Meshkov Brest: The young club chasing Champions League glory
With every year, HC Meshkov Brest seem to feel more and more comfortable among the continental elite. For the second straight season, the eight-time Belarusian champions have reached the VELUX Champions League Last 16, where they are set to play Germany’s SG Flensburg-Handewitt.
Last year, Brest were eliminated in this stage by KS Vive Tauron Kielce, who went on to win the continental trophy. But since then, Brest have gained some more international experience and hope to do better.
Brest have had some solid results in competitive Group B, where they finished fifth with 14 points. Coach Sergey Bebeshko’s team were particularly strong at home, beating heavyweights like HC Vardar, MOL-Pick Szeged and Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
“To be honest, we had not even expected to earn so many points. The level of the group was very high, yet we did very well and reached all our goals,” Brest’s left back Pavel Atman told ehfcl.com
The Russian international sounds optimistic prior to the games with Flensburg: “The German side are quite different from other teams, they play at a very high speed, so they are a really strong rival. However, we certainly have a good chance at home – and then we will see.”
A young club with ambition
29-year-old Atman, who moved to Brest from Metalurg Skopje in 2015, is one of numerous international players in the team – along with Serbians Rastko Stojkovic and Rajko Prodanovic, Croatians Ivan Pesic and Ljubo Vukic, Slovenian Simon Razgor, Montenegrin Rade Mijatovic, Latvian Dainis Kristopans and Iranian-born Hungarian Iman Jamali.
Together with the Belarus national players Dzianis Rutenka, Maxim Babichev, Siarhei Shylovich, Dzmitry Nikulenkau, Andrey Yurynok, the squad represent a force to be reckoned with – nowadays even for the continental powerhouses.
“The club is rapidly developing in all aspects, and now it is well-known in Europe, which helps to attract players from different countries,” says Atman.
Founded in 2002, Brest do not intend to content themselves with a Last 16 elimination – they aim much higher.
“We are relatively young but very ambitious. The club stand firmly on their feet, and the results speak for themselves. During the last three years, we have made a significant step forward in terms of both sports results and marketing. It was not easy for anyone in the matches against Brest,” club founder Alexander Meshkov told ehfcl.com.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the Champions League. It’s not a matter of one day, as demonstrated by the example of other triumphs – we already look good among the top teams, and we don’t intend to stop.
“The strategy is to approach our goal step by step. By improving the squad, and making serious investments in our junior team and the children’s league, we plan to create an even more solid foundation for winning the Champions League,” said Meshkov.
Great atmosphere at home games
It is no wonder that even the top European clubs face problems in Brest as the team enjoy very strong support from their home crowd. The Belarusian city with a population of about 340,000 people, located on the border with Poland, simply loves handball, and the fans create an excellent atmosphere at the team’s home games.
Credit should also be given to the club’s marketing department who do their job very well and know how to attract people with the help of social media, billboards all over Brest, promotional videos and the club’s own programme on national TV.
“Our work with the fans and pre-match shows are among the best in the Champions League,” says Meshkov.
Following this season, Brest will lose some of their stars, as Atman has already signed a contract with Germany’s TSV Hannover-Burgdorf, while Dainis Kristopans is joining FYR Macedonia’s HC Vardar.
However, the club have already signed several new players including Serbian left wing Petar Djordjic – who, incidentally, is now with Flensburg and will oppose his future team in the Last 16 – as well as Czech left wing Pavel Horak and Belarusian national team goalkeeper Ivan Matskevic.
“I am sure that the team will not become any weaker. I think it will continue to grow, and who knows what heights they can reach. Handball is unpredictable – few expected last year that Vive would make it to the Champions League FINAL4, but they ultimately became the best team in Europe,” said Atman.
“Brest are progressing, so they may also end up reaching the FINAL4 – and even winning the trophy.”
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cg