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19.09.2010, 13:10◄ last page     

VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League countdown, part 22: Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)

Sharp claws in the lion’s cage

It took the Rhein Neckar Löwen three additional months to reach their final objective of last season, which was qualifying for the VELUX EHF Champions League.

As the Mannheim team only ended up ranked fourth in the German Bundesliga, they needed 180 minutes of “extra time” in the wild card tournament to go on the European top competition.

All went well and they beat Silkeborg, Leon and Velenje on home soil. “The VELUX EHF Champions League is the most important competition for us,” manager Thorsten Storm commented on the qualification.

Now the “Lions” are team number six in the feared “group of death” – together with Kiel, Barcelona, Celje, Kielce and Chambery.

“I think we’re well prepared for the VELUX EHF Champions League and we’re really looking forward to meet those real strong opponents,” Coach Ola Lindgren said.

“We’re better than last year and we’ll start against Barcelona, absolutely great,” Olafur Stefansson added.

Playing against Barcelona is somehow special for the Germans, whereas meeting Kiel is somehow normal, not only in the German league, but in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

This year they meet in the Group Phase for the first time: In the last two seasons both teams met in the knock-out stage, with two happy-endings for THW. In 2009 – the first Löwen appearance in the VELUX EHF Champions League – THW won the semis, in 2010 it happened in the Quarterfinals.

But unlike last season when a big changes happened in the squad of the Löwen, this year only two key players (Manojlovic to Velenje and Gudmundsson to Copenhagen) left the team – and four international top stars came.

The biggest name is Börge Lund, playmaker and defence specialist arriving from Kiel. “He will lead our game and will be a key figure of our team,” Lindgren said about the Norwegian, who had been playing together with Lindgren in Nordhorn before, the same as line player Bjarte Myrhol.

Myrhol, the second Norwegian, will share the line player position with another newcomer, Icelandic Olympic Silver medallist Robert Gunnarsson, coming from Gummersbach.

Another medallist is right winger Ivan Cupic, who won silver with Croatia at the World Championship 2009 and the EHF EURO 2010.

The fourth newcomer is Swiss international playmaker Andy Schmid, who had an offer from Barcelona but instead went to Löwen, coming from Silkeborg (Denmark).

The team’s pre-season preparation was brutally interrupted by a terrible accident: Polish international Karol Bielecki lost the light of one eye in a match with his national team against Croatia.

For some days and after several operations it seemed as if the career of the shooter would have come to an end. But Bielecki – with his very exceptionally strong will – started to work on his comeback right away. And it took him only two months before he was back.

After several friendly matches he returned for the Bundesliga opener of the Löwen against Göppingen. Bielecki, now playing with special glasses, played incredibly, scoring twelve goals.

Currently only playmaker Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson is injured due to a knee operation – the rest of the squad is ready for their third participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

And the squad seems strong, as they have not one but two world class players on every single position: goalkeepers are World Champion Henning Fritz and World Handball Player of the year, Slawomir Szmal. Cupic and Gensheimer on the right wing, Bielecki and Tkaczyk share the left back court area, Stefansson and German international Müller the right part – and for the defence only they have a specialist in Oliver Roggisch.

So the Germans are aiming high in the lion’s cage: “We want to close the gap to THW Kiel and HSV Hamburg on domestic ground, and at the same time go as far as possible in the VELUX EHF Champions League,” manager Storm said.

Key facts

Newcomers: Róbert Gunnarsson (from VfL Gummersbach), Andy Schmid (from Bjerringbro-Silkeborg), Børge Lund (from THW Kiel), Ivan Čupić (from RK Velenje)

Left the club: Carlos Prieto (to RK Celje), Siarhei Harbok (to Chekhokvskie Medvedi), Nikola Manojlović (to RK Velenje), Snorri Guðjónsson (to AG Håndbold), Thomas Bruhn (to AG Håndbold), Maximilian Bender (to TSG Friesenheim), Alexander Becker (to TSG Friesenheim), Gábor Ancsin (to TSG Friesenheim), Andrej Klimovets (to HSG Melsungen)

Coach: Ola Lindgren (SWE, since 2009), Kent-Harry Andersson (SWE, assistant coach, since 2009)

Club records

EHF Champions League semi finalist 2009
EHF Champions League quarterfinalist 2010
Finalist Cup Winners Cup 2008
Three times German Cup finalist (2006, 2007, 2010)

Find more information here.

TEXT: Björn Pazen

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