Lauge: "We cannot make any mistakes against Aalborg"
In 2019, as a fresh world champion, Danish centre back Rasmus Lauge joined Hungarian powerhouse Telekom Veszprém with high expectations for both parties.
To achieve his and Veszprém's long-pursued dream of winning the EHF Champions League Men will require the Hungarian side to go through the club from his own country – Aalborg Håndbold – in the quarter-finals this season.
Rasmus Lauge, one of the leaders of the star-filled Danish national team, is a world and European champion who spent six years in the Bundesliga, one of the toughest domestic leagues in the world, but he is still chasing his first EHF Champions League title. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why he signed for the record Hungarian champions.
"I had big expectations when I joined one of the best clubs in Europe — to win finally in Cologne and have more time to take care of my body. Obviously, it is different playing here than in Flensburg or Kiel. However, there is one thing that makes everything similar: the pressure to triumph in every competition. Since I moved here, a lot happened, as our first year was ruined by Covid-19, then I got an injury from which I recovered finally. I hope this season can be the most successful of all," said Lauge.
Besides multiple challenges and changes, there was one significant change during Lauge's last three seasons with Veszprém. Spanish head coach David Davis was replaced by former Veszprém player Momir Ilic on the bench. New tactics and goals from the management were created.
"'Momo is doing a really good job even though it is his first year as a head coach. This season is about learning with each other and learning his ways as a coach, as many of my teammates used to play with him a few years back. He pushes us all the time towards our limits to have a better performance and he is always prepared," Lauge said about the Veszprém coach.
As Veszprém prepare to face Aalborg in the EHF Champions League Men quarter-finals, the centre back’s goals have not changed in the last 10 years, despite plenty of his dreams coming true.
"My first dream was to turn into a professional handball player, then to play for the national team, and later to be part of the biggest sides, which I have been doing for almost the last decade. In the club competitions, there is one more thing left: lifting up the biggest trophy of all," he said.
We just try to keep evolving. However, we are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, so the last month and a half that was all about enjoying handball and ourselves has paid off. I think this is one of the reasons why we succeeded during this period.
While the record Hungarian champions faced HC Vardar 1961 in the play-offs after finishing fourth in group B behind Lomza Viva Kielce, Barça and Paris Saint-Germain Handball, Aalborg advanced directly to the quarter-finals as the top team from group A.
After Veszprém enjoyed a confident eight-goal win in Skopje in the first leg and progressed to their 20th quarter-final with a 61:53 victory on aggregate in the play-offs, they will host Aalborg on Thursday.
"We are on a good path right now. Not many expectations push our shoulders with the many changes around the club. We just try to keep evolving. However, we are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, so the last month and a half that was all about enjoying handball and ourselves has paid off. I think this is one of the reasons why we succeeded during this period.
On fast breaks, we did a very good job. This is what we have to do to reach our goals, everybody has to develop during the season and the peak must come at the EHF FINAL4. On the other hand, Aalborg is a very good team and we cannot make many mistakes. We need tough defence and not to turn the ball over easily," said Lauge about the clash with Aalborg.
Facing Aalborg is not only special for Lauge because the Danish side finished with the highest number of points and most goals scored during the group phase, but the Veszprém centre back can also fight to achieve his aims at home, in Denmark.
"It is always very special to play against a team from your own country. Yet I know what our target is. It does not matter who is on the other side of the court — we want to play in Cologne. To earn that, we should pay attention to details. Defence is where everything starts, then making as few turnovers as possible and scoring quick fast break goals.
Still, playing in Denmark for me was always somehow different, and this is why I will go back in 2023. This is where my roots lead back. I am happy that I have the possibility to return to Denmark and play for my first team when there is still something I can provide. It was always my plan since I moved abroad. I owe Bjerringbro-Silkeborg at least that much," said Lauge.
Although there is one more year left on Lauge's contract, he already knows what Hungary and Veszprém meant for him and his family.
"Both the country and the city is amazing. I am sure that me and my family will come back to visit once I've left. In Veszprém, there are a lot of players from different countries who need to work together with different cultures and backgrounds, which taught me a lot about perception and other people’s habits and thinking," concluded Lauge.