04 Sep. 2020
After a pause of several months, the SEHA – Gazprom League 2019/20 returned in late August with the last quarter-final matches, and now the top international league for south-eastern European clubs will see the title decided this weekend in Zadar, Croatia.
North Macedonian club HC Vardar will have the chance to defend their 2018/19 title after winning the last quarter-final tie against Croatian side RK Nexe and booking the last remaining ticket to the Final 4 event for 2019/20. Their quarter-final tie, along with that of Hungarian side Telekom Veszprém HC and Serbian club Vojvodina, was interrupted after the first leg when COVID-19 hit Europe in March.
After winning the first leg away against Nexe by one goal, 31:30, Vardar lost the return fixture by one, 25:26, making the aggregate score between the teams completely level. Vardar secured the semi-final place based on the away-goal rule for two-leg knock-out games, as they had scored more on Nexe’s court. Meanwhile, Veszprém’s second-leg match against Vojvodina was cancelled due to restrictions preventing travel for the Serbian team, and the Hungarian side were awarded the Final 4 place.
For Veszprém, the 2019/20 season marked a return to the SEHA League after a two-season absence from this competition. The Hungarian team contested the final in their latest season, 2016/17, finishing as runners-up after winning back-to-back titles in 2014/15 and 2015/16. For the upcoming semi-final, to be played on Friday evening at 18:00 CEST, Veszprém will meet the same opponents they did in this stage in 2016/17, Belarusian club Meshkov Brest.
“We are all in the same position after such a long break and a long time without handball. And to play at a Final 4 is always a mixture of daily performance, high quality and sometimes a bit of luck,” said Brest coach Raul Alonso in the pre-semi-final press conference. “We know that we face a great team with great players in the semi-final, but we came here to make it to the final and fight for the trophy. But we know that we have to play very well to beat a team like Veszprem.”
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Vardar will also meet a familiar rival in the semi-final stage (throw-off at 20:30 CEST): Croatian club HC PPD Zagreb, against whom Vardar played for the SEHA title in 2018/19 and 2017/18, as well as in the 2016/17 semi-final. On all three occasions, Vardar were the victors.
Vardar are the record title holders in the SEHA League, with five trophies, including the last three – although powerhouse Veszprém did not contest those seasons. If these two sides, who also met in the 2018/19 Champions League final, won by Vardar, are the finalists, Vardar’s hold on the title will be under significant threat. Alongside Vardar and Veszprém (two titles), the only other winners of this relatively young competition have been Zagreb, in 2012/13.
More information on the SEHA League can be found on the official website. The semi-finals are to take place on Friday night, 4 September, while the finals will be played on Sunday 6 September.
PHOTO: SEHA League