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BHL Newsletter: Rocky start for most BHL countries in EURO 2020
It was not an easy start in the EHF EURO 2020 second qualifying stage for six countries which form the Baltic Handball League. Especially the first matchday, when all six lost their matches! Latvia, Ukraine and Belarus then took victories few days later, but Estonia, Lithuania and Finland will have to wait until April 2019 to open their point tally.
EHF EURO 2020 qualifying matches started across Europe and involved 32 teams. The first two teams of each of the 8 groups qualify for EURO 2020 in Sweden, Austria and Norway and so do the best four of the third-ranked teams. As it stands none of the BHL countries top their qualifying groups, but it is still four games to be played in April and June next year.
Latvia beat Netherlands with BHL players heavily involved
Probably one of the surprise packages of the first EURO 2020 qualifying week was Latvia. The Latvian league does not even have a ranking on EHF coefficient list, but the national team produced some quality handball in both matches of last week. In the opening game, Latvia played 2017 World Championships bronze-medallists Slovenia away, which is no easy task for any teams in the world.
Latvians lost the game in the first half, but put up a very good fight and came home with 27:21 (14:7) defeat. Six players from BHL clubs were involved, many of them in big roles with Nils Kreicbergs of ZRHK Tenax Dobele scoring three goals. On Sunday, Latvians were even better and took an excellent 29:25 (17:11) win over upcoming handball nation the Netherlands.
Celtnieks Riga goalkeeper Raitis Purinš made some great saves and his team-mate Rihards Leja, Tenax's Egils Politers and Kreicbergs recorded goals. Latvian star was however experienced Maris Veršakovs, who plays his club handball in Germany's third league, but sits now second in EURO 2020 top scorer list with 17 goals, just one behind Bundesliga's Swiss star Andy Schmid.
Another successful team last week was Ukraine. They shocked current Olympic champions Denmark at least in the first half, but still lost 30:24 (12:12) as ZTR Zaporozhye's Andrii Akimenko scored three goals. And on Sunday Ukraine defeated Montenegro at home by 29:24 (15:12) with Cocks Riihimäki's Olexandr Kyrylenko scoring three goals and Akimenko adding one.
Belarus overcame shock defeat to beat Finland
Belarus was probably involved in one of the more entertaining matches of last week. in Minsk on Thursday, Belarussians had a comfortable four- and five-goal leads against Bosnia-Herzegovina and even with less than ten minutes remaining the hosts were up 27:24, but managed to lose the game after Nikola Prce's penalty throw at the final whistle by 30:29 (12:16). Mikita Vailupau of SKA Minsk was Belarus' best scorer with six goals.
On Saturday, the only meeting between two BHL countries took place in Vantaa, as Finland hosted Belarus. The guests had learned from their mistakes against Bosnians and run away already in the first half. Eventually Belarus beat Finland 27:20 (15:8). SKA's Dzmitry Nikulenkau scored three goals for the winners, while Cocks' Teemu Tamminen was Finland's best with five.
Three days earlier the Finns had an away game against the sensation of EHF EURO 2018 and although fighting hard they could not beat Czech Republic, who won 31:27 (15:12). Tamminen was again Finland's best, scoring more than a one-third – ten to be exact – of goals for the losing team. His club team-mate Kalle Alander was also involved as a goalkeeper.
Arturas Juškenas resigns as national coach
Lithuania probably had the toughest tasks of all European teams, as they opened their EHF EURO 2020 qualifying away against the reigning World champions France. So the scoreline 42:27 (21:10) was not really a surprise. Dragunas Klaipeda's Gabrielijus Virbauskas scored three goals with five more BHL players inolved.
On Sunday, in a home game against Portugal – who had surprised Romania few days earlier – Lithuania was behind until 35th minute, but then took a 19:15 lead into the last 13 minutes. Strangely, Portugal managed to turn it around and with 80 seconds left scored the winning goal to leave Klaipeda with a 24:23 (12:10) win.
Immediately after the second defeat, Lithuanian head coach Arturas Juškenas, who also manages BHL side Dragunas, resigned, commenting on Lithuanian Handball Federation web-site: "The team needs new ideas. If we had won, I would have stayed. It is not an easy task, but we can still qualify – maybe another coach can do it better."
Estonia started the qualifying campaign under new head coach Thomas Sivertsson. The experienced Swede obviously needs more time to get his ideas to the players, as Estonia lost both matches. Netherlands was better 35:25 (17:10) and Slovenia escaped Tallinn with a 31:20 (16:11) win. Overall seven players from three BHL clubs were involved for Estonia.
ZTR wins a league match and appoints new club director
ZTR was the only BHL club, who had a league match last week. They agreed to play a postponed match against ZNTU-ZAS Zaporozhye, eventhough both teams had respectively three and two players away with Ukrainian national team. ZTR dominated the second half and took a comfortable 33:22 (15:11) win with Oleksii Ganchev, Maksym Karamyshev and Dmytro Artemenko all scoring seven goals.
The Ukrainian runner-up and last season's fourth team in BHL also had a big announcement during the week, as long-serving club director Sergey Ivanisov resigned from his post he had held since the formation of the club in 1992 due to family issues. Newly appointed club director is Oleksii Tyschenko.
Tyschenko, who will turn 70 on 1st January, is no new face in ZTR. Since the formation of the club in 1992, he has worked as a commercial director, as well as the head of ZTR's academy. As a player, Tyschenko was a top-class right-back, representing the USSR national team, as well as winning the EHF Cup in 1983 with ZII Zaporozhye.
On photo: Nils Kreicbergs of ZRHK Tenax Dobele was heavily involved, when Latvia beat Netherlands in EURO 2020 qualifier. (Photo: LHF).