As the 10th SEHA - Gazprom League Final 4 tournament is getting closer, and before the Quarter-final matches, we are taking the time to remember all of the previous years and SEHA Final 4 memories.
Final 4, Zagreb 2012
After overcoming the initial challenges in the first SEHA - Gazprom League season, it was time to crown the first SEHA champions. After 22 rounds, the four teams that stood out the most were then CO Zagreb, then Vardar, Tatran Presov and Metalurg. Those four clubs had the chance to participate at the first SEHA Final 4 tournament in Arena Zagreb, and compete for the title of the best team in the region. Looking back at the first SEHA Final 4, we cannot ignore some of the names that appear on the scoresheets. CO Zagreb, led by Ivica Obrvan featured some big names such as Ivano Balic, Manuel Strlek, Marino Maric, Jakov Gojun, Marko Kopljar, Marin Sego, Ivan Pesic, Zlatko Horvat and Tonci and Josip Valcic. In the semi-finals, they squared off against Vardar led by Veselin Vujovic. It was an exciting final in the end, as Lino Cervar managed to beat Tatran Presov with Metalurg. That match also offered some interesting names, as Metalurg featured the likes of Zarko Markovic, Naumche Mojsovski or Miladin Kozlina, while on the other hand, Tatran had Jakub Hrstka, Tomas Cip, Dominik Krok, Svetislav Verkic and Dainis Kristopans. In Arena Zagreb, Vardar won their first SEHA title in a very close final.
Final 4, Skopje 2013
In the following season, the League went through some crucial changes. The League was reduced to 10 teams and the Belarusian club Meshkov Brest were the most exciting addition to the League. They made an immediate impact, as they finished first in the regular-season standings. The SEHA Final 4 battle had been extremely intense, as the difference between the 1st Meshkov and the 5th Tatran Presov was the mere 5 points. Ultimately, the top three from the first season: Metalurg, then Vardar and then CO Zagreb joined the Belarusians at the second SEHA Final 4 tournament in Skopje. The Croatian champions had their revenge over Vardar in the final match, recording a 25:24 win after extra time! After coming first in the regular season, Meshkov lost to CO Zagreb in the semi-final match, and then lost to Metalurg, coming fourth in their inaugural 2012/2013 season. Vardar won the 2012 title in Zagreb, and CO Zagreb became champions in Skopje the year later!
Final 4, Novi Sad 2014
At the start of the season, SEHA announced a ground-breaking deal with the giant Russian company - Gazprom. Many of the goals accomplished over the years, would not have been possible without them; SEHA- Gazprom League was ready to take more steps forward! The 2014 Final 4 tournament in Novi Sad brought us a semi-final match between the only two SEHA champions - then Vardar versus then CO Zagreb. It meant that one of those teams had a chance to win their second title against either Tatran Presov or Meshkov Brest. Tatran Presov were first after the regular season with 45 points but lost in the semi-final. After we saw extra-time in the Skopje final in 2013, this time Meshkov Brest went through by being better in the 7m shootout. They were to face Vardar, who defeated CO Zagreb 30:22, carried by Igor Karacic and Strahinja Milic. Timur Dibirov scored 11 goals in the final match against Meshkov Brest, and the title was once again going to Skopje. CO Zagreb got a consolation prize with a win against Tatran Presov in the 3rd place match!
Final 4, Veszprem 2015
The fourth SEHA – Gazprom League season was marked by the arrival of the Hungarian giants - then MKB MVM Veszprem. They started off in brilliant fashion, winning their first 15 matches of the 14/15 season, finishing 1st in the standings coming into the Final tournament. That season, the final tournament was a bit different. Veszprem and Vardar got an automatic trip to the semi-final, whilst PPD Zagreb and Meshkov Brest played against Tatran Presov and Nexe in an attempt to reach it. PPD Zagreb confidently beat Tatran and Meshkov Brest did the same against Nexe, giving us the final 4 participants of the tournament. A few days later, Meshkov Brest shocked Vardar and achieved a 4-goal win in the semi-final match, whilst Veszprem edged out PPD Zagreb in a close match. Ultimately, Veszprem were crowned the SEHA- Gazprom League champions in their premiere season, defeating Meshkov Brest 32:21, which is still the biggest final match win! Marguc and Ugalde dominated the final match, combining for 17 goals! The Hungarians could not have wished for a better opening season, as they won the title in front of their own fans in the packed Veszprem Arena. The Belarusian team was again beaten in the final, and PPD Zagreb finished third for the second straight season, beating Vardar 26:23.
Final 4, Varazdin 2016
The 2015/2016 season is once again going to be remembered because of how successful Veszprem had been! One more time the Hungarians finished first after the regular season, not losing a single match. Vardar, PPD Zagreb and Meshkov Brest were following the league leaders and earned an appearance at the fifth SEHA - Gazprom League Final 4. The event took place in Varazdin, Croatia. It even received an award for the best regional sports tournament- serving as evidence how much SEHA - Gazprom League and handball in the region improved in recent years. Performances on the court in Varazdin were nothing short of sensational as well. Veszprem defeated Meshkov Brest after a penalty shoot-out, and Vardar came out on top against PPD Zagreb, who later had to settle for the third-place once again. In the final match, Momir Ilic scored 7 goals, Nagy and Sliskovic added 4 each to give Veszprem their second SEHA title in only their second season. The final match was also interesting, due to the fact that both Veszprem and Vardar had Spanish coaches! Sabate led MKB MVM Veszprem to another success, whereas Raul Gonzalez had to wait for his third SEHA title. Zlatko Horvat scored 8 goals for PPD Zagreb in the third-place match against Meshkov, Brest as they finished third, for the fourth time in SEHA - Gazprom League history.
