A team with tradition
SKA Minsk is a club with a long tradition. The golden era of the Belarusian army team dates back to the 80’s. In those years, they managed to win five European competitions: the European Champions Cup (1987, 1989, 1990) and the Cup Winner’s Cup (1983, 1988).
Now, twenty-three years after their last triumph, SKA have a very good chance to bring another trophy back to Minsk. The Belarusians face Handball Esch from Luxembourg in the Challenge Cup Final and won the first leg 31:26 away from home.
According to the draw, the first leg of the final was to be played in Belarus. But the clubs agreed to swap home right. So SKA will be the hosts in the second leg, which is going to take place at Minsk-Arena, a large multifunctional complex with about 15,000 seats. The Belarusians are willing to raise the European trophy at home, in front of large audience.
SKA are a team with absolutely no import players. The Minsk army club does not have the financial resources of domestic rivals Dinamo Minsk and HC Meshkov Brest.
Coach Spartak Mironovich has a young squad at his disposal, mostly consisting of the club academy graduates.
Nevertheless, the team has had a very good season — both on domestic and international fronts.
In the Belarusian league, SKA already managed to beat both Dinamo Minsk and HC Meshkov Brest and remain in the hunt for the title. Everything will be decided on 29 May, when they play main rivals Dinamo.
SKA became the winner of the first edition of the Baltic league, beating the Finnish side Riihimäen Cocks in the final game in April.
Mironovich plays an important role in the team’s revival. At 74, he is the patriarch of Belarusian handball.
It was almost four decades ago when Mironovich started to work at SKA. In fact, he led the team to all of their major historic results, including six Soviet Union championships.
But after the USSR collapsed in 1991, the situation changed for the worse. Belarusian handball continued to generate good young players, but they did not want to play in a weak local league and tried to move abroad as early as possible.
Mironovich, who led the CIS team to Olympic gold in 1992, also had lucrative offers from other countries, but preferred to stay at home.
During the first decade of Belarusian independence, SKA Minsk, although weakened, had no problems in winning the national league year after year. But in the 2000’s, new major powers emerged in Belarus, first HC Meshkov Brest, then Dinamo Minsk.
During the last few seasons, SKA simply could not compete with these two clubs, meaning that the sudden change in fortunes this season was a surprise for many.
In 2012, SKA managed to sign three Belarusian internationals — Barys Pukhovski, Aliaksandr Tsitou and Siarhei Shylovich. All of them had played for Dinamo Minsk, but had to leave the club for different reasons. This trio contributed a lot to the recent success. Combined with the local club talents like Ivan Matskevich, Dziitry Kamyshyk and Aliaksei Haisa, they present a force to be reckoned with.
“I never regretted moving from Dinamo to SKA. Spartak Mironovich is a great coach, my life in the team is interesting and I always try to improve,” Aliaksandr Tsitou told eurohandball.com.
However, the time at the club for Pukhouski, Shilovich and Tsitou is coming to an end, as all three players will most likely leave the club at the end of the season.
Pukhouski already signed the contract with Hungarian side Csurgo, Shylovich and Tsitou also have good offers from Poland and the Ukraine.
Spartak Mironovich, who will turn 75 in June, and his faithful assistant Alexander Karshakevich, who was one of SKA leaders during the golden era, will have to start almost from scratch, something they are quite used to by now.
The veteran coach is still full of energy, and the handball school of SKA continues to raise young talents.
Nobody knows what the future will bring, but Minsk are just concentrating on their current duties and are eager to add the sixth international trophy to their collection.
“Of course, the Challenge Cup is not the Champions League or EHF Cup where the top European clubs compete, but it is also a serious tournament and it is definitely a big honor to win it,” says Aliaksandr Tsitou.
SKA Minsk take on Handball Esch in the second leg of the Men’s Challenge Cup Final on Saturday, 25 May at 18:00 CET
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cor