Sporting CP are back after 16 years.
Hugo Canela's team are returning to the VELUX EHF Champions League for the first time since the 2001/02 season. They hope to give their fans a lot to cheer about in their new and impressive arena.
Three questions before the new season:
- Is the nearly unchanged squad an advantage for their European journey?
Sporting include only three newcomers this season: Tiago Rocha (Wisla Pock), Felipe Borges (Montpellier) and Pedro Valdés (Artística de Avanca). These players add value and international experience to the cohesive group that coach Canela already had. Most players know each other well, have played together before and come off a very successful season. Besides that, Sporting have really experienced players and these few changes can facilitate the preparation for the Champions League challenge.
- Can Sporting handle the tough schedule?
While the team believe they are ready to do well on their European journey, this tight schedule and busy programme are new to Canela’s team. Until the end of 2017, the team will have two games every week, requiring good squad management. Sporting will need to find an effective way to deal with this programme and to prevent possible injuries. This is the only way to be able to get good results in Europe and to claim the title in Portugal again.
- Will they break the Portuguese ‘curse’ in the Champions League?
None of the Portuguese teams in the past five Champions League seasons - FC Porto and ABC/UMinho - managed to advance from the group phase. Sporting have a strong team, that dominated the Challenge Cup last season and showed in the qualification tournament in Sloavakia that they can perform on the big stage. Now they await even bigger challenges in a group with Montpellier, Metalurg, Motor Zaporozhye, Besiktas and Checkhovskie Medvedi. While facing a hard task, Sporting are not among the favourites but with the experience of players like Carlos Ruesga, Tiago Rocha, Ivan Nikcevic and Felipe Borges, there is a chance that they will break the Portuguese ‘curse’.
Under the spotlight: Carlos Ruesga
Carlos Ruesga arrived at Sporting last season and it didn’t take the Spanish centre back too long to become an important element in the Portuguese team. A world champion with Spain in 2013, Ruesga has played for teams like CB Ademar León, FC Barcelona and MKB Veszprém while winning several titles in Spain and Hungary. Known for his offensive play and vision of the game, he was elected best player of the Portuguese championship last season as he helped the team win the national title and the Challenge Cup.
Since Canela’s arrival in February, Sporting have been on a wave of success. After more than 10 years without a national championship, Sporting have won the domestic title again and also earned the second Challenge Cup trophy in the club history. The team kept the head coach and most of the players, and added three important newcomers with international experience. While they are favourites for the Portuguese title again, they also impressed on the international stage by beating Tatran Presov and Alpla Hard to qualify for the group phase of the Champions League. They know the European journey will be hard but players and coach believe it is not impossible to get to the next phase of the competition.
Sporting have players of nine different nationalities in their squad: Portugal, Cuba, Slovakia, Brazil, Spain, Austria, Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia. However, the Portuguese players represent more than 50 percent of the squad.
Behind the numbers
After 12 seasons without Portuguese teams in the Champions League, Sporting are now the fourth Portuguese participant in five years. FC Porto played in the 2013/14 and 2015/16 seasons, and ABC/UMinho - which had six appearance between 1993 and 1999 - in 2016/17.
Sporting CP (POR)
Qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2017/18 season: Portuguese champions, winners of qualification event
Newcomers: Tiago Rocha (Wisla Plock), Felipe Borges (Montpeliier), Pedro Valdés (Artística de Avanca)
Left the club: João Pinto (Madeira SAD), Marco Oneto (Albatro Siracusa), Igor Zabic (Wisla Plock)
Coach: Hugo Canela
Team captain: Carlos Carneiro
VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2017/18 season): 2
Group Phase (1): 2001/02
Other EC records:
Quarter-finals (2): 2000/01, 2013/14
Winners (2): 2009/10, 2016/17
Cup Winners’ Cup:
Quarter-finals (1): 2003/04
18 titles (1952, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986, 2001, 2017)
15 titles (1972, 1973, 1975, 1981, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2012, 2013, 2014)
Portuguese Super Cup:
3 titles (1998, 2002, 2014)