News / Much to play for over a long "weekend"
Baltic Handball legue
Much to play for over a long "weekend"
On Saturday, Estonia is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its independence and what better way to do it than on the handball floor! All four Estonian teams will be in action at home this weekend, but there are also important games to be played in Kaunas and Riihimäki.
BHL "weekend" is a relative word this time, as it extends also to Monday and in fact started already on Tuesday, when SKA Minsk defeated ZTR Zaporozhye 31-27 (Artur Rudz 9 – Oleksii Ganchev 8 goals) in a match played in Group B.
Vitaly Nat determined to take four points from Estonia
With this defeat ZTR lost the chance of winning the group, but with two games in Estonia this weekend, they can still move up to second. On Saturday, Ukrainians will play HC Tallinn in Kehra and the day later, Serviti Põlva hosts ZTR in a game, which will determine the final top three positions in the group.
"Of course we need two wins from Estonia to finish second, but we are always going for a win," said ZTR's head coach Vitaliy Nat. "On Tuesday in Minsk it did not work out for us. SKA took a deserved win, we made some mistakes in decisive moments and a team, like the Belarussians, they will punish mistakes immediately."
In December, during a similar visit to Estonia, ZTR beat HC Tallinn 23-21 and lost to Serviti by 26-28. "I know there will be very tough games, especially as we have to do a lot of travelling this week – back from Minsk and one day later already on the road again to Estonia," admits Nat. "But we have already forgotten the defeat against SKA and looking ahead, hopefully to gain four points from the new trip."
Serviti relishing the special occasion
Serviti has a good chance to win Group B, but they need to beat ZTR on Sunday in which case they will be ahead of SKA due to a better overall goal difference, as both games against Belarussians ended in a draw. In domestic league, Serviti continues unbeaten and took a 37-30 on Wednesday over Coop Põlva (Henri Sillaste 7).
"Looking at the possible opponents in quarter-final, it seems it does not matter much in which position to finish the group," said Kalmer Musting, the head coach of Serviti. "All regular season matches between us, ZTR and SKA have been very tight and in December we beat the Ukrainians only thanks to a better finish to the game."
"However, playing a day after the Estonia's 100th Independence Day is special for us," added Musting. "We try and make it a special event for our fans and hopefully can show good handball and take a win. The most important part of the season is approaching and we need this kind of strong games."
Celtnieks needs a win from Kaunas
As the three mentioned Group B teams have already secured qualification, the final spot in the quarter-finals will be played out on Saturday in Kaunas, when local Granitas-Karys hosts Celtnieks Riga. The Lithuanian league leader has six points to Celtnieks' four, but a win for the Latvians will see them go through, as they also beat Granitas at home in December by 29-27.
Granitas has been in great form in Lithuanian championships, having recorded 13 wins out of 13 games. On Wednesday, they defeated a fellow BHL team VHC Šviesa Vilnius 34-27 (Mindaugas Urbonas 7 – Karolis Antanavičius 8). On the same day, Celtnieks were beaten by ZRHK Tenax Dobele 35-23 (Emils Kurzemnieks 8 – Arturs Lazdinš 8).
"It seems playing in midweek does not suit our team, we are much better during weekend," admits Normunds Blome, the team manager of Celtnieks, referring to his club good BHL campaign. "We were really bad against Tenax, but will do the utmost on Saturday to qualify. Everyone in the squad is fit and aware that only a win is good for us."
Marko Koks: no lack of motivation on Independence Day
In Group A, three games will be played over three days. On Saturday, Viljandi HC will host ZRHK Tenax Dobele. Latvian league leader can finish second, third or fourth in the group, but will need a win over Viljandi, who they beat by clear margin (36-18) in November.
Viljandi has lost chances to qualify, but are in much better form than in the first half of the season. On Wednesday, they took an impressive 32-26 win over HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper (Kristo Voika 9 – Dmytro Yankovskiy 7) in the domestic league and head coach Marko Koks assures lessons from the previous match against Tenax have been learned.
"All our players and coaches still remember the disastrous game and we are determined to prove this is not our real level," confirms Koks. "There is no lack of motivation and playing on our Independence Day what can be better, than to celebrate it with a win over Latvians!"
Coming back to Tenax, not everything is in Latvians' own hands. Dragunas Klaipeda also have 10 points, but having a game in hand. The Lithuanian champion travels to Kehra on Sunday and then plays Cocks in Riihimäki on Monday. Two points from two games is enough for Dragunas to finish second in Group A.
In domestic league, Dragunas beat SM-Dubysa-Gubernija Šiauliai on Wednesday by 32-29 (Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas 7). Cocks is going through an incredible period, as they are basically playing every second day. On Thursday, Cocks took a 37-25 win (Teemu Tamminen 12) over Atlas Vantaa in Finnish league and on Saturday they face German club Frisch auf! Göppingen in EHF Cup.
Next to Celtnieks, Kehra is another team with a lot to gain – or loose – from this weekend. If they beat Dragunas on Sunday, Kehra moves two points behind Šviesa in Group A and the two teams will then meet next weekend in Kehra in a sort of play-off for the last place in the quarter-finals.