A puffed-up opponent, hell in the hall and a winning streak. That’s how Dukla handball players conquered Europe

A puffed-up opponent, hell in the hall and a winning streak. That’s how Dukla handball players conquered Europe
A puffed-up opponent, hell in the hall and a winning streak. That’s how Dukla handball players conquered Europe

On the first day of April 1984, i.e. exactly 40 years ago, the handball players of Dukla Prague reached the overall triumph in the Cup of Champions of European Countries in the final rematch. Yugoslav opponent Šabac was so sure of home invincibility that a dramatic duel slipped through his fingers in the decisive sevens.

At that time, Dukla was the clear hegemon of Czechoslovak handball and also belonged to a wider circle of elite teams at the European level.

In 1983, they were eliminated from the Champions League of European countries, i.e. today’s Champions League, in the quarter-finals only because of the lower number of goals scored on the opponent’s pitch. However, in the next year, she rose to the top.

The road to the final went through the Dutch Geleen, the Swiss Zofingen and the German Gummersbach, to whom this time in the semi-finals the Prague team avenged the aforementioned elimination from 1983. They brought a 14:14 draw from Germany and narrowly won 18:17 at home.

“We were in a group where we would rank Kiel or Barcelona today,” said Michal Barda, the goalkeeper of the winning team, in the Czech Television documentary Heroes of Dukla ten years ago.

“It fit perfectly. The irreplaceable Láďa Salivar in the middle, he practically did not lose the ball. Also, one of the best pivots in the world at the time, Jirka Kotrč, amazing defender Franta Kratochvíl and world-class clutches like Milan Černý or Tomáš Bártek,” recalled commentator Petr Vichnar.

In the final double match, however, the opponent – Metaloplastika Šabac – was the favorite. The Yugoslav champion had nine months without defeat, with a record of 53 wins and three draws. And huge self-confidence.

“After arriving in Prague, they dictated confident sentences that they didn’t come to lose, they said they would win by ten at home,” wrote Pavel Kovář in the Stadion magazine at the time.

In the home match, Dukla really pulled the short end of the stick, but paradoxically, the situation when they played twice weakened helped them. In it, the four players did not concede even once against the six of Šabac, on the contrary, they scored twice themselves.

Prague won 21:17 and could leave for the rematch with promising prospects. However, Šabac had 100% faith in the stormy home environment.

Celebrations ahead

“Upon arrival, we saw signs on the main streets of the city saying ‘Metaloplastika – winner of the 1984 Champions Cup’. They had prepared celebrations there, they had composed a celebratory song. They did not at all believe that they might not win,” said Vichnar.

“While walking through the city, people showed us that we were dead. Even in the hall, they let us know that they would train with us and we would go home,” added František Štika, one of the players, in the documentary Heroes of Dukla.

The inhabitants of a small town not far from Belgrade lived by handball. The hall was filled to the ceiling with fans, it was even smoking inside, and before the match it was necessary to open the door to blow out the smoke.

Kratochvíla was hit in the face by a thrown coin, which was then quickly hidden from the referees by one of the home team. Moreover, in the match itself, Dukla lost the lead right at the start.

But thanks to the interventions of Barda, who caught three sevens in a row, and the attacking form of Salivaro and Kotrč, the people of Prague stayed in the game after all. And what was important, the German referees did not succumb to the stormy atmosphere in the hall.

With the score 21:17 for Šabac, Kratochvíl did not convert the seventh, Dukla then defended against the final onslaught of the home team, and thus the rematch ended with exactly the opposite result than in Prague.

Draw. And what’s next?

Therefore, the away goals rule could not decide, and even the referees themselves were not sure how to proceed in such a situation. After looking at the rules, they found out that sevens would determine the winner.

“As the oldest player, I went to coach (Jiří) Vícha with the idea that we will be the oldest to throw,” explained Jiří Liška in Heroes of Dukla.

He was the only one from Prague who didn’t convert, but Barda caught the seven right at the start of the shootout and coach Vích subsequently made a surprising move with the deployment of the lesser-known Peter Mesiarik.

After four series, Dukla led 3:2 and it was enough for Salivar to convert at the beginning of the fifth. “I believed that a technical shot would be applied to their goalkeeper, as they say ‘slajs’. He did what I assumed and it fell there,” described the golden scorer.

Dukla took over the big vase for the winner and, as a club, continued the golden years of the Champions Cup in 1957 and 1963. Even the initially puffed-up home team showed respect.

“Jugos were great after the match. We celebrated together first, then we went to the disco. There were an awful lot of people there and when we arrived, everyone started applauding us. It was an amazing experience,” recalled Liška.

They stole the Olympics from the enthusiastic players

After returning to Prague, a military band played for the handball players and they were greeted by several hundred supporters.

Metaloplastika Šabac won the next two editions of the Champions Cup, but just a few months after the bitter loss to Prague, its players formed the basis of the Yugoslav gold team at the Los Angeles Olympics.

In April 1984, representatives from Dukla also had Olympic participation in mind, Czechoslovakia qualified for the handball tournament in Los Angeles. But in May, the communist leaders decided that they would not fly to America.

“The irony of fate was that the Yugoslavs beat West Germany in the final of the Olympics. They started the tournament instead of us,” noted the coach of European club champions Vícha in the documentary Heroes of Dukla.

The article is in Czech

Tags: puffedup opponent hell hall winning streak Dukla handball players conquered Europe


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