Turkish top dogs hope to delight European LeagueArticle
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COUNTDOWN #11: Besiktas Aygaz (TUR): A change of approach from the perennial champions make them an unknown quantity
»2020-21 Men's News

Dominance in Turkey has not translated to success in Europe for Besiktas Aygaz as they often looked a bit out of place in the EHF Champions League.

However, a change of approach in the squad appears to suggest long-term building and their seeding to the European League group phase allows them opportunity to learn and grow

  • second consecutive year in the second tier, following five seasons in the EHF Champions League
  • in a departure from recent years, all but two of the squad have Turkish nationality
  • Müfit Arın, coach since 2004, remains at the helm
  • captain Ramazan Döne enters his 13th European season with the club

The burning question – can homegrown talent bring success?

When Besiktas made their first breakthrough to the EHF Champions League in 2014, they relied fairly heavily on international players to supplement the inexperienced talent within Turkey.

That remained the case throughout their four-season stint in the top flight and while they threatened on two occasions to make the breakthrough to the knockout stages, there was no clear sign of progression for the club or national team.

The club’s change of approach was evident last season as the squad included many more young Turkish players. However, they were unable to make an impact in Europe, losing to Sabac in the first round of the EHF Cup on away goals.

“This year, our team is structured with young players supported by experienced teammates, aiming to catch a powerful harmony,” says team manager and former keeper Mesut Çebi.

The young Turkish team will be supported by the likes of Portugal’s Hugo Lima, a centre back joining from Rennes, and Latvian Austris Tuminskis as the squad will have at least 10 games to prove themselves in Europe this season.

Signature players

Evergreen leader – Ramazan Döne

This man is a machine. At 39 years of age, the most recognisable face in Turkish handball has been through it all with Besiktas since joining the club in 2006.

The right back with a rocket for a left arm has scored well over 500 goals in European Cup competitions and still knows his way to the back of the net. His beard may have more than a hint of grey nowadays but he will still play a crucial role for this young team in the group phase.

Rising star - Görkem Bicer

There is another left-hander ready to take over the mantle as Turkey’s golden boy in years to come. Bicer is just 21 but has already become a key player for the national team, scoring 27 goals in five EHF EURO 2020 qualification games.

His ability to perform internationally is clear and this will be his first real opportunity to showcase this at club level, having joined Besiktas last season.

New blood - Hugo Lima

Besiktas have captured Portuguese playmaker Hugo Lima at an age where he should be coming into his prime and could be an exciting move for both player and club.

The 27-year-old is no stranger to European handball thanks to his time with Benfica and Madeira. That coupled with his short spell with Cesson Rennes in France’s top flight last season make him an ideal choice to guide the attack through their European League adventure.

A night to remember

Besiktas wrote history on 16 November 2014 as they recorded their first win in Europe’s top flight through a 28:26 win at home against Alingsas HK.

During most of the first half, there was not much to indicate that the first win in Besiktas’ history was on its way.

Alingsas were controlling the game and lead by a goal or two most of the time.

Shortly before the break, Alingsas even extended the lead to four, at 15:11, but two fast goals before half-time gave the home team something to grasp at for the second half.

Besiktas had the far better start after the break and scored the first three goals in the second half, to take a 16:15 lead and from that point the hosts never fell behind again, inspired by nine goals from Croatian left wing Ivan Nincevic.

The final whistle was greeted loudly by the players and the 3,000-strong crowd alike in the arena as they celebrated the well-deserved win.

Arrivals and departures

Newcomers: Josip Buljubasic (Izdivac HC), Hugo Alexandre Cruz de Lima (Cesson Rennes), Harun Hocaoğlu (Göztepe SK), Genco İlanç (Göztepe SK), Fatih Çalkamış (Seyhan Bld. SK), Doğukan Keser (Beykoz – return from Loan), Mirhan Kasarcı (Youth Team), Berat Çebi (Youth Team)

Left the club: Tolga Özbahar (İzmir BŞB SK), Baran Nalbantoğlu (Din Suceava), Onur Ergin (Constanta), Özgür Sarak (Trimo Trbnje), Doğukan Gök (İstanbul Uni), Mijo Tomic (-), Makro Lasica (-)

Past achievements

EHF Champions League:
Group Phase (5): 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19

EHF Cup:
Group Phase: 2012/13

Challenge Cup:
Semi-finalists: 2008/09

Turkish league: 15 titles (1980, 1981, 2005, 2007, 2009-2019)

TEXT: Chris