Final 4, Brest 2017
The sixth SEHA- Gazprom League season, was perhaps the most exciting one to this date. Veszprem and Vardar had both established themselves as one of the strongest teams in Europe, and were aiming to win another SEHA title. Before the SEHA Final 4 in Brest, both Veszprem and Vardar have won two titles each, and Veszprem were ready to win the third one in a row. Slovenian clubs Celje PL and Gorenje Velenje entered the SEHA - Gazprom League, but could not reach the SEHA Final 4; in the end, the participants were the same as the previous year: Vardar, Telekom Veszprem, Meshkov Brest and PPD Zagreb. Vardar defeated PPD Zagreb in the first semi-final match. Croatian right-wingers Cupic and Horvat had a big duel, as both scored 8 goals in that match. It was Cupic’s first SEHA Final 4 appearance, and he once again proved his class. The second semi-final match was absolutely breathtaking. The hosts Meshkov Brest did incredibly well against Telekom Veszprem and took the game to a penalty shoot-out. Rastko Stojkovic scored 9 goals and had 5 assists, but Momir Ilic and Roland Mikler played too well for Veszprem and led their team to the final match against Vardar! It was another special final, the repeat of the Varazdin final, but this time Vardar were more successful. It was a phenomenal defensive display from Arpad Sterbik and the entire Vardar’s defense- the result was 26:21 and it was just a start to Vardar’s dream year. Joan Canellas took home the MVP award, but Vardar did not just stop there. They added 3 more trophies that season, including the EHF Champions League and domestic league title.
Final 4, Skopje 2018
It was the second time the SEHA Final 4 was held in Skopje, first one after PPD Zagreb shocked Vardar in 2013. In 2017/18, Vardar continued their incredible streak, finishing the regular season undefeated! SEHA Final 4 was awarded to Skopje, the city of champions, and the fans got to see Vardar’s golden generation for one of the last times. Cindric, Maqueda, Canellas, Marsenic, Abutovic, Milic, Sterbik and of course Raul Gonzalez departed from the club during the summer! SC Jane Sandanski was very loud from the first whistle of the semi-final match, when the hosts defeated injury-riddled Meshkov Brest, until the last second of the final match, and the trophy ceremony. But, it wasn’t just Vardar offering memorable moments. We also saw Pavlovic’s incredible goal to win the match for PPD Zagreb in the semi-finals, the brilliance of the youngster Domen Makuc and much more. Ultimately, Vardar won their fourth SEHA title against PPD Zagreb in a terrific final, while Celje PL beat Meshkov Brest in the bronze-medal match, in their debut SEHA – Gazprom League Final 4 appearance. It was another well-organized tournament, offering many incredible moments for everyone involved!
Final 4, Brest 2019
For the second time in SEHA – Gazprom League history, the city of Brest hosted the SEHA Final 4 tournament. After the 2017 spectacle, Brest was hoping to offer another unique handball experience and it delivered. Sports Hall Victorya welcomed four teams who only had one dream – to win SEHA title. The first-ever All-Croatian semi-final was reserved for Croatian champions PPD Zagreb and vice-champions Nexe. In their eighth semi-final in the eighth season of the SEHA – Gazprom League, Zagreb had initial advantages against Final 4 debutants Nexe. It was not a high-risk match with Zagreb keeping their goal distance throughout the whole first half. It was not until minute 49 that Croatian champions moved on the winner’s way with Damir Bicanic’s sixth strike combined with Radivoje Ristanovic's amazing number of saves. They secured their third SEHA-Gazprom League final. Reigning SEHA champions, Vardar were ready to defend their title from the previous two tournaments. The first step was a semi-final match with 10 times Belarusian champions. It was the re-match of the 2018 semi-final and 2014 final. After two defeats against Brest in the regular 2018/2019 season Vardar took the victory in a thrilling second semi-final, with Milosavljev’s brilliant 15 saves. Ultimately, Vardar won their fifth SEHA title defeating PPD Zagreb in an amazing final, while Meshkov Brest, with the help of loud home fans, managed to take third place defeating the SEHA Final 4 debutants, Nexe. To put the cherry on top, except SEHA title, Vardar managed to repeat 2017, by taking the EHF Champions League title and domestic league champions title, making the handball experience unique as possible.
Final 4, Zadar 2020
After Varazdin, the city of Zadar became the second Croatian host of the SEHA - Gazprom League Final 4 tournament. In a very unusual season, there was a very successful SEHA Final 4 tournament. In the season 2019/2020, Telekom Veszprem made a comeback and managed to win their third SEHA trophy defeating Vardar 1961 in the finals with 35:27. In a third-place match, Meshkov Brest took the victory over PPD Zagreb. The tournament in Zadar was a special one because of novelties that SEHA - Gazprom League brought and also it was held in very challenging times for the world of sport. The novelties were: Virtual Fan Experience, Online press conferences, and mixed zone, Online Media Call, redesigned SEHA Mobile App and much more.
Once again, Zadar will host the SEHA - Gazprom League Final 4 tournament, and we are looking forward to new memories this year.