moving to Frisch Auf Göppingen after two years in Kristianstad.

“This is obviously an ongoing challenge but the club is good at developing our own talents and also to find qualified replacements for those who leave us,” Gudmundsson says. “And it is a big advantage that two of our key players, Philip Henningsson (left back) and Helge Freiman (centre back), have extended their contracts.”

Gudmundsson does not have plans to leave Kristianstad.

“Of course, the Bundesliga or the French league might be attractive,” he says. “But I also see an attraction in playing here in Kristianstad and help the club to stay on top in Sweden and hopefully play a role in Europe.”

Right wing Sørensen is doubtful for the Flensburg matches

One of the heroes from the triumph in Zagreb on 4 March was Tim Sørensen. With nine goals, the Danish right wing was the most scoring player and was crucial in the many fast breaks that decided the match.

Fast breaks might also be essential in the Last 16 tie against Flensburg, but Sørensen is doubtful for those matches. Problems with his Achilles tendon have already forced him out of the Golden League in Norway with the Danish national team.

Gudmundsson says Sørensen has not been taking part in recent training sessions and he is “not quite sure” if the wing will be available against Flensburg.

That won’t spoil the pleasure, however.

“It will be really cool to play against Flensburg, who are currently second in the Bundesliga and have a great and entertaining team,” Gudmundsson says. “We are happy to have the opportunity to present an opponent of that level to our spectators on Saturday.”

TEXT: Peter Bruun / ew