20200819 Rostov Vyakhireva
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Russia happy to end five-month break

EHF / Sergey Nikolaev

For five long months, there have been no official handball matches in Russia. On 15 March, Chekhovskie Medvedi added another trophy to their collection by winning the men’s Russian Cup, but shortly after that, all national competitions were interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At first it was not clear whether the Super League championships could be resumed. But on 24 April, the executive committee of the Russian Handball Federation decided to stop the tournaments. The play-off games were abandoned, and the winners of the regular season, Chekhovskie Medvedi and Rostov-Don, were declared Russian champions for 2019/20.

However, the women’s Cup was not cancelled, but postponed until August, and this competition’s Final Four in Moscow this week ended the handball break in the country.

The matches started on Wednesday, when Rostov-Don beat Kuban and CSKA Moscow defeated Astrakhanochka in the semi-finals. The final match on Thursday featured two DELO EHF Champions League participants, with the more experienced Rostov proving too strong for CSKA and claiming a 29:26 victory.

Anna Vyakhireva showed fine form, scoring as many as 14 goals for the winners. However, Rostov’s leader gave a humble comment after the game: “I never count my goals. All the girls did well. I would never have scored that many times without their help.”

Martin’s last trophy at Rostov

For Ambros Martin, it was the sixth and last trophy with Rostov. The Spaniard has won all domestic competitions during his two-year spell at the club. Now he will leave Rostov for family reasons, focusing on his job with the Russia national team. His successor at the club is yet to be announced.

“In the nearest future, I don’t plan to work with clubs – all my thoughts are with the Russian national team. We have a preparation plan. We will try to follow it as long as it is possible due to the epidemiological situation. The goals are still the same: a successful performance at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, qualification for the Olympics and the gold medal in Tokyo,” said Martin.

For the Russian players, the news about the cancellation of the Olympic tournament in 2020 was a particularly hard blow.

“You are devastated. You are disappointed. You might even say that you are in depression because the goal of your life is postponed. You work hard for four years to get to the Olympics and win a medal, but the strength of your body and psychological health are not eternal,” said Vyakhireva.

However, she managed to get over this empty feeling: “That’s not a reason to leave handball. You still love the game. After one or two weeks you understand that this is your life. You want to go on training and playing.”

Super League to start soon

The new Russian Super League season is set to start soon. The women’s competition will throw off on 22 August, while the men’s tournament will open a week later. The men’s national coach, Velimir Petkovic, who assumed this position in March, has finally arrived in Moscow and started his job on the ground.

However, Petkovic is set to make his debut at the helm of the team only in November, when the EHF EURO 2022 qualification starts. For the men’s national team, the main start in the new season will be the 2021 World Championship in Egypt, as the IHF granted Russia a wild card to play there.

“The participation in the World Championship will be very important for the Russian team, especially for the young players. We need to prepare in a good way and prove that the decision of the IHF was right,” said Petkovic.

Based on press release from Russian Handball Federation. Photo: Russian Handball Federation. 

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