Men's Challenge Cup final, first leg, Handball Esch (LUX) vs. SKA Minsk (BLR) 26:31 (11:14)
Minsk with one hand on the trophy
SKA Minsk have one hand on the Men's Challenge Cup trophy after having won the first leg of the final away against Handball Esch 31:26. The win makes the Belarusians huge favourites for the aggregate win ahead of the return match in Minsk on the coming Saturday.
The support from 3250 spectators in the Centre Sportif National d´COQUE, was not enough for the surprises packages of the Challenge Cup this season, Handball Esch to perform a real threat to the internationally experienced team from Minsk, despite the fact the attendance was considerably above the maximum capacity of 850 on Esch´s usual home ground, the Centre Omnisport H.Schmitz.
Already at half time, Minsk were leading by three goals, 14:11, and less than three minutes into the second half, Esch coach Werner Klöckner found it necessary to take his second team time-out in the match in the attempt to change the course of the game. His efforts were not enough, though, and the visitors were able to increase the guests' lead to five goals at the end.
In the days before the match, Minsk centre back and Belarusian international Barys Pukhouski expressed doubt towards eurohandball.com, if his team were favourites to take the title. In is first match, though, he did his bit to emphasise the feeling that he and his team-mates are indeed favourites to win the tournament. Pukhouski scored no less than 11 goals, making him top scoring player of the match, one goal ahead of left back Martin Müller from Esch who scored ten times for the hosts.
As mentioned before, Handball Esch have created handball history this season by being the first team from Luxembourg ever to enter a final in a European club competition.
Some things indicate that they will have to be content with that achievement for now. Catching up with Minsk's five goal lead will be extremely difficult in the return match in the Minsk Arena in the Belarusian capital on Saturday.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / br
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