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17.03.2016, 17:00
Stojkovic looking forward to meeting old friends
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FEATURE: HC Meshkov Brest top scorer and former fan favourite in Kielce will face his Polish ex-club in the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16.
 

Stojkovic looking forward to meeting old friends

For Rastko Stojkovic, the upcoming matches of the VELUX Champions League Last 16 between HC Meshkov Brest and KS Vive Tauron Kielce will be special. The Serbian line player, who is Brest's top scorer in the competition with 77 goals, played for Vive between 2009 and 2013.

With the Polish side he won three titles of a national champion and helped them reached their premiere participation at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2013.

"The squad of Vive has not changed much since that, and I played with almost everyone except maybe Julen Aguinagalde and Piotr Chrapkowski," Stojkovic told ehfCL.com.

Rastko has especially good memories about Vive's president Bertus Servaas. "He is a great manager, a person who knows how to build a club. Bertus helped me a lot, and he is one of the best people I have ever met in my life. We actually have birthday on the same day, 12 July, and we still congratulate each other. Last time we talked just a few weeks ago, and Servaas wished me good luck in the matches against Skjern," said Stojkovic.

In the Group C+D play-off, the Belarusian champion beat the Danish club and now they are going to face their geographical neighbours from Poland.

Stojkovic perfectly realises that now his team is not the favourite: "It would be not grateful to say that we will definitely win. Vive are a strong side, they are one of the favourites of the Champions League together with Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Veszprém."

And he goes on: "But this is sport, there is always a chance. By reaching the Last 16, we have already achieved our goal, which will make us more relaxed. Vive will feel more pressure as they are expected to win. We just have to wait for our chance."

The right way

After leaving Kielce in the summer of 2013, Rastko came back to his homeland Serbia where he signed a contract with RK Crvena Zvezda. He wanted to play at home and stay with his family, but spent only several months in Belgrade.

The Serb received a lucrative offer from Qatar's Al-Rayyan, where he also spent a couple of months. And in December 2013, he signed with HC Meshkov Brest.

"My first experience in Belarus was not very pleasant. I arrived in Brest late at night, it was 22 or 23 degrees below zero," recalls the player.

"Long winters and strong winds are still a problem, but overall now I obviously feel much better. My initial contract expired last year, but I signed a new one until 2017. Brest are on the right way, the team has good potential, and I am sure that in the next season we will be even stronger."

Born in Belgrade, Stojkovic wanted to become an actor when he was young. His grandfather, Danilo Bata Stojkovic, was a famous actor in Serbia. However, Rastko's love for handball was stronger.

The robust pivot played in Serbia, then moved to Germany where he played for Vfl Pfullingen and SG Nordhorn-Lingen. "It was a great life experience. I like to learn something every day. In fact, three times in my life I started from zero — in Germany, Poland and Belarus. But when I retire, I will settle in Serbia," he says.

Feeling young

But so far, Stojkovic does not really think about retiring, at least on a club level. He will turn 35 in July, but the player does not feel his age: "I feel surprisingly young. Maybe I was lucky as I have never had serious injuries in my career. I have a good health."

But in the Serbian national team, Rastko's days seem to be over. At least he was left out of the squad for the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland. "Probably my international career is over. I have played my role in the national team, but I am almost 35, and now they rely on younger players," he explains.

So the Serb fully focuses on his club which has a difficult task in the Last 16. Brest's head coach Sergey Bebeshko thinks that playing the first leg against Vive at home will give his side a disadvantage.

But Stojkovic seems to disagree: "We have to accept the calendar as it is. When you play against a team like Skjern, maybe it is really easier to start on the road. But if you face such powerful opponents as Vive, Barcelona or Kiel, you have to play well in both legs, no matter if you start at home or away."
 


TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / es, br
 
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