INTERVIEW – As one of the most experienced players in the PGE Vive Kielce team, Krzysztof Lijewski knows better than most what playing in the VELUX EHF FINAL4 is all about.
In this interview with stregspiller.com, he makes no secret of the fact that he fears his team’s semi-final opponent, Veszprém, whom he finds to have undergone a huge change under their new coach, David Davis.
By Peter Bruun
With his 35 years of age, Krzystof Lijewski definitely falls into the category of experienced handball players. But, to the veteran Polish right back, playing the FINAL4 is far from a new experience.
For instance, he was part of that unforgettable final against Veszprém in 2016, when Kielce, debutants at the time, came from trailing by nine goals with 14 minutes left to win 39:38 after a penalty shootout. With five goals, he made his own contribution to that triumph.
Now, he and his teammates are back in Cologne, hoping to pull off another surprise.
“We are here for the fourth time, but being here is something you never get tired of, and on behalf of the team, I feel very, very proud. I know that those great lads in our team will do everything they can tomorrow to get us into that final, although we know that it will be damn’ hard,” Krzystof Lijewski tells stregspiller.com.
“After those quarter-finals, anything is possible”
The 2016 final is not the only “crazy” chapter in Kielce’s recent handball history, though. Very few handball fans have forgotten the quarter-finals between the Polish side and title contenders Paris Saint-Germain Handball.
After sensationally winning 34:24 at home, Kielce went 11 goals down in the return match in the French capital but managed to get away with a 35:26 defeat and a ticket for Cologne.
Lijewski does not mind reminiscing about the matches.
“I do not think that anyone expected us to proceed from those two matches against PSG, but it actually continues to give us strength, you know.
“They had to win and we simply wanted to. That was probably the main difference.
“Of course, we remembered how Paris won the first half in Kielce by 12 goals, when we met them in the quarter-final last year, and I think the wish to remove that stain from our reputation was an extra motivation for us, and I think that this stayed in that back of our heads all the way through both quarter-finals this time.
“We played a perfect first match, where our 5-1 defence was so cleverly planned from Talant Dujshebaev and worked perfectly.
“Personally, I was even shocked that we were able to win by 10 goals, and in the return match, I have to say that we were also lucky to get away with a nine-goal defeat after being 11 down.
“Yet, I also think it was due to great morale from the team that we were able to scrape ourselves up from the floor and get a result that sent us through after all,” he finds.
Davis made Veszprém great again
Saturday will bring another meeting with Veszprém, the team Kielce defeated in that memorable final, in 2016.
Lijewski expects to meet a completely different Hungarian team compared to the one three years ago.
“In each and every position, Veszprém are extremely well-equipped and they have almost no weak points.
“If you look at their defence, they have Nagy, Blagotinsek, Mackovsek, Terzic. They have no weak points anymore. They are a wall and behind that wall stand Sterbik and Mikler.
“In attack, they play faster than ever. Strlek and Gajic are marvellous wings – they have such a great team, and they are so strong, and lately, they are also mentally strong, due to their change of coach.
“David Davis has not only improved the team tactically; he has also added some more calmness to the team, and that has done them good.
“They have more self-confidence these days and they hang together. They are more aggressive on the defensive end and fast in their attack, which they also proved in the final of the Hungarian championship (where Veszprém defeated Szeged, ed.). They will be very difficult to beat,” concludes Krzysztof Lijewski.