Veszprém edge Zagreb and close in on quarter-finals
2016 VELUX EHF Champions League runners-up Telekom Veszprém edged closer to a last-eight berth in this season’s competition after a hard-fought away win over HC PPD Zagreb, whose late surge gave the Croatian side a fighting chance of overturning the deficit when the two teams meet in Hungary next Saturday.
• Veszprém overpower Zagreb thanks to their deeper roster
• The Hungarian side control the entire 60-minute contest
• Zagreb surge back in the home stretch to slash a five-goal deficit
LAST 16, FIRST LEG HC PPD Zagreb vs Telekom Veszprém 22:23 (10:12)
Telekom Veszprém have put one foot in the door to reach the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals after a narrow win in Zagreb Arena gave them what should be a crucial advantage over the Croatian title holders ahead of the return leg in Hungary next Saturday.
However, Veszprém will be wary of taking anything for granted against the side that staged a stunning comeback against Rhein-Neckar Lowen at the same stage of the competition last season.
Having lost the home leg 24:23 against the German giants, Zagreb won the return fixture 31:29 – and Veszprém know they would be ill-advised to relax against the team capable of punching above their weight.
“It was a big fight, we were well aware of what is waiting for us here. We've reached the victory but could have finished it with a bit bigger difference in our favour,” said Veszprém goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic. “This is not over – Zagreb is a dangerous team and we know we have to be careful.”
Visitors take an early lead
The Hungarian side romped to a 6:2 lead thanks to ironclad defence, which left the hosts bereft of ideas in the opening 15 minutes, as visiting goalkeeper Alilovic produced one superb save after another.
At the other end, Zagreb’s tight marking on Veszprém’s top scorer Momir Ilic and his back court partner Laszlo Nagy opened up acres of space for their teammates, who converted fast breaks with ruthless efficiency.
Known for their fighting spirit, Zagreb were not about to roll over and they struck back to cut the gap by half-time, as the individual quality of playmaker Domagoj Pavlovic and left back Stipe Mandalinic finally created cracks in Veszprém’s rearguard.
The atmosphere in the packed Zagreb Arena reached fever pitch when the home side drew level at 14:14 early in the second half, but their joy was short-lived as the visitors found another gear to score four unanswered goals and jump back into the driving seat.
Zagreb surge home
The torrid pace started to take its toll on Zagreb as Veszprém carved out their biggest lead of the game, 21:16, after Gasper Marguc rifled in two quick-fire goals.
Roared on by their supporters, Zagreb drew every ounce of energy in the last 10 minutes to slash the deficit to just one goal, missing a gilt-edged chance on the buzzer to force a draw as the outstanding Alilovic saved a long-range effort by Tin Kontrec.
“Veszprém were today able to take advantage of our poor attacking display easily enlarge the gap with some fast break goals,” said Zagreb coach Silvio Ivandija. “We were missing a bit of luck today but despite that I'd like to congratulate my players on a big fight. I agree with coach Sabate – the result is still pretty much 'alive' and we have to give our best in Veszprém.”
Pavlovic and Josip Valcic led the home side with four goals each while Marguc and Croatian pivot Renato Sulic, a former Zagreb player, also netted four apiece for Veszprém.