Chekhovskie look to QuarterfinalsArticle
«Go back talks to goalkeeper, Oleg Grams, ahead of the Russian team's return match against Bosna Sarajevo.

In the first knock-out stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League, Russian champions Chekhovskie Medvedi crushed their counterpart Bosna Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a win that puts them in firmly in the running for a place in the Quarterfinals.

Ahead of the second leg, spoke to Russian national team goalkeeper, Oleg Grams, about the game in Sarajevo, the lucky draws for his team and the surprises from last weekend’s first leg of the Last 16. You beat Bosna Sarajevo clearly last weekend. Was it an easy game for your team, especially from the goalkeeper’s point of view?

Oleg Grams: If you look only at the scoreline, that's correct: everything was very clear for us. We’d examined a lot of video tapes of Bosna displays and we prepared especially well for this opponent.

In the first half we did an excellent job in defence, 16:7 is a record score difference before the break in the away games for Medvedi in the competition, and therefore we could keep the gap until the very end.

But if I consider only my own performance, I could say that it was no more than satisfactory. How do you see the return match in Chekhov, and is the focus already on the Quarterfinals?

Oleg Grams: To be honest, we have already done the major work in this round. Only the upcoming match will confirm this, but we are nearly 100 percent qualified for the Quarterfinals.

Even so, I still don’t think it’s the time for our reserves to perform, and so our best starting line-up will begin the game in Chekhov. How do you see the shape of Medvedi now, compared to last season when you marched into the VELUX EHF FINAL4? In what part of the game are you better now, and what do you need to improve to reach the top level?

Oleg Grams: From the physical point of view, our fitness is at the same level as last season. We did some tremendous work in January when we missed the World Championship.

A big advantage for Medvedi is the presence in the team of newcomer Sergey Gorbok. It seems to me that our team is working better in defence, with more team play between the defenders. Do you think it’s an advantage that most of the team is playing together in the Russian national team, also under the coaching of Vladimir Maximov?

Oleg Grams: Only the best players represent the national team. We are not guilty that Medvedi are absolutely dominant in Russian club handball. Sometimes we get tired of being together, but we are used to each other.

We are like a family, because we are together more than with our own family! What makes it special for you to be coached by Vladimir Maximov?

Oleg Grams: I’ve been playing under his coaching since 2001, and he has given me a lot, like a real master.

In the club system we haven’t got a goalkeeper coach, but we’ve got a specialist in the national team. We examine the games from the goalkeeper’s point of view. We search for something new in our colleagues’ arsenal that could be useful to my playing style. I try to adopt this technique in my club training sessions. You are known as the number one keeper in Russia. Who are your strongest rivals in the country?

Oleg Grams: Among the younger keepers, I have to mention Vadim Bogdanov from HC Petersburg. He already has Champions League experience and has played some games for national team. He has a bright future.

No other names, because the games in the Russian championship versus Chekhovskie Medvedi are real torture for opposition goalkeepers and I can’t appreciate their true skills. How did you view the other duels in the Last 16, were there any surprising results for you last weekend?

Oleg Grams: Kadetten of course! My colleague Björgvin Gustavsson was outstanding! Medvedi were also beaten in Winthertur in the group stage. But anyway, Montpellier remain favourite in this duel.

Another unexpected result for me was the narrow win of Flensburg in Szeged. I thought it would be easier for the German team, but they have too many injuries right now. Which teams do you consider as the biggest favourites to win the VELUX EHF Champions League title this season? Is Chekhov one of the candidates?

Oleg Grams: Kiel and Cuidad Real - I'm not too original!

Our aim is to be, once again, among the four best teams and to play our best handball in Cologne.

We’ve been lucky a few times recently with the draw. Now I don't expect the smile of fortune: we have to be ready for the top-class opponents - Barcelona, Löwen, Hamburg or Flensburg. 

TEXT: Márk Hegedüs