For the second time ever in the history of the SEHA – Gazprom League Final 4, two teams from the same country will face off in a semi-final. Six years after Vardar beat Metalurg 22:21, now the two Croatian SEHA – Gazprom League founders PPD Zagreb and Nexe, who both play their eighth season in the competition, clash for a spot in the final in Brest.
Semi-Final 1, Tuesday, 2nd of April, 17:30 local time: PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs Nexe (CRO)
One of the two record SEHA – Gazprom League Final 4 participants face a debutant: Already after the end of the regular season and prior to the Final 4, Nexe have reached their best ever ranking in the SEHA – Gazprom League. So far, the fifth position in the premier season of the competition in 2011/12 was the best result of the Nasice based team.
Now Nexe have made it to the Final 4 for the first time, finishing the regular season ranked, third giving an even better position from their hands due to the defeats at Vojvodina and at home against Meshkov Brest at the end of the season. But the team of the head coach Hrvoje Horvat is eager to leave their imprint on the SEHA – Gazprom League Final 4 in Brest.
Nexe have already proven how to beat PPD Zagreb in the opener of the regular season by a 23:22 - and finally Nexe were even equal in points with their arch rivals from Zagreb, after PPD Zagreb lost their last regular season match 28:29 on home ground against Tatran Presov and their former coach Slavko Goluza, while only winning one of the last four matches. Both, Nexe and PPD Zagreb, finally had 13 victories and five defeats on their tally. The second All-Croatian duel was the lowest scoring match of the whole regular season, as Zagreb stroke back by a 20:17.
Besides their top scorer Halil Jaganjac, who transferred from Metalurg to Nasice during the season, new goalkeeper Moreno Car (who had arrived from Porec) was the rising star in the Nexe team. Jaganjac, who had been overall top scorer of the 2017/18 season, is the best scorer of the SEHA – Gazprom League, taking into account players still in competition. But the 20-year old is hunted by Zagreb’s veteran Zlatko Horvat, who has 75 goals on his tally prior to the Final 4 in Brest.
Thanks to their bigger international experience, PPD Zagreb are supposed to be the favourites in this semi-final. The side of the new coach Branko Tamse aim for their third final experience after winning the trophy in 2013 and finishing ranked second in 2018. Since the start of the SEHA – Gazprom League in 2011/12, Zagreb had always been participants of the Final 4, and only like defending champions Vardar accomplished the same feature.
For PPD goalkeeper Urh Kastelic - besides Car one of the strongest keepers of the competition, the Final 4 will be his farewell from the SEHA – Gazprom League, as he will join the Bundesliga side Frisch Auf Göppingen - but the 22-year old Slovenian definitely wants to leave with a trophy.
While Zagreb had the better attack, scoring 484 goals compared to 469, Nexe were stronger in defence, conceding only 420 compared to 442 of PPD Zagreb.