Which team will win Baltic Handball League 2020?
News / Quarter-finals start this weekend
Baltic Handball League
Quarter-finals start this weekend
Three pairs, six teams and only three places available for the 2019/20 Baltic Handball League's Final Four – this is what will be at stake inside the next nine days. BHL quarter-finals will start this weekend with the return legs played a week later. SKA Minsk secured a place in the Final Four after winning the Group A of the regular season.
BHL title-holder Cocks Riihimäki will travel to Kehra for the opening leg of the quarter-final tie against HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper. In the last two seasons the teams have met four times in group stage and Cocks has won all games with the minimal advantage of eight goals. Kehra's last win over the Finnish side came 5,5 years ago, in November 2014.
2016 winning coach Kaj Kekki returns to BHL
The match on Sunday also marks the return of Kaj Kekki to BHL, as the experienced coach took over Cocks less than two weeks ago. "It is good to be back in Baltic League, but these are busy times. I am trying to take one day at the time, as there are so many things to think about," said Kekki, whose last match in charge in BHL was the 2016 final, beating SKA Minsk for Cocks' inaugural win.
"I have seen couple of Kehra's matches on video and it will not be an easy game, as in fact, there are no easy matches in BHL. Surely all six teams in quarter-finals would like to qualify to Final Four, just as us. Luckily we have now a full strength team and it seems to be in a good form as well," assured Kekki.
Kehra is currently in great home form, having not lost a single match in all competitions in their own hall during this season. On Thursday they extended this run to 17 matches, beating Viljandi HC in Estonian league by 29:21. Uvis Strazdinš and Vladyslav Naumenko scored six goals with the latter also picking up Player of the Month award for February.
"Cocks is a clear favourite and we are going to the match as underdogs. Sometimes it is better this way and I hope we can put up a good performance at home. Stranger things have happened in sports, even Liverpool FC recently lost three matches," hinted Kehra's head coach Mart Raudsepp to English football team's surprising defeats.
Coaches of Serviti and Dragunas expect a tight clash
A mouthwatering clash is expected between two BHL old-timers Serviti Põlva and Dragunas Klaipeda. These teams will definitely produce tight matches, that is the history between the teams and coaches. This season Dragunas won both games in the regular season by three goals, but in 2015/16 Serviti eliminated the Lithuanian side in two international competitions – in the EHF Cup and in the quarter-finals of BHL.
"Obviously it will not be easy, Dragunas always seems to step up in games against us. We were almost out of the competition in early February, so at least we have no pressure on us. Concentration will be on our own game plan, hoping to break the opponent with good defence and goalkeeping," analyzed Kalmer Musting, Serviti's head coach.
Serviti and Dragunas are currently on top of the table in their domestic leagues. While Serviti had an easy 38:17 win on Wednesday over Aruküla/Audentes (Henri Sillaste and Tõnis Kase 8 goals), Dragunas had to work hard the day before, beating fellow BHL side Granitas-Karys Kaunas 35:34 (Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas 8).
"It has not been an easy week, losing the domestic cup final and having to struggle to beat Granitas. I am not happy with how we are playing, especially in defence. And Serviti… I cannot remember an easy game against them. The fact we won twice in regular season, has absolutely no meaning," said Dragunas' head coach Arturas Juškenas.
Home advantage the key in Šviesa v Tenax tie
Neighbours will meet in the third quarter-final, as Latvian champion ZRHK Tenax Dobele will play VHC Šviesa Vilnius, who recently claimed the Lithuanian Cup. However, in midweek Šviesa suffered a surprise defeat in the league, at home to Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus 31:27 (Laurynas Palevičius 9) and were knocked off the first place by Dragunas.
"We have very mixed emotions from last week – celebrating the cup win and losing in the league. It seemed we forgot having an important league match after the cup final. Tenax is going to the quarter-finals as the favourite and I hope that helps us. Looking to the past, we have been good at home, so the first leg is especially important," admits Raimondas Maldžius, Šviesa's head coach.
Recent history does seem to be on the side of whoever plays at home in this pair. In the last two seasons only home wins have been registered. Last year both teams played in Group B and Tenax emerged as winners with 17 points with Šviesa just one point behind.
"It will be very tough two matches ahead, Šviesa has proved to be an uncomfortable opponent for us. They are running a lot, playing fast and have clearly raised their level recently. I am expecting very even games, but we really would like finally to overstep the line of quarter-finals," commented Tenax's head coach Sandris Veršakovs.
On photo: The matches between Serviti and Dragunas have always been full of tension and emotions. (Photo: Helin Potter).