For the second straight time after 2018, Vardar and Meshkov Brest face off in a semi-final of the SEHA – Gazprom League Final 4 - and in total it is already their fifth duel of the defending and record SEHA – Gazprom League champions and the Final 4 hosts in this season. While Vardar hope to make it to their seventh final in eight years, Meshkov count on their home advantage and their great winning run at the end of the regular season.
Semi-Final 2, Tuesday, 2nd of April, 20:00 local time: Vardar (MKD) vs Meshkov Brest (BLR)
For the first time ever in the history of the SEHA – Gazprom League, two Spanish coaches will meet in a semi-final: Manolo Cadenas, who took over Meshkov Brest before the season from Sergej Bebeshko, will duel with Roberto Garcia Parrondo, the successor of the legendary Raul Gonzalez on the Vardar bench. This means that for the fourth straight time a Spanish coach will definitely make it to the final.
For the third straight season, Vardar finished the regular season of top, this time with 42 points, three points ahead of Nexe, PPD Zagreb Zagreb and Meshkov Brest, who all finished equal with 39 points. Despite the great exodus of top stars after the previous season, when Vardar took their fourth SEHA – Gazprom League trophy on home ground, the Macedonian champions proved their strength again.
But funny enough, Vardar did not take a single point against Meshkov Brest in the regular season of the SEHA – Gazprom League, in contrast: the 20:35 at Brest was the biggest defeat ever for the Skopje team, and even in their home fortress they lost 30:32 against the Belarusian champions. Despite those great results against the defending champions, Meshkov Brest needed a sensational comeback from December on to make it to the Final 4. After the 25:30 home defeat against Nexe, Belarusians only had four wins but five defeats on their tally, but then the Cadenas team re-started their engines, winning all remaining nine matches until the re-match at Nexe to score the longest unbeaten run of all clubs in the regular season.
Though they have beaten Vardar twice in the SEHA – Gazprom League, the overall outcome of Meshkov Brest against Vardar is almost equal, as Meshkov lost and tied to Vardar in the group matches of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Similar to the SEHA – Gazprom League, Meshkov had a great Champions League comeback and secured a spot in the Last 16 by beating Kristianstad in the last and crucial match after an intermediate series of nine matches without a victory. Vardar had finished third ranked in this group.
While Vardar have won the SEHA – Gazprom League already four times (2012, 2014, 2017, 2018) and became the second ever team after Veszprem to defend a title, Brest still waits for this trophy. In 2014 (against Vardar) and 2015 (against Veszprem), they had made it to the final, but were defeated twice. Now Meshkov will look to become the third ever host of a SEHA – Gazprom League Final 4 after Veszprem (2015) and Skopje (2018) to raise the trophy on home ground.
By far (and a 61-goal gap to second ranked Vardar), Meshkov Brest had the strongest attack of all ten teams in the regular season scoring 573 goals - and the best goal difference of +90. In twelve of 18 matches, Brest scored 30 goals or more. Vardar had the second-best attack and the fourth best defence by conceding 467 goals.
While the Serbian players Darko Djukic (57) and Petar Djordjic (56) currently are best Meshkov Brest scorers, three Vardar players have more than 50 goals on their tallies: Dmitrij Kiselev (57), Ivan Cupic (53), Dainis Kristopans (52).