Fortifications and ambition - where the two Brests meetArticle
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FEATURE: Twin cities which share a name and a passion for handball, but what else do these cities in France and Belarus have in common?
»2018-19 Men's News

Fortifications and ambition - where the two Brests meet

Two EHF Champions League games played at the same time, on the same day and… in the same city?

Not to worry, it is just a coincidence that Brest and Brest will play their respective games at home, but separated by more than 2,000 kilometres.

French side Brest Bretagne take part in the Women’s Champions League while Belarusian Meshkov Brest competes in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

And while the women have already secured a main round spot, the men still have to fight in order to qualify for the Last 16.

With these similarities and differences laid out, we decided to explore a bit further and discover what brings these clubs from sister cities together.

1. Historic fortresses

Both cities have quite impressive monuments in the form of Château de Brest and Brest Fortress. In France, the castle dates back to the Roman Empire. With its perfect view upon the Atlantic Ocean, the Romans deemed the site to be perfect to build a defensive castle at the end of the third century. Originally a wooden structure, the fortress fortified with stone in the 11th century. While you can see its keep from afar, the building is not in use anymore, not for military purposes anyway. It now hosts the national maritime museum.

In Belarus, the fortress is a more modern one. Built in the middle of the 19th century, it is located at the meeting point of two rivers, Bug and Mukhavyets. It was captured by German soldiers in 1915 before being assigned to the Soviet Union in 1939. During the Nazi invasion two years later, it was the one of the only building to resist and became a symbol of the Soviet resistance during World War II.

2. Weather

At the edge of the country, with only a few cities located more westerly, Brest is subject to extreme weather. Statistics say that the temperature did not climb above 22 degrees Celsius in 2017, while the same year, the weather could be qualified as sunny for only 66 days. This does not necessarily mean that it is depressing though, as the rain helps forests to grow, making the region hugely popular for hiking.

In Belarus, the situation is quite the opposite. Brest being located at the western border of the country, the city is one of the warmest in Belarus, with temperatures often climbing above 30 degrees celsius in the summer. It is quite sunny, too, as 50% of the days are sunny from April to September.

3. Keeping it local

While there is a huge contrast weather-wise, on the court they are much more similar. Especially since they both try to keep things local.

In France, Brest have the ambition to build a project around French personalities which have been here for a long time. Coach Laurent Bezeau and goalkeeper Cléopatre Darleux were there from the beginning in 2014. Right wing Pauline Coatanea was born in the city and came back two years ago while Maud Eva-Copy and Elodie Manach played their entire careers in Brittany.

Local identity is also very strong at Meshkov Brest, who are trying to develop young local players and rely less on foreign talent. And the future looks bright as Andrey Yurynok, Viachaslau Shumak and Artsiom Kulak are among the key players of the team and were born in the city. 16 of the 25 registered players for this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League were born in Belarus.

4. Back in the big time

Both teams went through hard times in the past few years, before moving back into the spotlight. In France, six years ago, nobody would have ever imagined seeing this club in the Europe’s elite club competition. Due to financial problems, they was relegated to the French third division just after winning the national title in 2012. However, they came back from the brink and right back up within four years. Now Brest Bretagne are enjoying their second straight season in the Women’s EHF Champions League.

The situation was not as bleak in Belarus, but for some time, the club went under the radar. Between 2008 and 2014, Meshkov were dominated by Dinamo Minsk and missed out on Europe’s top flight. Meshkov then took advantage of Dinamo’s demise and have not looked back since.

5. Sharing FINAL4 ambitions

The two sides adopt different strategies for their ascent to the top. Brest Bretagne have decided to spice up their team, with the help of Slovenian goal-machine Ana Gros and Sweden’s star centre back Bella Gullden, MVP of EHF EURO 2014. So far, so good for the French side as they have qualified for the main round already. Their ambitions go further than that, however, and a trip to Budapest for the Women’s EHF FINAL4 may be in the back of their mind.

After a few seasons of reaching the Last 16, Meshkov have decided to aim higher and want to reach Cologne for the first time. An ambitious and bold statement, but with Manolo Cadenas at the helm and recruits such as Darko Djukic and Sandro Obranovic there, they will be a threat for anyone in the knockout rounds later this season.

TEXT: Kevin Domas, Sergey Nikolaev / cor