10 reasons Kielce will clinch the trophyArticle
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: Kielce may be the underdogs in Cologne, but the VELUX EHF FINAL4 has shown more than once that teams in that position can thrive under the apparent lack of pressure

10 reasons Kielce will clinch the trophy

It has not been an easy season for PGE Vive Kielce, with dark clouds hanging over the future of the Polish powerhouse. Neither has it been an injury-free one, with coach Talant Dujshebaev forced to change his line-up on a weekly basis as his stars were out for various reasons.

Yet here they are, two games shy of one of the most improbable scenarios ever in VELUX EHF FINAL4 history. The Polish side dismantled PSG with a superb first-leg performance in the quarter-finals and stood their ground in Paris to progress to the ultimate weekend for the third time in the past five years, after a two-season hiatus from the business end of the premium European competition.

There are 10 reasons Kielce could lift the trophy once again after their 2016 result and here, we deliver them to you. 

1. A mastermind behind everything: Talant Dujshebaev

The former centre back now coach was a force to be reckoned with in his playing days and the writing was on the wall for everyone to see that he would make a great transition to a mastermind as a coach. 50-year-old Talant Dujshebaev was given free reign at Kielce and has been inspiring his team since 2014 with a hugely exciting up-tempo style and swarming attack. 

A five-time winner of the EHF Champions League, with Santander as a player then Ciudad Real/Atletico Madrid and Kielce as a coach, Dujshebaev has an ironclad mentality and the experience to deliver the trophy once again. His player management skills are second to none and he navigated the side superbly through a sea of trouble to Cologne. Can he inspire his team once again?

2. Key experience at the VELUX EHF FINAL4

Playing two life-changing games in two days can be exhausting both mentally and physically for any player, regardless of their strength. Therefore, personal experience can surely teach one or two tricks about conditioning, relaxing and recharging the batteries within a few hours. 

Fortunately for Kielce, they have been in Cologne before. They won the big prize in 2016, after an exhilarating penalty shoot-out against Veszprém, and there are still players – Julen Aguinagalde, Krzysztof Lijewski or Michal Jurecki – from that season who don the Kielce shirt. 

Moreover, Kielce were the fifth highest team in the average age ranking in this season of the VELUX EHF Champions League, with an average age of 27.54 years. From the remaining four teams, only Veszprém are bringing a team with a higher average age – and therefore greater experience – to Cologne (28.3 years).

3. A resilient team

There have been countless injuries to key players this season, with Luka Cindric, Alex Dujshebaev, Michal Jurecki and Krzysztof Lijewski all missing time due to injuries. Yet Kielce always found ways to win close games or at least stay with their opponents in clutch moments. 

While having one of the shallowest rosters in the VELUX EHF Champions League, the Polish powerhouse finished fourth in their group, swept Motor Zaporozhye in the Last 16 and displayed amazing flair and strength to overpower PSG on their way to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2019. Of course, missing Daniel Dujshebaev and Michal Jurecki in Cologne will be a blow, but Kielce already proved they can play with the hand they were dealt all season long.

4. Already winners in Cologne

Only three players who took the court during Kielce’s astonishing win in the final against Veszprém three seasons ago are still in the roster, but others like Mateusz Jachlewski and Mariusz Jurkiewicz contributed at times during that season. 

Seven different teams have won the VELUX EHF FINAL4, with THW Kiel and Barça Lassa the only sides to have clinched the trophy twice. The importance of having previous experience winning is crucial and could prove pivotal in the business end of such a tough competition. 

5. Injuries overcome

Injuries can make or break a season. Just look at the Women’s EHF Champions League, where CSM Bucuresti’s bad luck meant they missed the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 in Budapest after having to make do without Cristina Neagu, Amanda Kurtovic and Dragana Cvijic throughout most of the season. 

However, Kielce are another beast. Two key players – Daniel Dujshebaev and Michal Jurecki – will be out in Cologne, but their teammates vowed to play better and give everything they have to bring home the glory so the two backs can celebrate on Sunday 2 June.

6. Out-of-the-box thinking

Kielce had their share of trouble, and it meant they needed to think outside the box and promote new players into the side. There is probably no other player this season who underlines the importance of welcoming young guns into the fold more than Arkadiusz Moryto. 

The 21-year-old right wing scored 49 goals in the top European competition while clinching the top scorer title in the Polish league for the second time in a row. Moryto has been the go-to player for scoring in clutch moments and Kielce have no reason to expect less from him in Cologne.

7. Capable of great games

“It is a rarity to win by 10 goals in the Champions League.” True story, seen from Moryto’s perspective. 

Yet that was the margin that helped Kielce shock PSG in the first-leg quarter-final and propelled the Polish side into the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Therefore, Kielce proved they can be unstoppable on a good day.

The constellation of stars including Mikkel Hansen, Sander Sagosen, Thierry Omeyer and Luc Abalo were shell shocked after the first leg in Kielce and could only win by nine goals in the second leg. Of course, Kielce are vulnerable, as they proved countless times this season, but their best version is a team that can win against anybody – exactly as Montpellier did last season when they took home the trophy.

8. A maestro in the form of Cindric

Following in the footsteps of an all-time great like Ivano Balic is no easy task, but Luka Cindric has become the darling of Croatian handball thanks to his impressive performances. After winning the competition in 2017 with Vardar, Cindric is a sought-after commodity between the top-tier teams, yet he chose Kielce last season, immediately transforming the Polish side into a force to be reckoned with. 

After a season hampered by injuries that forced him to miss six games in the premium European competition, the 25-year-old is back in business, scoring 11 of Kielce’s 60 goals in the double header against PSG. If Kielce win the competition, it will be Cindric who brings the trophy home thanks to his playmaking skills and handball IQ. 

These might be his final European games in Kielce’s shirt however, other teams have enquired about his availability from next season.

9. Superb attack

They say defence wins championships, yet in such a close competition, attacks are highly important too. While Kielce did not impress in defence, they have one of the deadliest attacks in the VELUX EHF Champions League. 

Scoring 566 goals over their 18 games, the Polish side have an average of 31.4 per match this season, topped only by Barça Lassa (34.1 average per game) and PSG (32.1 average per game). Despite their troubles throughout the season, Kielce have constantly found new ways to score and did that effectively, with Alex Dujshebaev leading the line with 88 goals.

10. The top goal scorer

Which brings us to the last point. The 26-year-old right back has followed in his father’s footsteps and had his greatest season in the top European competition to date. Already a winner of the VELUX EHF Champions League with Vardar in 2017, Dujshebaev needs only four goals to become the top scorer of this season. 

Currently on 88 goals, the Spanish back trails Andy Schmid, but with Rhein-Neckar Löwen out since the Last 16, there is nothing the Swiss player can do to prevent Dujshebaev taking the top spot. The winner of the EHF EURO 2018 with Spain has an eight-goal advantage over Vardar’s Dainis Kristopans, the next closest top scorer who will be on court in Cologne. 

Dujshebaev will surely grab the top scorer award if he maintains the same rhythm over the two last games of the season.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg