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1 month ago - 6/22/2018

National Champions of Europe – Men Part 6: South-East

The final part of the six-part series focuses on south-east Europe, including Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

GREECE
Olympiacos SFP take first domestic trophy

After a five-game series to decide the title, Olympiacos SFP won their first domestic trophy, defeating AEK Athens with three victories to Athens’ two. Athens opened the five-game finals series stronger, recording two victories, before Olympiacos turned the tables completely, taking three straight wins including the 24:23 result in the fifth final. It was the 55th edition of the Greek championship, which sees the victor needing three wins in the finals series to take the trophy. 2018 was the most competitive year in the history of the competition, as it was the first time the title had to be decided in the fifth match.

Individually, Olympiacos’ trophy was an impressive achievement for goalkeeper Kostas Tsilibaris, for whom it was the 24th title with nine different clubs from within Greece as well as abroad. Olympiacos enjoyed a strong season with 19 wins, two draws – one of which was against AEK – and just one loss.

CYPRUS
Fourth straight trophy for University of Cyprus

The European University of Cyprus claimed their fourth consecutive domestic championship title after finishing the season with a 36:25 victory over KN Agios Trimithias. The University of Cyprus had little trouble maintaining their dominance within the national league, collecting 38 points in 20 matches this season. Their nearest rivals were Parnassos Strovolos, with 33 points.

The top two teams in the league were also the sides that contested the Cypriot Cup Final, which Parnassos won 27:24 in extra time. It was the 35th Cup title in the history of Cypriot handball, and Parnassos became the ninth team to celebrate the victory. Stephanos Stefanou was the top scorer of the season, with 198 goals for Athanosios, who placed at the bottom of the league.

TURKEY
Besiktas set record with 10th straight title

Besiktas Mogaz HT claimed the Turkish Super League title for the 10th time in a row and 14th time overall. The 10th consecutive championship for the ‘Black and Whites’ marked a new milestone in Turkish men’s sports. Besiktas finished the season 12 points ahead of Büyüksehir Belediyesi Ankaraspor, although they had to overcome the departure of captain Ibrahim Demir and Croatian left wing Ivan Nincevic. But stars like Filip Lazarov and a few young players from the junior team joined the squad. One of the outstanding performers was Egyptian goalkeeper Karim Hendawy, while captain Ramazan Döne and Macedonian playmaker Nemanja Pribak were again the most valuable players of the season.

Nilüfer Belediyesi SK from Bursa, the new team of former Besiktas captain Demir, was the only team who took two points from the Black and Whites. The last game of the season was Besiktas’ 102nd straight win at their home Süleyman Seba Sports Hall. Besiktas also won their 13th Turkish Cup title, and fifth time in a row, by beating Göztepe SK.

The most touching story of the season was not about matches or titles, but the support from the Besiktas players for right wing Kubilay Yilmaz, who is still in rehabilitation after a horrific car accident two years ago.

GEORGIA
Batumi return to top in dramatic fashion

After a one-year break, Batumi became champions of Georgia again. The ‘Black Sea Guys’ grabbed the title in a dramatic final match against Kutaisi. The score was 21:21 after 60 minutes, and 26:26 after the 10-minute extra time. Ultimately Batumi won the penalty shoot-out 5:4. Last year HC Telavi were the surprise champions. They finished on the podium again this season: after a semi-final defeat against Kutaisi, the team from Telavi won the third-place match against Pegasi.

ISRAEL
Former star player Maimon leads Hapoel Rishon Lezion to title

Hapoel Rishon Lezion, the most succesfull club in Israel, won the double after a one-sided final series (27:20, 27:20, 26:21) against the 2015/16 champions, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, who finished runners-up for the second successive season. It was the first championship as a coach for Idan Maimon, one of Israel’s greatest ever players. Hapoel’s Bosnian national goalkeeper Pedja Dejanovic was voted MVP of the final series. However, the title for Hapoel Rishon Lezion came only after the team had narrowly avoided elimination in the semi-final. Rivals Maccabi Rishon Lezion led the series 1-0 and were 29:23 up with four minutes left in the second match when an amazing 7:0 run by Hapoel forced an all-decisive third match, which the eventual champions won.

AZERBAIJAN
Penalty shoot-out brings Baku the title

HK Baku won the Azerbaijan title, edging 2017 champions Mahsul in the decisive match. In the tight struggle, the score was 32:32 after 60 minutes before Baku snatched the victory following a penalty shoot-out. Last year’s runners-up, Tahsil, finished the competition in third place.

ARMENIA

No national championship took place during last season.

Author: Courtney Gahan, Fulya Oktem, Ron Barabasch, Sergey Nikolay / ew