Another Sterbik success story or a family fairytale?
As soon as the semi-final draw pitted Telekom Veszprém HC against PGE Vive Kielce, memories of one of the most dramatic and spectacular matches in VELUX EHF FINAL4 history surfaced.
In 2016, Kielce turned a nine-goal deficit in the second half of the final against Veszprém into a 39:38 victory after a penalty shoot-out.
Now the two sides clash again in Cologne, this time in the semi-final.
- Veszprém goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik can win his fifth trophy as a player, Kielce’s Talant Dujshebaev his fifth as a coach
- Talant Dujshebaev as coach and current Veszprém coach David Davis as a player won the title three times with Ciudad Real
- Talant and Alex Dujshebaev can become the first father-and-son combination to win the VELUX EHF Champions League
- Veszprém left back Momir Ilic needs nine more goals to become the all-time top scorer of the VELUX EHF FINAL4
Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL)
Saturday 1 June, 15:15hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
In 2006, 2008 and 2009, Talant Dujshebaev and David Davis stood side by side on the winners’ podium of the EHF Champions League – Dujshebaev as the coach, Davis as a player of Ciudad Real.
Later, Dujshebaev went to Kielce, while Davis moved first to Skopje and – in October 2018 – to Veszprém, where he replaced Ljubomir Vranjes as head coach. Now Dujshebaev and Davis face each other for a spot in the VELUX EHF Champions League Final.
Fortunes turned at Lake Balaton after Davis arrived. Veszprém have lost only lost two of their 14 matches under the new coach. They have won their last 11 games, becoming the only side to win all four knock-out matches – against Sporting CP (30:28, 35:29) in the Last 16 and against SG Flensburg-Handewitt (28:22, 29:25) in the quarter-finals.
While Veszprém finished second in Group A, Kielce were fourth – and the Polish side had a much tougher route to Cologne. After a draw and a victory against Zaporozhye in the Last 16, they dramatically battled their way past the most successful team of the group phase, Group B winners Paris Saint-Germain Handball, in the quarter-final.
The first leg of that quarter-final was arguably the biggest surprise of all 196 matches this season. Beaten only once in 14 matches this season, PSG lost by 10 goals (24:34) in Kielce.
The French champions nearly made up the deficit in the second leg, leading by 11 at one point, but in the end winning by nine (35:26), which was not enough to book their ticket to Cologne.
The head-to-head statistics speak clearly in favour of Veszprém, who have beaten Kielce eight times in their 11 matches in Europe’s elite competition. Those wins included two close victories in the group phase this season (29:27 in Hungary, 36:35 in Poland).
The first semi-final offers many story lines. Veszprém veterans Arpad Sterbik and Laszlo Nagy will both play their seventh VELUX EHF FINAL4. Sterbik, the only goalkeeper to be awarded the MVP (in 2017), can win his fifth trophy in this competition; Nagy will end his career with the chance to win his third trophy after previous triumphs with Barça in 2005 and 2011.
Another Veszprém player can also write history: two-time Champions League top scorer Momir Ilic (103 goals in 2013/14, 114 in 2014/15) has scored 56 goals at VELUX EHF FINAL4 events, nine less than leading scorer Kiril Lazarov.
With Lazarov’s team, Nantes, absent that leaves the door open for Ilic to become the all-time top scorer at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.
Also, the Dujshebaev family is in the centre of attention. Father Talant can become the second coach, after Valero Rivera, to win the Champions League five times. His son Alex is the best scorer still in the competition with 88 goals, eight clear of Vardar’s Dainis Kristopans.
It would be the first time for a father and his son to win the trophy together in Cologne. Both have won the title before with different clubs in different years: Talant with Kielce in 2016 and Alex with Vardar in 2017. Talant Dujshebaev’s younger son, Daniel, is out with a knee injury.
Finally, Veszprém want to end their curse. The Hungarian side have played three finals (2002, 2015 and 2016) but lost all of them. Seven of the players from the Kielce team which beat Veszprém in the 2016 final are still in the Polish club’s squad – including Uros Zorman, who is the assistant coach but could be used as a stand-by player.
If Veszprém win the title, they would become the eighth different club in the last eight seasons to lift the trophy in Cologne. But to get there, they first need to get past Kielce.
TEXT: Björn Pazen/jh