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News / Cocks and ZTR joined SKA in the Final Four

Baltic Handball League

2019.03.11 12:43

Cocks and ZTR joined SKA in the Final Four

After the most fascinating regular season of recent years, it was surprising how one-sided some of the quarter-finals of 2018/19 Baltic Handball League turned out to be. ZTR Zaporozhye and title-defender Cocks Riihimäki marched to the final tournament with some relatively easy wins. The last participant of the Final Four will be decided next Saturday.

ZTR defeated ZRHK Tenax Dobele twice by more than 15 goals, while Cocks took a 11-goal advantage against Serviti Põlva on first day and despite losing on Sunday, qualified. Those two joined SKA Minsk in the Final Four, while Dragunas Klaipeda took a big step towards it, beating VHC Šviesa Vilnius in the opening leg 32:19.

Vitaliy Nat: it was surprisingly easy

ZTR played both quarter-final legs in Dobele on following days. On Friday, ZTR took an early lead, but in the 8th minute the score was still 4:3. Ten minutes later it was 11:4 and by half-time the Ukrainians had a clear 17:6 lead. Tenax had missed three penalty throws, while in defence they could not stop the left-handed Oleksii Ganchev, who had scored five goals.

Nothing changed in the second half, ZTR continued to extend their lead and all but secured the place in the Final Four with a 32:15 win. Dmytro Artemenko scored 8 and Ganchev 7 goals for the winners, while no player managed to record more than three for Tenax.

The following day did not turn out to be any different – before Tenax scored their first goal of the match in the fourth minute, ZTR had already a 4:0 lead. Runner-up in 2016/17 and fourth last season, ZTR won the match by 40:25. Andrii Akimenko scored 8 and Nikita Pančenko 6 goals respectively for the teams.

"It was surprisingly easy for us, I expected a much stronger opposition from Dobele. But I am very happy with the performance of our team. And it was important that we escaped injuries, as we have a hugely important match in the domestic league this week against champions HC Motor Zaporozhye," commented ZTR's head coach Vitaliy Nat.

Defence and goalkeepers shined in Põlva

"Old friends" Cocks and Serviti produced two very different games over the weekend. Saturday's first half was all about defence and goalkeepers. Both teams were very strong in defending, while Giedrius Morkunas and Eston Varusk shined in goal. First goal was scored in the fourth minute, but it took Serviti more than 11 (!) minutes to open their goal tally, when Henri Sillaste made it 4:1.

After low-scoring first half, which ended 8:8, Cocks took the initiative and 14:9 lead. Teemu Tamminen and Nico Rönnberg became unstoppable in attack and Cocks eventually all but secured their place in the Final Four with a 26:15 victory. Tamminen scored 8 goals for the winners and Henri Sillaste 5 for Serviti.

Estonian champion came out fighting the following day and despite again falling 4:1 behind, soon equalized and by half-time were 14:10 ahead. However, Serviti could not get more than a 5-goal lead and despite winning 24:21 were eliminated and for the first time in ten years will miss the Final Four.

"Very much satisfied with the qualification to the Final Four," admits Gintaras Savukynas, head coach of Cocks. "We knew it would be difficult and it was. Our results in regular season were not good and fifth-place finish was not what we expected. But we had a serious sit-down with players and talked things through."

Savukynas was also very impressed by both team's goalkeeping, while praising his own side's performance over the weekend. "Varusk was excellent in both matches, but our defence was very good throughout the two legs. We managed to attack better in the second half of the opening match and that was the key," analyzed Cocks' coach.

Dragunas takes a 13-goal advantage into the second leg

Another tight encounter was expected in Vilnius, where VHC Šviesa hosted Dragunas Klaipeda in the first leg, but it turned out differently. Karolis Bliuvas scored the first goal for the hosts, but then Dragunas ran away and soon led by 7:1! Lithuanian champion's defending was excellent and their quick counter-attacks deadly.

Not once could Šviesa get closer than six goals and Dragunas took a 17:10 half-time lead. In the second half, home side put up a serious fight. By 40th minute cut the deficit to 19:15, but then went 12 minutes without scoring and Dragunas won 32:19. Karolis Stropus scored 7 goals for winners, while BHL top scorer Karolis Antanavičius recorded 5 for Šviesa.

This week, the two teams will meet twice, as on Wednesday they have a very important domestic league match in Klaipeda. Dragunas leads Šviesa by two points and need at least a draw to secure the regular season win. On Saturday, they will travel to Klaipeda again in hope of playing back the 13-goal deficit from the BHL quarter-final first leg.

"Thirteen goals – it is a solid difference, but is it safe?" asked Dragunas' head coach Arturas Juškenas. "We'll see next Saturday. I still see what we need to improve and we will try to do it before the next match. We need to play more freely. Also the match proved how important is injured Valdas Drabavičius for Šviesa and they were missing him."

On photo: Defending and positive fighting – both were key factors in the Serviti – Cocks quarter-final matches. (Photo: Helin Potter).