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News / Final weekend of regular season promises fascinating matches
Baltic Handball League
Final weekend of regular season promises fascinating matches
Regular season of 2018/19 Baltic Handball League will end in the coming weekend and what a final two days we will have in the competition. SKA Minsk and ZTR Zaporozhye will go head-to-head in Minsk to determine the direct qualifier for the Final Four, while other three places in Group A are all still unclear. In Group B there is a three-horse race for two places.
ZTR and SKA approach the final weekend of the regular season with equal 13 points in Group A. As ZTR beat the Belarussians 32:26 in September, it means SKA needs a win in order to finish on top, while for ZTR draw is enough. Top two is followed by Dragunas Klaipeda with 9, Serviti Põlva with 8 and Cocks Riihimäki with 7 points.
Arturas Juškenas: we will fight for the third place
Dragunas is in pole position to finish third and get a quarter-final opponent from Group B, but they have to play Cocks on Saturday and HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper the day later. Just two weeks ago the Lithuanian champion lost to Finns at home 21:25 and now will play on more or less neutral ground, in Viimsi, Estonia.
"We have created the problems for ourselves and now we have to get out of trouble," commented Arturas Juškenas, the head coach of Dragunas. "We had chances to finish first and now we are even in danger to drop to fifth place. Key match for us was the minimal loss at home to Serviti – if we would have won, the mood, confidence and definitely the standings would be different."
Juškenas praised the ongoing season and the level in Group A. "The change of format was a great decision and the games have been on very high level, which in turn helps all teams and handball in the region. This weekend we will do our utmost to fight for the third place and avoid Serviti or Cocks in the quarter-finals," added Dragunas' boss.
A team, who can throw in their word in the Group A mix, is HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper. They are the only team this season without a point in BHL, but have just finished first in Estonian league's regular season. Kehra will host Serviti on Saturday before welcoming Dragunas the day later.
Title-holder Cocks hopes to improve attack
BHL title-holder Cocks has so far had a miserable season, considering the standards they set in previous three years, winning 41 matches in a row! After having an excellent debut season in EHF Champions League, Cocks has lost four games and drawn one to find themselves in fifth place of BHL's Group A.
"We only came back with a point from Belarus and Ukraine, but we are not yet in form we would like to be," admits Cocks' head coach Gintaras Savukynas. "However, it looks much better than in January and as decisive matches in Baltic and Finnish leagues will only be in April, so we are confident we are getting back."
"During the coming weekend we will put in the maximum effort to finish as high as possible in the table, but we are not concerned, who will be our quarter-final opponent. The key is to get our attack to the same level as our goalkeepers and defence, which are already close to optimal," added Savukynas.
Two weeks ago Serviti managed to beat Cocks at home 25:24 and will face them again on Sunday. The day before there will be the Estonian El Clasico, as it is called, in Kehra. Serviti has won two and drawn two matches against their biggest domestic opposition this season, but last time the two teams met in December, it was Kehra who took a 33:27 victory.
HC Tallinn facing a difficult task in Lithuania
In Group B, ZRHK Tenax Dobele has secured the place in quarter-finals with 15 points. The Latvian champion has a derby-match against Celtnieks Riga on Saturday. The fight for the second ticket will be between VHC Šviesa Vilnius – who currently has 12 points – and HC Tallinn, who is just one point behind.
Šviesa and Granitas-Karys Kaunas will host Tallinn and Viljandi HC over the weekend. For the Estonian cup-winner it is at least mathematically "easy" job – winning both games will see them qualified for quarter-finals. If Viljandi manages to draw or win on Saturday against Šviesa, draw would be enough for Tallinn on Sunday, as in September Tallinn beat Šviesa 27:22.
While Estonian league is on the break, Lithuanian championships continued this midweek. Two BHL's Group B teams played against eachother and Šviesa defeated Granitas-Karys by 27:21 (Karolis Antanavičius 7 – Paulius Šarkauskas 8 goals). Šviesa and Dragunas have 24 points, Granitas-Karys 21 with the Vilnius' club having played one game more.
"It will be very difficult trip, as Lithuanian teams are always strong at home," said HC Tallinn's head coach Jüri Lepp. "Unfortunately we cannot rely on a full-strength team, as several players are out injured or missing for other reasons. However, our younger players have recently shown great development, so I am hoping for a good fight from them also on international level," said Tallinn's head coach Jüri Lepp.
On photo: Robin Oberg breaking through Granitas-Karys Kaunas defence. In September HC Tallinn beat both Lithuanian teams at home, now it's time for away games. (Photo: HC Tallinn).