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Baltic Handball League
Almost perfect weekend for Latvian clubs
The first full weekend of the new Baltic Handball League season saw seven matches been played in three Baltic States. The biggest winner of the weekend was ZRHK Tenax Dobele, as the Latvian champions recorded two wins at home. One win each took Dragunas Klaipeda, VHC Šviesa Vilnius, Celtnieks Riga, Serviti Põlva and HC Tallinn.
The participating Latvian clubs had not had a perfect weekend – winning all their games over two days – for a very long time and they came very close this weekend. With two Estonian clubs visiting their southern neihgbours, Tenax beat both of them and Celtnieks had a win on Saturday over Viljandi HC. On Sunday, Celtnieks had a 6-goal lead, but lost in the end to HC Tallinn, postponing the possibility of a perfect weekend into the future.
Normunds Blome: I am not happy with our performances
On Saturday, Celtnieks hosted Viljandi HC, who had never in BHL history lost to the Riga-based team. But having lost half of their squad in the summer, last year's Estonian bronze-medallist were fielding a very young team and experienced Celtnieks took advantage, starting the season with a 26:22 (16:12) win. Rihards Leja scored eight goals for the winners, while Sergei Rodjukov, Mark Lõpp, Oliver Ruut and Aleksander Pertelson – the latter two just 15-year-olds (!) scored four for Estonians.
The following day brought HC Tallinn to town – both teams are preparing for EHF Challenge Cup matches, taking place in two weeks time. Celtnieks took a 12:6 lead in the first half, but Tallinn fought back, equalized 13:13 by half-time and run away in the second, eventually taking a precious away win by 33:26. Rainer Kelk and Rauno Aus scored eight goals for thw winners, as Russian newcomer Vladislav Koshman scored the same amount for Celtnieks.
"I am not happy with our performances, we have a lot to work on before the EHF Challenge Cup games in two weeks time," said Normunds Blome, head coach of Celtnieks. "Yes, we got two points, which is obviously good, but we should have won the second match as well. Some of the leading players stopped performing as they should and we lost the match discipline."
Blome was happy with just one player over the two days. "The only one who was in required level, was our goalkeeper Raitis Purinš. Otherwise we made too many mistakes, took throws too quickly and in doing so, helped Tallinn to counter-attack. But it was good to have these two matches ahead of European games, as even a very young Viljandi side put up a very good fight," showed Blome respect to opponents.
"Over the weekend we had big issues using our goalchances, which is becoming a problem for us," said HC Tallinn's head coach Jüri Lepp. "But our goalkeeper Armis Priskus played very well on Sunday and I believe we had more freshness in our legs, so we managed to used our youth and speed to emerge as winners."
Tenax goes on top of Group B
ZRHK Tenax Dobele was the big winner of the weekend and lead the Group B with a perfect record. On the first day, Tenax was behind at the start, but then experienced goalkeeper Ivars Lacis put a lock on his goal, while Latvian international Nils Kreicbergs bombarded at the other end. Latvian champions took a clear 36:26 (15:11) win with Kreicbergs on target 10 times and Markus Viitkar and Enrico Anton scoring six goals for the visitors.
Young Viljandi HC fell behind against Tenax immediately on Sunday, but never stopped fighting, even when down by seven or eight goals. Tenax was forced to fight for the win, which they eventually took by 31:26 (19:12). Kreicbergs, Andis Ermanis and Egils Politers scored six goals, as Simon Drõgin was the best of the match with eight goals.
"Even if the scoreline says otherwise, it was not easy for us – both Estonian teams fought well and it was quite nervous until the end of both games," commented Tenax's head coach Sandris Veršakovs. "But I am obviously very happy with the four points, as in BHL every goal and every point is very important."
Serviti and Šviesa emerge as winners in domestic battles
The weekend also brought two derby-matches, arguably the more interesting one taking place in Põlva between two former BHL winners and rulers of the Estonian handball for decades. After a 3-3 score the match suddenly turned completely for hosts Serviti, who 12 minutes later had a 13-3 lead over HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper!
Serviti recorded their opening win in Group A, while Kehra suffered a third straight loss. In a 33:24 (18:9) win Hendrik Varul scored eight goals for Serviti, as his national team colleague Kaspar Lees was on target six times for Kehra. "It was obvious Kehra was tired from their trip to Klaipeda and also missed some key players, so it was a nice win for us," said Serviti's head coach Kalmer Musting.
Kehra had indeed played the day before in Lithuania, where they suffered another heavy loss against Dragunas Klaipeda. Despite leading at the start, Kehra had no answers to Lithuanian champions after first ten minutes. Dragunas took a 30:18 (15:7) win with Karolis Bliuvas recording nine goals, as Lees was again Kehra's top scorer with five.
The other derby match was also on Sunday in Kaunas, where local rivals Granitas-Karys and VHC Šviesa Vilnius met. This was a much tighter affair with the hosts leading early on and the game being equal until 38th minute, when Šviesa run away after a 5-0 period and took a 30:26 (14:13) win. Karolis Antanavičius scored 10 goals for the visitors and Modestas Štarolis one less for Granitas-Karys. The teams will meet again in two weeks time over two legs in the EHF Challenge Cup.
Photo: Nils Kreicbergs of Tenax is the early leader in top scorer rankings having recorded 16 goals over this weekend.