Maroz: “There is no limit to perfection”
The EHF Champions League Men play-offs feature an Eastern European derby, as Ukrainian team HC Motor will face Belarusian side HC Meshkov Brest.
For Motor’s Belarusian goalkeeper Ivan Maroz, it will mean taking on a team from his home country, and he thinks that the chances are equal.
“It’s 50-50. Both teams have had a good season. I think both we and Brest think that there is a good opportunity to reach the quarter-final,” Maroz tells ehfcl.com.
The first-leg match will be played next Thursday in Zaporozhye, and the goalkeeper places great importance on the clash.
“This game will decide a lot. Our goal is to win it, no matter if it’s by one, two, three or five goals, and then we’ll see,” he says.
“It’s a pity that there will probably be no spectators in Zaporozhye, as we have some new Covid-19 restrictions. And in Belarus, Brest will enjoy the support of their fans.”
Maroz does not see the second-leg match on 8 April in Brest as an extra opportunity to visit his home country. “It will be a return match — nothing else. After all, I’ve been to Belarus recently for the matches of the national team.”
“Like a red rag to a bull”
28-year-old Maroz started his career at HC Gomel — a team from his native town — and then spent four seasons at SKA Minsk before moving to Zaporozhye last year.
SKA and Brest are rivals who have been competing for the domestic titles for years, and for the goalkeeper, playing against Meshkov has always been special.
“For us, Brest have always been like a red rag to a bull. At SKA, we relied on Belarusian players and we wanted to show that we could beat Brest, who had many foreigners,” Maroz recalls. “Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes not, but we always tried to make it hard for them.”
The Belarusian saw his transfer to Motor as an opportunity to take a step forward in his career.
“Of course, now I compete at a higher level. With SKA, I used to play in the EHF Cup, but the Champions League is a stronger competition, as the 16 best European teams fight for the trophy,” says Maroz, who confirms that he has never had any offers from Brest.
While the Belarusian champions finished fourth in group A with 15 points, Motor claimed 14 points and ranked fifth in group B.
“Our goal was to be fourth, but we did not reach it. Before the new year we did quite well and defeated our closest rivals, but in early 2021, we suffered some defeats,” says Maroz.
Zaporozhye’s calendar after the new year was quite tough, as the Ukrainian champions had to play away at THW Kiel, Barca and Veszprém — three teams who contested the EHF FINAL4 to end last season.
“Despite losing, we fought hard in each game. In Hungary, we lost by just four goals, and at Kiel, we missed too many chances,” Maroz said. “However, the home game against Aalborg was quite frustrating, as we were in front for a long time but ultimately lost.”
On the other hand, the Belarusian has special memories from the match at Nantes in December, narrowly won by Motor, 32:31.
“The French team led for much of the game, sometimes by five goals, but we made a strong comeback,” Maroz recalls.
“There is no limit to perfection”
In the group stage, Maroz did quite well in Motor’s goal, yet he is never fully satisfied with his own performance.
“You can’t be completely happy. When you analyse the match, you always see some mistakes. There is no limit to perfection.”
Motor’s roster includes four Belarusian players, with Barys Pukhouski and Maxim Babichau with the club for a few years, while line player Viachaslau Bokhan — like Maroz — joined Zaporozhye from SKA Minsk last year.
Notably, Bokhan is the joint third-top scorer of the current EHF Champions League season alongside his fellow Belarusian Mikita Vailupau from Brest, with both on a tally of 67 goals.
Maroz is not surprised by Bokhan’s success: “I have played with ‘Slava’ for a long time and know what he is capable of. He has always been a hard worker.
“A line player is dependent on his teammates, and at Motor, we have two great playmakers: Barys Pukhouski and Aidenas Malasinskas. Without their passes, Bokhan would not have scored so many goals.”
When Maroz and Bokhan were fresh arrivals in Ukraine, their experienced Belarusian teammates helped them to settle.
“Pukhouski and Babichau did a lot for us. They helped us to find apartments and to do all the paperwork, so I’m grateful to them. Now I feel comfortable in Ukraine,” Maroz concludes.