HC PPD Zagreb aiming for play-off spot
This is the first article in our countdown series for the EHF Champions League Men 2022/23 season. The series will preview each club before the group phase begins in September.
In the 2021/22 season, HC PPD Zagreb continued their perfect streak in Croatia, taking both the league and cup titles. After two disappointing European seasons, Zagreb also got back on track in the EHF Champions League Men and they want to build up on that this season.
With two surprising signings and a well-tuned team, Zagreb are aiming to return, at least, to the play-offs.
- head coach Ivica Obrvan took over in February 2021 and renewed his contract in June until 2024
- Zagreb's two biggest signings for the new season are former EHF Champions League winners: Timur Dibirov and Vuko Borozan
- Zagreb's 29th appearance in the EHF Champions League makes them the record holders for participations
- Jakov Gojun has taken over as team captain
- for the second consecutive season, Zagreb will play in the Croatian league from the start
Most important question: Can PPD Zagreb achieve their objective?
Zagreb's main goal in the last couple of seasons was to advance further than the group phase. However, with the exception of the 2020/21 season, when all 16 teams in the group phase advanced to the play-offs, they have failed to do so.
The Croatian side have made many changes in recent years, and more steady times came with coach Ivica Obrvan in 2021. In the 2021/22 season, things began to turn after they won in the EHF Champions League for the first time in 23 matches — and Zagreb only missed out on the play-offs due to their head-to-head record with Elverum.
The club and head coach have set a clear vision with Croatian players and experienced individuals. The biggest difference compared to the last season will be on left wing after the departure of David Mandic, who scored 37 goals in the EHF Champions League last season, while left back Sandro Obranovic joined Kadetten Schaffhausen and centre back Filip Vistorop moved to Germany.
However, PPD Zagreb made two big signings: Timur Dibirov and Vuko Borozan. The two Champions League winners with Vardar, combined with their former teammate Ivan Cupic, will boost experience of the ‘Lions’ and help their young talents. Instead of relying on Filip Ivic, Zagreb will have a goalkeeping trio consisting of Dino Slavic, Matej Mandic and Aljaz Panjtar, a newcomer from RK Gorenje Velenje.
"Our objective is to progress to the play-offs of the EHF Champions League. Last season, we scored eight points and were one point short of achieving this goal. I believe that this year we have a better and more balanced roster and this is why we are all eager to make an extra step that will put us in the position to fight for the quarter-finals of this prestigious competition," said sports director Vedran Supukovic.
Under the spotlight: Zvonimir Srna
One of the players who will be ready to shine for Zagreb is Zvonimir Srna. The left back from Metkovic will play an important role in the centre back position too, as well as in defence.
Playing mainly as a centre back with the style that we all know from Domagoj Duvnjak, 24-year-old Srna begun his handball career in Metkovic. Srna subsequently spent few years in Dubrovnik before joining Zagreb in 2019.
Last season, he performed well but did not show his full potential due to injury. The Croatian national team player has much more to prove on the court.
How they rate themselves
The upcoming season will be a sequel to the job Ivica Obrvan started in the 2021/22 season. The ‘Lions’ were close to the progressing from the group phase last season, which was their objective after two disappointing seasons, and they wish to continue on that track. With the current squad, they have a good chance of fulfilling their dream.
In the opening round of the new season, Zagreb will host GOG before they travel to Germany to face SC Magdeburg in round 2. Team captain Jakov Gojun believes his team is ready for new season and will prove they still have something to show at the highest level.
"As a team, we are focused on every single match, as there are a lot of them, but I would like us to open the season with a win against Danish side GOG, in order to show that we are ready for big things coming this season," concluded Gojun.
Did you know?
Zagreb won two editions of the IHF European Champions Cup, the forerunner of the EHF Champions League.
In Zagreb's current squad, they have three EHF Champions League winners: Timur Dibirov, Ivan Cupic and Vuko Borozan. All three players lifted the trophy in Cologne with Vardar.
What the numbers say
After Željko Musa, Jakov Gojun and Ivan Cupic boosted the experience of the squad, the addition of Timur Dibirov takes the average age of the players to 26.95 years. If we look at the 'Lions' without these four players, the average age drops to 24.77 years.
Newcomers and departures
Newcomers: Aljaz Panjtar (RK Gorenje Velenje), Timur Dibirov (HC Vardar 1961), Vuko Borozan (Al-Arabi), Milan Milic (HBC Nantes), Gabriel Buvinic (MRK Umag)
Departures: Filip Vistorop (HBW Ballingen-Weilstetten), Fabijan Grubišic (unknown), Sandro Obranovic (Kadetten Schaffhausen), Valentino Ravnic (HCD Constanta), David Madic (MT Melsungen), Marin Šipic (unknown)
EHF Champions League:
Participations (including 2022/23 season): 29
Runners-up (4): 1994/95, 1996/97, 1997/98, 1998/99
Semi-finals (1): 1999/00
Quarter-finals (7): 2000/01, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2008/09, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2015/16
Play-offs (1): 2020/21
Last 16 (5): 2005/06, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2016/17, 2018/19
Main Round (1): 2007/08
Group Phase (9): 1993/94, 1995/96, 2004/05, 2006/07, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2017/18,
Cup Winners' Cup: Runners-up: 2004/05, Semi-final: 2006/07
(IHF) European Champions Cup: 2 titles (1991/92, 1992/93)
Croatian league: 30 titles (1992-2019, 2021-2022)*
Croatian cup: 28 titles (1991-2000, 2003-2019, 2021-2022)*
*in 2020 there were no winners due to Covid-19