April 24, 2016
HC Vardar – MVM Veszprem 26:29 (9:12)
Before the Match
Only a few weeks ago did the two top teams from Eastern Europe meet in the 2016 SEHA F4 finale. At the time the Hungarian’s had the better end and took home the trophy. It would not be different in this first Champions League quarter-final, on Saturday afternoon at Jane Sandanski hall in Skopje, although 5,500 frenetic spectators tried their best, helping Arpad Sterbik & Co. to stem the tide.
Veszprem had absolutely no problem keeping Vardar at bay. A brilliant performance of goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic and strong input from Momir Ilic (9 goals) and Aron Palmarsson (7 goals) assured a deserved victory on the road. Although, the squad from Skopje managed to close the gap a few times, Vardar was unable to push the Hungarian champion against the rope. When it was needed most Laszlo Nagy stepped up and scored twice before Vardar could revive their hopes, towards the end of the game.
The team of coach Raul Gonzalez jumped to a quick lead but Veszprem caught up shortly thereafter, courtesy of Ilic and Palmarsson. Until the 20th minute of the game (7:7) both clubs were tracking each other closely, before Vardar went cold. Nagy & Co. went on a 5:2 run and even two timeout’s called by Gonzalez did nothing to interrupt the rhythm of the match. Alilovic was spectacular in goal and made sure that his team enjoyed a three-goal advantage at the break.
Following a very quite first half, Igor Karacic and Alex Dujshbaev made themselves felt in the contest – finally. Slowly but surely Vardar began cutting the deficit and by the 38th minute, left-wing Timur Dibirov had scored the equalizer (16:16). Veszprem’s coach Xavi Sabate took a – successful – timeout and thereafter watched his squad increase their lead to five goals once again (23:18, 46th minute). Line player Renato Sulic enjoyed his best moments of the match while extending the margin of difference. Still, Vardar did not give up and five minutes before the end had caught up once again, trailing by one goal only (24:25). Veszprem’s captain, Laszlo Nagy, took matters in his own hands, scoring on two consecutive occasions; effectively putting the game out of reach.
From Vardar’s point of view there was no “game changer”. Gorbok, Karacic and Dujshebaev were unable to seriously challenge Veszprem’s defense. In particular during the first half, Gorbok was left on his own. Dibirov provided some scoring, often in breathtaking fashion, but neither one of Vardar’s right-backs, Alex Dujshebaev nor JorgeMaqueda, were able to contribute in a meaningful way (both players did not score in the first 30 minutes of the game). The two Spanish internationals will have to improve significantly in order for Vardar to stand a chance in #HandballCity next weekend.
Battle of the Match
Croatia’s national keeper Mirko Alilovic (Veszprem) vs. handball legend Arpad Sterbik (Vardar) – two of handball’s best shot stoppers squared off at Jane Sandanski hall this past Saturday. It rarely get’s any better than this. But as in the game a few weeks ago, Alilovic had the better end for himself. His performance was just stunning, especially in the first half when he denied numerous shots from close range.
Coach of the Match
Another immaculate sideline performance of Xavi Sabate. Veszprem’s defense worked extremely well, allowing only nine goals in the first half of the match. Can Sabate’s compatriot, Raul Gonzalez, find a successful recipe and challenge Veszprem within a week’s time? Unlikely.
Siraba Dembele, Andrea Klikovac and Jovanka Radicevic (all ZRK Vardar) were in attendance, watching the game from the stands. Unfortunately, Vardar’s men face a much taller hurdle in the second leg of the quarter-final, then the women’s team did a couple of weeks ago. At this point, it looks like Andrea Lekic & Co . will be the only handball crew from Skopje, making a Champions League FINAL4 appearance.
While a three-goal deficit does not pose an insurmountable problem in the sport of handball, Vardar’s chances in the return match appear rather slim. This past Saturday, the Macedonian club was unable to regain the lead on home court, even though Veszprem had “opened the door” a couple of times. It’s hard to foresee that the occasion presents itself again at Veszprem arena in front of a vociferous, capacity crowd. Advantage Veszprem – for sure.
HC Zagreb – Paris Saint-Germain Handball 20:28 (13:16)
Before the Match
15,200 spectators were in attendance and Zagreb was hoping that they would make the difference in the much-anticipated encounter with the French champion.
Ultimately, the fantastic and electrifying atmosphere at Zagreb arena did not do the trick. Paris took the early lead and kept extending it throughout the first half in deliberate fashion. Although the team from Croatia’s capital scored some sensational goals (i.e. Stipe Mandalinic; 5th minute), at the half Mikkel Hansen & Co. were ahead by three goals. Other statistics illustrated the dominance of the French club even better. Karabatic et al were scoring at a rate of 80%, while Zagreb’s savings rate stood at a meager 20%.
Ten minutes into the second half, coach Vujovic’s crew was able to draw even but by the 40th minute Paris once again was in firm control of the match and eventually settled the score 28:20 in their favor. Mikkel Hansen led all scorers with nine goals.
After the game, Zagreb’s Lovro Sprem summed it up well when he pointed out “that we still have to travel to Paris and believe.” Unfortunately, that will be all the Croatians can look forward to – a trip to the French capital and a prayer – all within a week’s time. The team of coach Serdarusic is just too strong, too skilled and too experienced to let this opportunity slip by again. No doubt, Paris will make their maiden trip to the FINAL4 in Cologne – finally.
/ J. Schutz