|15.10.2010, 09:40||◄ last page|
The new coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson raises the expectations in Mannheim.
RNL playing with new confidence
Danish millionaire Jesper “Kasi” Nielsen‘s dream of owning the top handball team in Europe might become a reality sooner rather than later, with a little help from his Icelandic friends.
After Nielsen bought German club Rhein-Neckar Löwen, he poured money into it, buying among others, four Icelandic internationals and hiring Icelandic national coach, Gudmundur Gudmundsson as sporting director for Löwen and FC Copenhagen, Nielsen’s Danish superteam.
After a sluggish start to the season, (though only losing one league match), Nielsen decided to install Gudmundsson as head coach for RNL instead of Swede Ola Lindgren.
Gudmundsson’s first task was truly formidable, an away game against perennial European superpower, Barcelona in the first round of the VELUX EHF Champions League’s Group A, aptly named the group of death.
Other teams in the group are German top team THW Kiel, who won both the German league and the EHF Champions League this year, Celje Pivovarno Lasko from Slovenia, Chambery Savoie from France and Polish champions Targi Kielce.
Three of the teams, Kiel, Barcelona and Celje, have won the EHF Champions League, thereof Barcelona seven times, more than any other team.
“There’s no wonder that the group is called the group of death,” Gudmundsson said in an interview with ehfCL.com. “We have the two finalists from last season, Kiel and Barcelona. Plus we have the champions from 2004, Celje. And then we have Kielce and Chambery, both formidable teams, so there won‘t be any easy games in the group.”
Only three days after taking charge of Löwen, Gudmundsson led RNL to a one-goal victory, 31-30, in Catalunya.
“It was a very steep learning curve with the team, but the players were very positive and we got our two points in a very tight game,” Gudmundsson said.
Since then, his team have won all their matches, both in the Bundesliga and in the VELUX EHF Champions League, where victories against Celje (a) and Chambery (h) have put them on top of Group A with maximum points.
It‘s clear that Gudmundsson, who won Olympic silver with the Icelandic team in Beijing and a bronze at the EHF Euro in Austria this year, has already put his characteristics on the Löwen team.
“Of course there are some changes when a new coach takes over,” Gudmundsson said. “But they have to come gradually. You can‘t change too much at once.”
Asked whether he is surprised that the team is top of the group, given that they qualified through the Wild Card Tournament, Gudmundsson answers: “I wouldn’t say surprised. When we qualified we set ourselves certain goals, all of which I can’t reveal. But one of them was qualifying for the Last 16 with something to spare. We certainly aren’t there yet, but the start is very positive and we’re looking forward to our match in Kielce even though we know it will be very difficult as they have a fantastic team.”
Respectful words from a man who himself commands respect himself following his achievements with the Icelandic team. And now his methodical, hard-working style has started to pay dividends in the VELUX EHF Champions League.
The VELUX EHF Men's Champions League Group A game KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL) VS. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) on Sunday 17 October 2010 at 15:00 hrs (local time) is our „Match of the Week" and will be broadcasted live on our free of charge web stream on ehfTV.com, including English commentary by Tom O'Brannagain.
TEXT: Adolf Ingi Erlingsson