After European glory, AEK face next challenge
The 2020/21 season has been a dream for AEK Athens. The Greek team completed an amazing treble, winning the Greek league, the Greek cup, while also securing their first international trophy: the EHF European Cup Men – three years after they reached, but lost, the final of the Challenge Cup.
In their 12th European participation in the last 14 seasons, AEK now face their biggest challenge yet – with many potential big-name opponents. They have never played against such lofty opponents in a group phase in European competitions, therefore the ask will be big.
With plenty of expectations, the target is a Last 16 berth, meaning a top four finish in their group.
- AEK are the first Greek side to play in the group phase of Europe’s second-tier men’s club competition
- AEK won the EHF European Cup last season, with a 60:54 aggregate score against Swedish outfit Ystads IF
- eight players from the winning squad, including experienced Austrian goalkeeper Thomas Bauer, have left the side, with five additions
- coach Dimitrios Dimitroulias will lead the team once again, after signing for AEK in 2019
Most important question: How will they complete the transition to the European League?
Winning the EHF European Cup Men last season was a superb achievement for AEK Athens, especially after dropping only one of the 10 games they played on their way to the trophy. But this time around, things will be surely looking different for the Greek side, who were awarded a wild card in the EHF European League Men, following their European Cup glory.
The level is obviously tougher in this season, whereas the Greek club has lost plenty of experience, with the exits of goalkeeper Thomas Bauer, wing Tomislav Nuic and short-term signings Joakim Hykkerud and Jesper Meinby Pedersen.
Experience will definitely be key for any team in this competition and AEK took a step back, despite boasting a wing like Cristian Ugalde.
They have focused on Greek players this time around, while also adding Algerian line player Sofiane Bendjilali and Montenegrin goalkeeper Goran Andjelic, but their international flavour has been quite dimmed down for this season, despite signing an American player with Greek roots, Nikolas Zarikos.
This will definitely be a tough season for AEK, yet their ambitions are still high, with an eye on a Last 16 berth.
“After winning the EHF European Cup last season, we aim to be competitive at this level, and playing in this competition will surely help us take the club to another level,” said Stathis Papachartofylis, the team’s sporting director.
Under the spotlight: Christodoulos Mylonas
The MVP of the Greek League last season, Mylonas, a 26-year-old left back, will be playing in his fifth season for AEK Athens, therefore knowing the team inside out. He scored 115 goals for AEK in the past four seasons in the EHF Challenge Cup and the EHF European Cup Men for the Greek champions, including 29 goals in the past season.
A towering left back, Mylonas will be decisive once again for AEK this season, yet his lack of experience at this level could hamper his production. He has never played outside Greece or faced such tough opponents, which could be a minus on the long run. Overall, if AEK want to secure wins in the competition, they will need Mylonas at the top of his form.
How they rate themselves
“We want to proceed to the Last 16 phase of the competition. We will give everything we got in every game and try to win as many games as we can,” says Panagiotis Nikolaidis, AEK’s captain.
Nikolaidis added that it will definitely be difficult to compete with the German sides, which he sees as favourites for another season, but the main objective for the Greek side will be to retain the domestic championship and cup, which AEK won last season.
What the numbers say
12 – no other Greek team played more seasons in European competitions than AEK. The Greek champions had their first season in the Men’s EHF Cup in 2007/08 and missed only two seasons in Europe since, in 2008/09 and 2016/17
Did you know?
AEK became only the second Greek team to win a European trophy, after AC Diomidis Argous clinched the Men’s EHF Challenge Cup in 2010/11. With their win against Ystads IF, AEK became the inaugural EHF European Cup Men winners.
Arrivals and departures
Arrivals: Petros Boukovinas (Handball Esch), Goran Andjelic (Stal Mielec), Sofiane Bendjilali (Club Africain), Efthimios Iliopoulos (Bayer Dormagen), Nikolas Zarikos (AC Doukas)
Departures: Thomas Bauer (Al Rayan), Joakim Hykkerud (Lemvig-Thyborøn Håndbold), Jesper Meinby Pedersen (Kolding), Milan Kosanovic (retired), Marin Buneta (unknown), Tomislav Nuic (unkown), Andreas Arapakopoulos (Olympiacos SFP), Charalampos Dompris (Olympiacos SFP)
EHF European League Men:
Participations (including 2021/22 season): 1
EHF European Cup: Winners (1): 2020/21
EHF Challenge Cup: Final (1): 2017/18; Semi-finals (1): 2018/19; Quarter-finals (1): 2010/11
Greek league: 4 titles (2011, 2013, 2020, 2021)
Greek cup: 4 titles (2009, 2013, 2014, 2021)