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Rejuvenated Celje return to top flight

EHF / Danijela Vekić

RK Celje Pivovarna Laško were a remarkable absentee in the EHF Champions League Men last season but the Slovenian champions are back on the elite level after one year.

The evergreen participants in the top European competition have gone through several changes and with a rejuvenated squad, they are hoping to prove themselves at the biggest stage in Europe.

Even though they have welcomed a new coach last year and a new director this year, Celje’s handball philosophy remains the same: young talents stepping into the spotlight and gaining valuable experience with every new match, backed by a few more experienced players.

Main facts

  • former player Alem Toskic took over in July 2021 and enters his first EHF Champions League season as Celje coach
  • the rejuvenated team includes many players from the club’s youth academy
  • Celje welcomed a new club director, Miro Benicky from Tatran Presov, in the offseason
  • the Slovenian club enters its 27th EHF Champions League season, after missing the 2021/22 season
  • Celje raised the EHF Champions League trophy once, in the 2003/04 season

Most important question: Can a young Celje team keep up with their opponents?

After playing the EHF Champions League for nine straight seasons, Celje started in the EHF European League last season – but went already out before the group phase, losing 65:58 on aggregate to Danish side GOG in qualification round 1.

The young team of Alem Toskic had a whole year to develop in the Slovenian league. Their hard work was rewarded by lifting the domestic trophy for the 25th time.

Celje will boast one of the youngest teams in the EHF Champions League this season and it will be interesting to see how they will keep up with their strong opponents in group B. Right at the start, on 15 September, they travel to 2021 runners-up Aalborg Håndbold; the following week, 2020 champions THW Kiel are the opponents.

“Looking at the names in group B brings out a lot of respect. Every game will represent a big challenge for us. We will have to do our very best to compete with Europe's handball elite,” says team director Miro Benicky.

Other opponents include defending champions Barça, Hungarian champions Pick Szeged, 2022 runners-up Lomza Industria Kielce, French No. 2 HBC Nantes, and Norwegian titleholders Elverum Handball.

“Key in every match will be our players delivering their maximum effort and fighting with their heart. With the help from our fans, we are especially looking forward to our home games and hoping to grab some points. We will take one match at a time, keeping an eye on progressing to the play-offs,” adds Benicky.

Under the spotlight: Mitja Janc

The younger brother of Barça’s EHF Champions League Men champion Blaz Janc has already been under the spotlight in recent years. Janc was named MVP and best centre back of the M19 EHF EURO in Croatia, and was the top scorer with 61 goals. The young centre back has a lot to show on the court as well as progress even better playing in the EHF Champions League.

How they rate themselves

Four players left the club and team captain Davir Razgor retired. They have been replaced by seven new promising talents, none of them older than 22.

Rejuvenated, and led by experienced Ziga Mlakar, Gal Marguc and Aleks Vlah, Celje will easily be seen as underdogs of the group. However, their fighting spirit should not be overthrown as the young team with nothing to lose will give their best.

“We are in a group with some tough and famous teams; three out of four teams played in last season’s EHF FINAL4,” says team captain Aleks Vlah.

“In every match we will do our best and try to take the best from each match and learn. After missing last year’s competition, we can’t wait to start this season’s journey. Especially in front of our fans. We will show the fighting spirit as befits young warriors.”

Did you know?

Former team captain David Razgor enters his first season as an assistant coach. Razgor spent his whole career in Celje until his retirement in the 2021/22 season. In 13 seasons in Celje, the centre back  played 579 matches and scored 1,212 goals – including 195 in the EHF Champions League.

What the numbers say

260: The number of matches Celje have played in Europe’s top-tier competition so far.

 

Arrivals and departures

Arrivals: Mitja Janc (Maribor/Celje Youth Academy), Domen Knez (Maribor/Celje Youth Academy), Patrik Martinovic (Slovan), Amir Muhović (Izvidjac Ljubuski), Filip Rakita (Celje Youth Academy), Yassine Belkaeid (Sporting), Vukasin Antonijevic (Metaloplastika Sabac)

Departures: Tilen Kodrin (VfL Gummersbach), Stefan Terzic, Vid Poteko (Frisch Auf Göppingen), Radojica Cepic (HSG Wetzlar)

Past achievements

EHF Champions League

Participations (including 2022/23 season): 27
Winner (1): 2003/04
Semi-final (6): 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2004/05
Quarter-final (2): 2001/02, 2005/06
Last 16 (5): 1995/96, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2019/20
Main Round (2): 2007/08, 2008/09
Group Phase (7): 1993/94, 1994/95, 2010/11, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19
Qualification (1): 2009/10

Other

EHF Cup: Quarter-finals 2009/10
Cup Winners’ Cup: Semi-finals 2002/03, 2011/12

Slovenian league: 25 titles (1991-2001, 2003-08, 2010, 2014-20, 2022)
Slovenian cup: 21 times

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