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28.08.2018, 12:00
Medvedi rely on development of young talents
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VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS). The perennial Russian champions have not experienced much success in Europe recently, but coach Vladimir Maximov hopes the maturing of their young players will lead them out of the group phase
 

Medvedi rely on development of young talents

Despite the departure of many experienced players in recent years and the emergence of strong rivals Spartak Moscow, Chekhovskie Medvedi continue their dominance in Russian handball. However, their results in Europe have declined, so the Chekhov-based team want to make a step in the right direction in the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19.

Three questions ahead of the new season:

- Can the team make any progress with minimal changes in the squad?

In the last four seasons, starting from 2014/15, Medvedi could not progress from their VELUX EHF Champions League group and their results gradually deteriorated. Last season, the ‘Bears’ finished at the bottom of Group D with just five points.

However, it was a learning experience, and with their young roster staying almost completely intact this summer, Chekhov hope to bounce back and get some better results – preferably advancing from the group.

“Last season, our young team claimed only two wins in the group. We hope that this autumn our results will be more significant,” says team manager Alexander Safonov.

- Will Medvedi continue to dominate in Russia?

Since being founded in 2001, the Bears have won the domestic league every year. But the ambitious project Spartak Moscow may put an end to Chekhov’s dominance. Established in 2017, the team from the Russian capital seriously challenged Medvedi in their debut season, though they lost in the final series.

Now Spartak have further bolstered their squad, so nothing can be taken for granted – and no one can guarantee that Medvedi will take part in the VELUX EHF Champions League 2019/20.

- Will Vladimir Maximov discover some more talents?

The legendary coach faced a big challenge in recent years as many key players left the team, but he kept leading Medvedi to one domestic title after another. One of the main reason was Maximov's productive work with young talents. With his vast experience, the 72-year-old coach knows how to discover new players and contribute to their development, so we may see a breakthrough of some youngsters in the coming season.

Under the spotlight: Dmitriy Santalov

The 22-year-old left back joined the main team of Medvedi in 2014, and he was the youngest member of the squad at the time. Since then, Santalov has not just won the Russian league four times, but became a key player of the Bears, and he became their top scorer last season. There were rumours that the Russian international might join Vardar this summer, but ultimately he stayed at Chekhov.

Under the spotlight: Vladimir Maximov

With Medvedi’s roster full of relatively young players, the head coach seems to be their biggest star. Indeed, the 72-year-old patriarch is a legend of not only Russian, but global handball. In the past, Maximov led the Russia national team to a number of titles, and he has been in charge of the Bears since their foundation in 2001.

In recent years, the coach has faced an even bigger challenge than before, as many experienced players left the team, but he has still guided Medvedi to one domestic title after another.

Self-esteem

A year ago, Chekhov’s squad was rejuvenated, but now the young players have matured and gained enough experience to improve their performance in Europe.

“This time, we would like to progress from the group in the Champions League. I think we are capable of doing it. Our rivals may have more experienced players, but we have to show passion and commitment,” says coach Maximov.

Fun fact

When looking at the Medvedi squad for the first time, one could assume that Kirill and Alexander Kotov are brothers. However, the two are not related to each other and come from different places: 26-year-old playmaker Kirill, who is now Medvedi captain, was raised in Dolgoprudny near Moscow, while 24-year-old right back Alexander originally comes from Volgograd.

What the numbers say

Starting from 2002, the team from Chekhov have won every season of the Russian Super League, which makes it 17 titles in a row. No other VELUX EHF Champions League club is so dominant in their domestic league as the Bears.

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS)

Qualification for the 2017/18 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Russian champions

Newcomers: Maxim Strushinsky (Dinamo Astrakhan)

Left the club: Mikhail Sharkov (SGAU Saratov)

Coach: Vladimir Maximov (since 2001)

Team captain: Kirill Kotov

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 17
Semi-finalist (1): 2009/10
Quarter-finalist (2): 2008/09, 2010/11
Last 16 (3): 2004/05, 2006/07, 2012/13
Main Round (1): 2007/08
Group Phase (8): 2001/02, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2005/06, 2011/12, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18

Other EC records:

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Winners (1): 2005/06

Russian league: 17 titles (2002-2018)

Russian Cup: seven titles (2009-2013, 2015, 2018)


TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cg
 
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