HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper
Which team will win Baltic Handball League 2019?
News / First Final Four team will be known this weekend
Baltic Handball League
First Final Four team will be known this weekend
Twelve games is all that is left to play in this season's Baltic Handball League, as the quarter-finals start this weekend. We will also find out the first Final Four participant by Sunday afternoon, as Cocks Riihimäki and Granitas-Karys Kaunas will play the two quarter-final matches over one weekend in Finland. All-Estonian quarter-final starts on Sunday as well with HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper hosting Serviti Põlva.
The Estonian clubs will play the return leg next Sunday in Põlva, when the other two quarter-final encounters are also taking place. ZTR Zaporozhye plays Dragunas Klaipeda and Tenax Dobele hosts SKA Minsk over the two days next weekend.
Cocks are looking to extend their winning streak
The winner of last two editions, Cocks have not been beaten in the BHL since the final in 2015, but they have a special season going on. In 2018 alone, the Finnish champion has already played astonishing 21 competitive matches, as besides BHL and domestic league, Cocks also qualified to play in EHF Cup group stage.
In the domestic league Cocks is unbeaten, having defeated Atlas Vantaa on Wednesday 36-19 (Nico Rönnberg 7 goals). And in the BHL group stage multi-national Finnish team took ten wins out of ten, extending their incredible winning streak to 36 games!
"We cannot complain about the lack of games for sure," said head coach of Cocks, Gintaras Savukynas with a smile. "Last week we had no time for trainings with four matches and travelling. And tough period is still continuing, but obviously we knew that and prepared accordingly."
European success has so far avoided the Finns, as they have lost all four EHF Cup group matches so far, but Savukynas is satisfied with his team: "Occasionally we have played very well and the experience we are gaining is colossal. Now we concentrate on BHL, Granitas is a strong and ambitious team, in a very good form. But so are we, the team spirit is high and we definitely want to qualify for Final Four to defend our title."
Olympic champion Novickis: we are targeting at least one win
Last season Cocks and Granitas-Karys met in the BHL group stage with Finns winning both matches quite comfortably 33-24 and 35-27. Overall, the Lithuanian side has not yet managed to beat Cocks in six BHL matches. Granitas secured their place in the quarter-finals only in the final group game with 24-24 draw against Celtnieks Riga being enough.
In Lithuanian league, Granitas had a perfect record of 13 wins out of 13 matches until Tuesday. The preparation for BHL quarter-finals could not have been worse, as they suffered first defeat of the season against Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus by 22-25 (Mindaugas Urbonas 9).
"We missed several players, especially some of the key players and the others could not handle the pressure," explained head coach Valdemaras Novickis the first domestic loss of the season. "Problems still exist and we cannot unfortunately take the full squad to Riihimäki, but this does not mean we are giving up without a fight."
Novickis confirmed Granitas-Karys is not the favourite in this pair. "Obviously, Cocks is the stronger team and clear favourite. But for us it is still important and over two games everything can happen. We set a target of winning at least one match and no matter, what the result, this weekend will also test us ahead of the top-match against Dragunas next week in Lithuanian league," said the 1988 Olympic champion.
First leg of all-Estonian quarter-final to be played in Kehra
"Good old friends" will face each other in the other quarter-final kicking off this weekend, as HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper hosts Serviti Põlva. Last season the two Estonian teams met exactly at the same stage and what a quarter-final battle that was! Kehra took a 27-26 home advantage in the first leg, but lost 24-25 in Põlva and were knocked out due to the away goals rule.
Domestically, the two teams have already played four times this season with Serviti taking comfortable wins in each match, never less than by eight goals. To make things more intriguing, Kehra and Serviti will also meet in a domestic league match on Wednesday between the two BHL quarter-final legs!
"BHL takes clear priority inside these eight days," confirmed Kalmer Musting, head coach of Serviti. "We had tight battles last year against Kehra in the quarter-finals and I don't expect anything less now. Kehra is playing better and better every week, but we do know their strengths well enough."
Serviti suffered their first loss of the season against domestic opponent last week by losing to Viljandi HC, but Musting assures it is not a problem. "Defeats are sometimes useful – it brings the players back on the ground and makes them work harder. We have worked all week very seriously for this Sunday's match," said Musting.
"Three games in eight days against Serviti, but Baltic League is definitely different, as it is a play-off," agrees Kehra's head coach Kaupo Liiva with his colleague. "Everyone knows what is at stake and we also realize that we are up against the winner of Group B, while we only qualified at the last moment."
Liiva is certain that Serviti can be beaten. "They lost to Viljandi last week, so they are vulnerable. But for us to succeed, we have to play at our very best level and better than in our last games. We have a nice winning streak, but still struggling with using our goalchances – this must improve," said Liiva.