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News / Thrilling quarter-final matches coming this week

Baltic Handball League

2019.03.07 13:39

Thrilling quarter-final matches coming this week

Two more participants of this season's Final Four of the Baltic Handball League – to join regular season winner SKA Minsk – will be clear by Sunday evening, as five of the six quarter-final matches will take place over three days. Arguably the most intriguing clash will take place between last year's finalists Serviti Põlva and Cocks Riihimäki.

Top two teams of 2017/18 season will play both legs in Põlva, while similar arrangement is in place for the tie between ZRHK Tenax Dobele and ZTR Zaporozhye. The last participant of the Final Four will be revealed next weekend, as VHC Šviesa Vilnius and Dragunas Klaipeda will play first leg on Sunday and the second next weekend.

Kalmer Musting: Cocks is the favourite in this pair

Serviti and Cocks managed to finish only fourth and fifth in the Group A and were therefore drawn together for quarter-finals. In the regular season both matches between the teams were held in February and Serviti came out on top, though by the smallest of margins – 25:24 at home and 26:25 in the "away" game, played in Viimsi.

The last year's final took place in Põlva and Cocks celebrated their third consecutive BHL title with a 26:23 win. During the week leading up to quarter-finals, both teams were successful in domestic league. Serviti defeated HC Tallinn by 31:20 (Henri Sillaste 5 goals) and Cocks beat Grankulla IFK 28:24 (Davor Basaric 9).

"We had some problems, as Andrei Novoselov got injured and Yury Lukyanchuk and Teemu Tamminen were ill, so we did want to risk the latter two before hugely important BHL matches. We lost twice to in-form Serviti in February, but will definitely want to turn the fortunes around during the weekend. We proved in last year's final, that Serviti can be beaten at home," said Gintaras Savukynas, the head coach of the title-defenders.

"We have no illusions – Cocks is the favourite in this pair," had Serviti's head coach Kalmer Musting no doubt. "But we did manage to beat them twice in February, so our players have clearly more confidence to go up against a Champions League team. We will go out and fight!"

Serviti has played 13 matches in two leagues in 2019 and have won 12 of them, being on a 11-game winning strike. "Results have been good and the form is going up, but we still need more stability, especially in attack. We still depend a lot on our defence, which has been excellent and our goalkeeper Eston Varusk, who is in great form," admits Musting.

Tenax and ZTR meeting for the very first time

Quarter-finals will kick off already on Friday, as ZRHK Tenax Dobele will host ZTR Zaporozhye on two consecutive days. The Latvian champion finished top of the Group B, while ZTR lost their lead in Group A in 2019, being unable to win any of the last three matches.

Curiously, the tie will also be an historic one, as the teams have never met before. "This fact can be an advantage or not, it is difficult to say. But it will definitely be interesting for both teams and also for our supporters, as they can witness a very strong and famous Ukrainian team for two days," said Sandris Veršakovs, head coach of Tenax.

"On paper of course ZTR is the favourite, but luckily for us, handball is not played on paper. We have had a break in the domestic league, which is very good. We had time to rest, as in this stage of the season occasionally you need to move away from handball. But we also managed to do some physical training and prepare just for these two matches," added Veršakovs.

"We have analyzed Tenax seriously based on videos from the regular season, but having never played against them, it is clear, that we have to be prepared to change gameplan quickly if something does not go right. I believe the key is which team manages to concentrate on their own strengths better and enforce it's own game," commented ZTR's head coach Vitaliy Nat.

Dragunas and Šviesa playing three times in one week

The two Lithuanian teams, who qualified from the regular season, will play each other. And as this was not enough, between the two quarter-final legs of BHL, they will meet in the final round of the Lithuanian championship's regular season. Dragunas leads the league with 26 points and Šviesa has 24. Having won in December, Šviesa needs a win to secure the first place.

"It is very interesting schedule for this one week – to play Dragunas three times and all matches of great importance. We are taking BHL very seriously and would like to qualify for the Final Four, but in the meantime we also want to finish first in the Lithuanian league. So we have to be very concentrated throughout the week," commented Šviesa's head coach Raimondas Maldžius.

"After having 14 matches inside 40 days, we finally had a weekend and midweek off. It was important for us to rest and then start preparations for the triple challenge. We would probably miss one of our key players, Valdas Drabavičius for the first match and with Dragunas in excellent form, the challenge will be very difficult," admits Maldžius.

Dragunas in the meantime is having a busy schedule. During the weekend the Lithuanian champion claimed the domestic cup, defeating Granitas-Karys Kaunas 35:22 in the final (Žanas Gabrielijus Virbauskas 9). And on Wednesday Dragunas beat the same team in the league by 40:28 (Virbauskas 7).

"Šviesa is definitely more fresh, having time to rest, while we were playing. And it is very difficult to play three games in a week against the same opponent. Not only because Šviesa is a strong side and we need to win, but also psychologically for players and tactically for coaches, as it is difficult to surprise the opponent," analyzed Arturas Juškenas, Dragunas' head coach.

"All three matches are equally important for us. We have great desire to qualify for BHL Final Four, having missed out in so many years. But it is also extremely important to finish on top of the league in Lithuania and secure a home advantage for play-offs," confirmed Juškenas.

On photo: Proving how international the BHL is, we have players from Estonia, Finland, Serbia, Belarus and Russia all in one picture during Serviti – Cocks match. (Photo: Helin Potter).