Resilient Vardar prevail at Szeged as plucky Zagreb hold Brest
A double-header of Group B on Saturday produced a pair of classics, with Vardar enjoying what could turn out to be a pivotal victory at MOL-Pick Szeged, while HC PPD Zagreb earned a valuable share of the spoils at Meshkov Brest.
The final Group B action of the weekend will see Kielce visit Celje with the defending VELUX EHF Champions League winners from Poland with work to do in order to stay on an even keel with Vardar, while Rhein-Neckar Löwen face a tricky trip to Kristianstad.
Goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik shone in Vardar’s 23:21 win over Szeged
Russian winger Timur Dibirov led Vardar’s scoring with six goals
Zagreb overcame an early deficit to salvage a point at Brest
Belarus side playing at home let a two-goal advantage slip late in the game
MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 21:23 (11:12)
The Macedonian giants made a massive step towards securing the group’s top spot, and an automatic Last 16 berth, after fine individual performances by goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik and winger Timur Dibirov propelled them to an impressive win at one of the most intimidating away courts in Europe.
Sterbik saved a barrage of difficult shots, including three penalties, while Dibirov netted six goals as Vardar turned a 19:17 deficit midway through the second half into a precious win.
Their influential back Alex Dujshebaev, subdued for much of the contest, scored two crucial goals during the final 6:2 streak which turned the contest on its head after Szeged had also battled back to take the lead in a see-saw affair.
The electrifying atmosphere, with home Szeged fans blaring horns in a jam-packed arena, only seemed to galvanise the visitors as they led 9:6 and 12:9 in the first half before the home team reduced the gap late in the opening period.
The home side tightened up their defence and it seemed they would come out on top after a 7:3 run gave them a seemingly comfortable two-goal cushion ahead of the home straight.
However, a barrage of turnovers and other technical errors cost them dearly in the closing stages as Vardar seemed to find another gear.
Sterbik kept thwarting the home team’s striking pins and although his Szeged counterpart Jose Manuel Sierra also saved a penalty with the teams tied at 21:21, the visitors pulled away in a nail-biting finish.
After the hosts threw away yet another possession, Vardar scored from a fast break to retake the lead and Dujshebaev then drilled in a thunderbolt from 10 metres to seal the rip-roaring contest with 10 seconds remaining.
Igor Karacic added five goals for Vardar, while Stas Skube led Szeged with six. Zsolt Balogh and Vardar’s former player Sergei Gorbok added four each for the home side, but it was not enough to stop an inspired Macedonian outfit.
Juan Carlos Pastor, Pick Szeged coach said: I would like to congratulate Vardar for the victory, but we deserved more today. The two occasions where Dibirov snatched the ball, and the saves of Sterbik turned out to be decisive. We have to raise our heads, check our mistakes, and correct them.
“The team has improved a lot since the match in Brest. Our Champions League is not finished tonight, even though this was an important match, because if we had won today, we would have been the first in the group - we still have to fight for the best possible ranking.
“We work and we look forward.”
Statements after the match:
Thiagus Petrus, Pick Szeged player said: “I am sad, because I thought we can win today, but this is sport, once you win, once you lose. My injury is better, I need one more week of therapy and I hope I can help my team more in Kielce.”
Raúl González, HC Vardar coach said: “Congratulations for Szeged and for the coaches of Szeged, as they did a great job. In the first half, I think we dominated, and we won that, though when we came out for the second half, everything changed.
“Szeged played excellent, we tried to change our defence 5-1, 6-0, and in the end, it helped to achieve a very difficult victory.”
Sterbik Árpád, HC Vardar player said: “I feel very good to come to Szeged, as even after my years in Veszprém I am always welcomed. Each match we played against Szeged in the past years were very close.”
HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) 21:21 (11:10)
Meshkov will see the outcome of this thrilling encounter as a point lost while Zagreb, bottom of the group at the start of play, must surely view it as one gained, given the form and current positions of the two teams in a fiercely competitive group.
As far as Meshkov are concerned, it was a golden opportunity missed to gain ground on some of the leaders while Zagreb have significantly boosted their hopes of avoiding an early exit from Europe’s elite club competition.
Plain sailing for Meshkov seemed to be on the cards after they took a 3:0 lead with seven minutes gone, but Zagreb made a fight of it in a brutally physical contest.
Although the home side’s Iranian-born back Iman Jamali was unstoppable, scoring four of his team’s opening seven goals, Zagreb managed to claw their way back into the match as their Serbian winger Dobrivoje Markobic was just as prolific.
Markovic and Stipe Mandalinic scored three goals each for Zagreb in the opening half and the visitors refused to lie down after the break even when Brest appeared to be in the driving seat.
The visitors from Croatia kept cancelling out two-goal leads for Meshkov (13:11, 16:14, 17:15) but looked out for the count after Serbian pivot Rastko Stojkovic gave the home side a 21:19 advantage with a deft penalty.
However, a final onslaught paid dividends for Zagreb as Brest failed to score on their final possession. The irrepressible Jamali led Meshkov with a game-high seven goals, while Mandalinic netted for four Zagreb and four of his team mates chipped in with three each.
Statements after the match:
Silvio Ivandija, HC PPD Zagreb coach said: “We played better in defence than in attack but we are very satisfied with the result. We need to work on our mistakes and we will play better when Sebetic and Horvat recover.”
Matevz Skok, HC PPD Zagreb player said: “Congratulations to Meshkov Brest they played well and played like men. We were losing almost all the game but we got a point and are finally satisfied.”
Sergej Bebeshko, HC Meshkov Brest coach said: “The result is logical. It was difficult to play against the 3-2-1 defence without playmakers and we tried to use all variants. We could have won but were not lucky in the last attack. Nevertheless, I'd like to thank my team for the will to win.”
Vladislav Ostroushko, HC Meshkov Brest player said: “We played for the players who are injured and we tried to do the best we can. But this is handball.”