Most people can agree that the 7th SEHA – Gazprom League season was significantly marked by Vardar. The three-time SEHA champions were dominant throughout the entire season and comfortably occupied the first place after 18 rounds. This season we also welcomed back two Serbian teams, PPD Zagreb managed to overcome many injuries and reserve a place at the Final 4 tournament alongside Meshkov Brest and Celje PL. It was another season in which the League moved forward, and this recap will definitely not be able to cover all the memorable moments from this great season!
The season started with an absolute gem of a match. Dominik Krok shocked Meshkov Brest with 2 very late goals to steal the win for Slavko Goluza and Tatran Presov. The newcomers Dinamo pretty much surprised the region with a big win against their rivals Vojvodina, and it was the sign of things to come from this very talented team, led by a great coach Ivan Petkovic. Right from the start we were able to tell it is going to be an extremely exciting season.
Slavko Goluza and his Tatran Presov had an almost perfect start. They won 5 matches out of opening 7, narrowly losing to Vardar and Celje PL. The team with a lot of youth and potential brought us some new stars like Bruno Butorac, who was brilliant in those matches. Igor Chupryna was also reliable in goal and it gave them 15 points on the season after 7 rounds. Vardar were very comfortable in most of their matches, displaying some terrific handball and quickly establishing themselves as the favourites to win the title for the 4th time. Celje PL were perhaps the only side to cause them some trouble, as they only won by 3 goals. It took 12 matches for the European champions to score less than 30 goals- it finally happened in Belarus against Meshkov when they recorded their only draw 25:25.
After losing 2 matches in the first 3 rounds, Meshkov Brest went on a big winning run. They won 6 matches in a row- including some important ones versus Celje PL and PPD Zagreb. Their deep roster and many good players on each position gave them a lot of options every single match. After coming 3rd last year on the Final 4 they hosted in Brest, they were eager to make a step forward this season.
The Slovenian champions Celje PL also played well during the first part of the season. Ziga Mlakar was their most reliable scorer, and Urban Lesjak had some amazing performances to ensure they remain in the position to play at their first Final 4 tournament. December was particularly impressive for Celje PL, as they won all four matches giving them 12 important points in the Final 4 battle. They managed to beat their national rivals Gorenje Velenje twice and were definitely happy with how their season was looking.
December was the most exciting period of the season! We had 21 matches in that month, but there was a lot of fun holiday content. Be8player announced the winner of the Best Handball Fan Contest - Nemanja Malicanin from Pancevo will be with us at the Final 4 in Skopje. A total of 1204 goals were scored in that period, and many matches attracted a big number of fans. All the teams had their moments, and some games were decided in the last few seconds.
Five SEHA countries participated at the EHF Euro 2018 in Croatia. SEHA – Gazprom League was represented by more than 40 players, but three of them were happier than other in the end of January. Daniel Dujshebaev, Joan Canellas and Arpad Sterbik won the gold medal with Spain and became the European champions for the first time. Vardar’s Sterbik was particularly impressive since he only joined the team in the semi-finals and absolutely stole the show with some amazing saves versus France and Sweden!
The season continued in Brest, and Vardar finally dropped some points in a 25:25 draw against Meshkov Brest. The favourites mainly continued to win games, and it started to look clear which 4 teams are going to play at the Final 4 tournament. Vardar, PPD Zagreb, Celje PL and Meshkov Brest kept on winning their matches, and Gorenje Velenje realistically fell out of contention after a loss to PPD Zagreb. The Slovenian vice-champions definitely left a good impression in some matches, defeating Meshkov twice this season, and they also played two close matches against PPD Zagreb. Players like Cehte, Verdinek, Ovnicek and Ferlin had some brilliant moments this season, and it is going to be interesting to see if they can improve even more next season.
The Serbian champions Vojvodina, who appointed Kasim Kamenica in January, probably hoped to have a better season. They lost to their rivals Dinamo twice, but also recorded wins against Nexe and Metalurg and managed to win some points in other matches. After Kamenica left PPD Zagreb, the club brought Zlatko Saracevic who was able to achieve some great results with the team that had to deal with certain player departures and many injuries throughout the entire season. Zlatko Horvat once again showed his class as he was the club’s top scorer once again.
The race for the top scorer was tight until the last round. Metalurg’s young star Halil Jaganjac was in incredible form after a slower start. Bruno Butorac who was top of the league in scoring for most of the season lost the pole position with just a few matches left. In the end Halil Jaganjac finished with 100 goals, whilst Bruno Butorac ended the season as second in scoring with 95 goals and second in assists with 51. Petar Zujovic from Dinamo had the most assists with 57!
There were many goalkeepers that enjoyed terrific seasons. Ferlin, Pesic, Lesjak, Milic and Chupryna could all make the case for the best goalkeeper of the season, providing their teams with a big dose of reliability in key moments of the match.
It was another great season, full of excitement. Vardar are going into the Final 4 tournament as big favourites, considering their form and the fact that they are hosting the entire event. We are sure that Skopje will prove itself as a great host city once again. The semi-final matches are scheduled for the 13th of April- Vardar play Meshkov Brest and PPD Zagreb are going against Celje PL.