Chekhov’s Bears raring to go with new hope
Chekhovskie Medvedi have been an unstoppable force in Russian handball over the past two decades, winning 19 consecutive league titles. However, their ability to compete in Europe has waned over the years and they will play outside of the EHF Champions League for the first time since 2006.
The burning question – is this Chekhov’s true level?
Between 2008 and 2011, Chekhovskie Medvedi were a force to be reckoned with in European handball with two quarter-final appearances bookending a trip to the very first EHF FINAL4 in 2010.
One last foray into the last 16 in 2013 was followed by a year without European handball and with that began the exodus of star players with the likes of Timur Dibirov, Daniil Shishkarev and Dmitry Zhitnikov leaving for pastures new.
With that came six straight group phase exits, where the Russian club would always claim some wins but look unlikely to progress. This season offers them a new challenge in Europe’s second tier and a place directly in the group phase.
Their opponents are of a similar calibre to those they faced in groups C and D in the EHF Champions League, so although this may be their true level, there is no guarantee they will flourish.
Rising star - Sergei Kosorotov
The 21-year-old left back is widely regarded as one of the hottest talents in Russian handball and has a lot going for him. Standing 195 cm tall, Kosorotov has a quick turn of pace and good movement in attack and is a constant danger as soon as he is within 10 metres of the goal thanks to his jump shooting and whip of a standing shot.
Having competed at the most recent European and world championships, he has already gathered plenty of experience at an international level and despite his young age is well-capable of mixing it physically, a trait you can probably thank his world class judoka father for.
The champion – Dmitrii Kiselev
Russian international Dmitrii Kiselev returned to Russia last summer, following a short stint at Vardar where he won the EHF Champions League.
This experience is priceless for the 25-year-old right back and he showed glimpses of that class for Medvedi last season. If he can remain injury free, we can expect big things from the St. Petersburg captain.
New blood - Artem Kulak
A very interesting signing here for Chekhov, managing to bring the Belarusian playmaker in from his hometown club Meshkov Brest.
Following three solid seasons with the club in the EHF Champions League, Kulak’s opportunities were limited last season and you have to give him credit for moving in search of playing time. The dogged and determined playmaker is certain to grab goals from nowhere while also stringing his new club’s attack well.
A night to remember
On 1 May 2010, Chekhovskie Medvedi went to Montpellier in search of a ticket to the first EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.
Having won the first leg 32:27, with Timur Dibirov leading the way with seven goals, and their opponents missing stars Nikola Karabatic and Vid Kavticnik, there was plenty of hope for the Russian side.
Despite leading 14:12 at the break, they were not home and dry as Montpellier rallied in the second half, tearing the Bears’ lead to shreds before Jan Sobol scores with three seconds remaining for the hosts to send the tie to a penalty shootout.
Oleg Grams stepped up for Chekhov as the hero, saving the second penalty from the brilliant Michael Guigou, giving Alexey Kamanin the opportunity to win the shootout – but he hit the post.
Thankfully for Kamanin, Grams did it again. This time saving a David Juricek penalty with his leg to win and send his side through to Cologne.
Arrivals and departures
Newcomers: Mark Larin (Dinamo Astrakhan), Alexander Ermakov (Dinamo Astrakhan), Artem Kulak (Meshkov Brest)
Left the club: Dmitry Santalov (Meshkov Brest), Denis Vasilyev (Chartres Metropole Handball), Igor Karlov (Fyllingen Bergen)
VELUX EHF Champions League:
Participations (including 2019/20 season): 19
Semi-final (1): 2009/10
Quarter-final (2): 2008/09, 2010/11
Cup Winners’ Cup:
Russian league: 19 titles (2002-2020)
Russian cup: 10 titles