National Champions of Europe – Men Part 2: North-East
Part two of the six-part series on Europe’s 2017/18 domestic champions takes a look at Finland, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Moldova.
10th title for Cocks
Not only did Cocks celebrate their first points ever in the EHF Cup Group Phase this season, after finishing the same stage with zero points last year – the club from Riihimäki also celebrated a record on domestic ground. For the 10th time, they were crowned Finnish champions.
However, the road to the title was not as smooth as it was in previous years.
In the semi-finals, which were played best of five this year, Cocks needed four matches against GrIFK to qualify for the final, as GrIFK won the second leg at home 30:28 after extra time.
This pattern repeated itself in the final series, which was also played best of five. Here, Dicken were the opponents, after B-46 made it to the final last season.
Dicken opened the final series with a surprise 29:26 win on away ground, before Cocks pulled back and won the second leg 26:22, also away. Cocks had trouble at home in the third leg – the ruling champions needed extra time to earn a narrow 26:25 win.
The fourth and, as it turned out, last match was also a close affair, but in what was their 71st game of the season, Cocks won 28:27 on Dicken’s court and could celebrate their 10th title.
Brest continue to dominate
Once again, HC Meshkov Brest dominated Belarusian handball. The team coached by Sergey Bebeshko won the championship for the 10th time – and the fifth straight year.
Unlike previous seasons, there were no play-offs in the Belarusian league, and Brest had to enter the competition from the very beginning and not from the decisive stages, as had happened before.
As Meshkov also took part in the VELUX Champions League and the SEHA League, they played as many as 70 official games during the season. Sometimes they even had two matches in different competitions on the same day, using different squads.
The rivalry between Brest and SKA Minsk was exciting. The teams met eight times in the league, with SKA winning twice and earning two draws. Brest claimed four victories, including the one on the final day of competition (22:19) – and finished three points clear of Minsk.
Medvedi challenged by Spartak
At first sight, nothing seems to have changed in Russia, where Chekhovskie Medvedi had another successful season and claimed their 17th straight title.
However, this year Medvedi, who had renewed their squad once again, were challenged by Spartak Moscow – a new and ambitious club who count several ex-Chekhov players in their roster.
The end of the regular season saw the rivals together on top of the table with 38 points – eight points clear of third-placed St. Petersburg.
From the play-offs, Medvedi had no problems reaching the final, while Spartak and St. Petersburg played a thrilling best-of-three semi-final. The Moscow-based team ground out a 32:30 win in extra time of the decisive game.
But in the final, Spartak came up short against Medvedi. Coach Vladimir Maximov’s team won 35:29 and 24:21, thus claiming victories in all their play-off matches this season.
No team in the Ukrainian league can snatch even one point from Motor Zaporozhye. Just like in the two previous seasons, the team enjoyed a 100 per cent record throughout their campaign, winning all 32 games and claiming their sixth straight title.
Zaporozhye is the true handball capital of the Ukraine as ZTR, another team from the city, finished as runners-up for the fourth consecutive year. ZTR should be credited for fighting until the end, as their title hopes vanished only in the penultimate round of games.
In the local derby, Motor beat ZTR 35:29 and went on to finish the tournament 10 points clear of second place.
Dragunas do it again
For the second year in a row, the Lithuanian league title went to Klaipeda Dragunas. Now the ‘Dragons’ are seven-time national champions and have failed to win the trophy only twice since their maiden success in 2010, losing it to Sviesa in 2012 and Alytaus in 2016.
In 2017/18, the team coached by Arturas Juskenas were solid once again. Following a successful regular season, Dragunas brushed aside Ula Varena in the quarter-final before beating KTU Kaunas in the semi-final.
In the best-of-five final series, the Dragons needed just three games to defeat Sviesa. The team from Vilnius fought hard, yet Dragunas won 34:31, 29:27 and 31:27 to defend their title.
Dobele back on top
It is not hard to predict who will reach the final of the Latvian league, as TENAX Dobele and Celtnieks Riga did it for the fourth straight season.
Last year, Celtnieks ended Dobele’s three-year reign and became champions for the first time since 1992. But this season, TENAX took revenge and claimed their fifth title.
In the best-of-five final, Dobele went in front (37:33) before Celtnieks fought back in Riga (35:22). TENAX’s only defeat during the whole competition was quite a lesson for the team, who improved their game and went on to comfortable wins at 25:19 and 30:22, making it 3:1 in the series.
Fourth straight title for Polva
There are two major powers in Estonian handball: Polva Serviti and HC Kehra. It was hardly surprising to see them both reach the final once again, and Polva had the upper hand in the series, winning it 3:0.
This is the fourth consecutive successful year for the team, who have won 12 of their 13 titles in the 21st century. Kehra are still 11-time champions.
Põlva Serviti on Eesti Meister 2018! Suured tänud kõigile, kes meisse uskusid ja meid toetasid. Suured tänud meie vingetele fännidele ja tantsutüdrukutele! Aitäh HC Kehra Horizon Pulp&Paperile ilusa seeria eest! 📷 @helin_potter #eestimeister #põlvaserviti #armastankäsipalli #estonianhandball #handballplayers #handballworld #hckehra #handballaddiction #handballpassion #puhkus #sügiselnäeme
PGU-Kartina TV Tiraspol raise 15th trophy
PGU-Kartina TV Tiraspol won their 15th national title after sweeping their rivals in the 12-game season.
It is the fifth title in the last nine seasons for PGU, the most established Moldavian team, who also represented their country in the EHF Men’s Challenge Cup two seasons ago.