SKA accepts challenge and wins!

SKA handball club wins EHF Challenge Cup, the third most important European handball tournament, hosted by Minsk-Arena — the country’s biggest sports complex
By Dmitry Baranovsky

Belarusian SKA defeated Luxembourg Esch in the finals of the Challenge Cup, which many view as the ‘poor man’s event’ in comparison to the Champions League and EHF Cup. However, SKA views its success as a landmark moment: not only because the Euro Challenge may cease to exist from next season but because the team line-up is about to change significantly.

During their final match, the squad managed to put aside all other thoughts, led by legendary coach Spartak Mironovich (who headed the club back in the 1980s, when SKA last won the event). The team were hungry for victory, eager to repeat their success of 23 years ago. Those veteran players went on to join other clubs, enjoying good careers in handball. It had been too long since SKA had tasted the sweetness of supremacy.

Belarus’ current champion, in the group stage of the Champions League, Minsk Dinamo, recently parted with three of its leading Belarusian handball players, replaced by foreign handballers. Boris Pukhovsky, Sergey Shilovich and Alexander Titov have temporarily rejoined SKA: the team where they began their handball journey. Each has already found a contract for next season but, meanwhile, SKA can only benefit from their expertise.

“We’ve waited an anticipation of repeating what happened 30 years ago. Finally, it’s happened and I’m glad to have been part of this victory. It may not be the Champions Cup but I’m proud of my young team, which consists only of Belarusians, ” emphasised SKA head coach Spartak Mironovich at the post-match press conference. He could not hide his joy and pride in the squad, which truly deserved praise — especially as it comprised only Belarusians, and two-thirds junior staff. The victory was valuable to all the players, young and old, although even their coach admitted that the squad still has weaknesses to overcome, including over-reliance on its three veterans. Ivan Matskevich’s goalkeeping was erratic at times, despite some spectacular saves; in most cases, his success was the result of Luxembourg making less than accurate shots.

“In order to maintain and develop our current success, the team will definitely need to grow. In the off-season, we’ll think over the issue,” notes the club’s director, Pavel Galkin. He believes that it’s too early to declare the team ready to rival the European handball elite but Mr. Mironovich is confident that there’s plenty of time ahead. “The main thing is that we’ve put a new foot forward; any victories are ‘cool’!” A few days after the historic final, SKA played again at Minsk-Arena, battling Dinamo in the national championship. Next weekend, the tournament will complete but, regardless of the outcome, SKA and coach Spartak Mironovich are winners. 
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