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News / It's time for the BHL Final Four!
Baltic Handball League
It's time for the BHL Final Four!
Another long season in Baltic Handball League is coming to an end. Twelve teams started back in September, seven months and 66 games later we have four teams coming together in Minsk for the 2018/19 season's Final Four. Dragunas Klaipeda, SKA Minsk, ZTR Zaporozhye, Cocks Riihimäki – one of these teams will be crowned as champions on Sunday!
First semi-final will bring together two sides, who between of them have shared the last six titles in Baltic Handball League. Last time any other club celebrated victory, was back in 2012, when HC Kehra was champion. Hosts SKA will meet title-holder Cocks and curiously enough in these last six seasons, they have always met in the Final Four!
Both three-time winners aiming for more glory
Three meetings were in the final with SKA winning two and Cocks being better in 2016, when they won club's first BHL title. Last two years Cocks have knocked SKA out in the semi-final stage, beating their opponent by one- and two-goal margins. In the regular season the Belarussians took victories both home and away, by 26:22 and 31:28.
"We are playing at home, which is a huge event for our club. I believe SKA had deserved to host the Final Four in Minsk – both with our results and with the passion our fans have for handball. We hope to make it a great festival, but on sporting side, we obviously are aiming to take the title back," commented Ihar Papruha, the head coach of the hosts.
SKA did not have the best of preparations, as on Wednesday they lost in domestic league to Kronon Grodno 24:25 (Mikita Vailupau 6 goals). "It was difficult, players returned from national teams and we gave playing time for all to see their conditions. Luckily, all players are fit and we welcomed back Artur Rudz after months of injury," explained Papruha.
"As we had almost half of the squad away with national teams and no domestic games, this week we have been working hard to glue the team back together. All players returned in good conditions and even Nico Rönnberg, who had to miss the EURO 2020 matches due to injury, is fit and ready," said Cocks's head coach Gintaras Savukynas.
"We lost both matches to SKA in regular season, but at those times were not in best of form. All four teams are strong and I expect a very interesting Final Four. I can see that our players are ready and our goal for BHL does not change – we want to win!" added the boss of the champions of last three seasons.
Dragunas wants more, ZTR lost Artemenko
The second semi-final is between teams, who finished on 13 points in the regular season just behind SKA. However, in the head-to-head matches, Dragunas Klaipeda twice beat ZTR Zaporozhye – 29:25 in autumn and 28:26 in January. Last time Dragunas reached the Final Four was back in 2012, while ZTR has finished second and fourth in the last two seasons.
"We should not look back to the two victories in regular season, we played at home both times and now it's completely different. I am sure ZTR will come with revenge in their minds and it will be very tough. Already qualifying to the Final Four was a little win for us, but of course we now want more," commented Dragunas' head coach Arturas Juškenas.
"For three weeks we had no official matches and this may be a problem, but not a one behind which we will hide if results will not go our way. Fortunately we travelled to Riga and played a friendly against Celtnieks, so we won't be all that rusty. Players are more or less fit and definitely ready to go and fight in Minsk," claimed Juškenas.
"Unfortunately we lost our left-winger Dmytro Artemenko until the end of the season and in the last match Roman Severyn hurt his ankle, but he will be ok. On positive side, another pivot Ivan Burzak returned after two months off," shared ZTR's head coach Vitaliy Nat his team news after Wednesday's 34:15 domestic win over HC Odessa (Oleksii Ganchev 6).
"We are preparing very seriously for the Final Four, as we consider it to be the most important weekend of the season. Our semi-final opponent Dragunas is a very strong team and defeated us twice in regular season, so we have to improve. The key will be the individual professionalism and mindset of the players," added Nat.
2018/19 BHL Final Four schedule (local times):
20.04. 17:00 SKA Minsk – Cocks Riihimäki
20.04. 19:30 ZTR Zaporozhye – Dragunas Klaipeda
21.04. 15:30 3rd place play-off
21.04. 18:00 Final
On photo: Last season, SKA and Cocks also met in the semi-final and surely experienced wingers Ivan Brouka (on the left) and Teemu Tamminen will again be key figures. (Photo: Helin Potter/archive).