Aguirrezabalaga happy to meet old friendsArticle
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INTERVIEW: Belarus is not a common destination for Spanish players, but there is one exception which confirms this rule. Last year Mikel Aguirrezabalaga helped Barcelona in two matches against Minsk, but now he is heading back to the Catalan capital to face his former teammates in a Dinamo's uniform.

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Aguirrezabalaga happy to meet old friends

For Dinamo Minsk, these November weeks in the VELUX Champions League are all about playing Barcelona. Last Thursday, the Belarusian champion were beaten by the Spanish giant (25:35) in a game marked by the record number of spectators — 15,320 at Minsk-Arena. This Saturday, Dinamo hope to get a better result away in Barcelona, though the Catalan side will be clear favorites again.

For the Dinamo player Mikel Aguirrezabalaga, these games are really special. The 29-year-old Spanish left back spent two previous seasons at Barcelona, but had to look for a new team after the Catalan team had signed Nikola Karabatic. The competition with Karabatic and Siarhei Rutenka seemed to be a mission impossible for Mikel, who therefore opted to move to Minsk. spoke to Mikel Aguirrezabalaga about his Spanish past and Belarusian present. Did the first game with Barcelona give you a lot of emotions?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: Sure. The matches with your ex-teams are always special. That was the case also in Spain, when I played for Barca against Ademar Leon and Alcobendas. And now it was nice to meet old friends. It is a pity that we lost as many as 10 goals.

The first half was pretty good, but in the second half Arpad Sterbik made really good saves for the visitors. That allowed them to organize fast breaks. When you keep making the same mistakes, such a strong opponent as Barcelona inevitably punishes you. Were you impressed by the atmosphere at Minsk-Arena?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: It was incredible! Really amazing for the Belarusian handball. It is very important that people in Minsk are eager to attend handball matches. 15 thousand spectators — just great! Do you keep much contact with Barca players?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: Yes, with some of them. I regularly talk to Dani Sarmiento, Eduardo Gurbindo, and also Albert Rocas who moved to KIF Kolding last summer.

We usually use Viber which is installed on our mobile phones. And when Barca stayed in Minsk, I went to their hotel, just to chat with the guys. They said that they liked the Belarusian capital. But they were curious how I was going to live there in winter, when there would be much snow! Indeed, Barcelona is much warmer and sunnier. Do you miss it?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: Well, actually it is not my home town. I was born 600 kilometers away from it. But, of course, I miss my country Spain. My wife lives with me in Minsk, but the rest of the family are in Spain, just as many good friends. By the way, my parents are going to attend our game in Barcelona. And they will definitely support Dinamo because I play for this team. Is it realistic for Dinamo Minsk to get a positive result in Barcelona?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: Winning there seems to be a tough job. Maybe the game will be even harder than in Minsk. But we have to try. What if Barcelona players relax and think: ah, we have beaten Dinamo with 10 goals away, so at home we will win with 20 goals. However, I do not believe that we can lose that much. After all, we are a pretty good team. We have to play at least like in the first half in Minsk. Could you actually stay at Barcelona for this season?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: When the team signed a contract with Karabatic, the coach honestly told me that Nikola and Siarhei Rutenka would play, while my chances were not good. I wanted to play, so I chose Dinamo Minsk, which is a team that takes part in the VELUX Champions League. By the way, Rutenka told me some very good things about his native Minsk. He recommended me to take a chance there. How was your adaptation in Belarus?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: Quite OK. But, of course, the culture here is different, just as the language. So it takes some time to adjust. Dinamo have many foreign players, but all of them except me come from Slavic countries — Russia, Ukraine or the Balkans.

For them it is probably easier to integrate. Well, I speak English, which is understood by some teammates and the coach Boris Denic. But it is not enough, therefore I learn Russian with a teacher. Are you happy with your performances for Dinamo?

Mikel Aguirrezabalaga: So far not really. I want to play better, to contribute more to team results. Unfortunately I had an injury at the start of the season — I broke a finger of my shooting hand. But luckily it is in the past. Now I feel better.

Further information

Follow the match FC Barcelona vs Dinamo Minsk live on on Saturday, 23 November at 12:15 hrs local time.

TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / br