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20.04.2017, 10:40◄ last page     


QUARTER-FINAL MOTW PREVIEW: On German soil, HC Vardar want to end their bad run of luck at this stage.
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SG Flensburg-Handewitt hope for history to repeat, Vardar do not

In 2014 SG Flensburg-Handewitt and HC Vardar met at the quarter-final stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League, but since then, neither of them have made it all the way to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. Fans across the world will be able to see who will get one step closer as this clash will be ehfTV’s ‘Match of the Week’ (MOTW).

  • HC Vardar have been quarter-finalists three times, but never progressed
  • SG Flensburg-Handewitt have been in the final three times, winning once
  • In the group phase, Vardar took top position in Group B, while Flensburg finished fourth in Group A
  • While the Macedonians skipped the Last 16 stage as they finished top, Flensburg were extremely lucky to defeat Meshkov Brest

QUARTER-FINAL, FIRST LEG

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Saturday 22 April, 17:30 hrs local time, ehfTV.com Match of the Week (MOTW)

Will history repeat itself or can HC Vardar end their unlucky quarter-final series of results? This is the one and only question prior to this duel.

For three straight times – 2014, 2015, 2016 – the Skopje-based side have made it through to the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-Finals and every time the Macedonian champions have been eliminated.

This run of bad luck started exactly three years ago in the same match, when a penalty shot by Anders Eggert finally ended the hopes and dream of Vardar and made his Flensburg side extremely happy.

Thanks to the goal from the Danish left wing, the side from Germany suffered one their sweetest ever defeats as their 27:25 loss in Skopje, combined with a 24:22 win at home was enough for their first and since then, only, ticket to Cologne - the rest of that story is well-known as they first defeated FC Barcelona and then THW Kiel in the final to become VELUX EHF FINAL4 2014 winners.

In the next two years Vardar lost quarter-finals against Kielce and then Veszprem, while opponents Flensburg were also disappointed a year ago, as just one goal was missing for another ticket to Cologne, losing against eventual winners Kielce.

The 2014 quarter-final was Flensburg’s first-ever clash with Vardar, and the second ever with a Macedonian side. In the 2006/07 season, they beat Vardar’s local rivals HC Metalurg twice to make it to the final against Kiel.

Vardar have had several duels with German side. In each of the past three seasons they have met Rhein-Neckar Löwen and their 33:27 Group B win at the ‘Lion’s Den’ back in November makes them feel confident that they can beat a German side on German ground.

Three years ago, before the quarter-final stages, Vardar had caused a major sensation, when they eliminated defending champions HSV Hamburg with a win at Hamburg in the Last 16.

The current season is Vardar’s best-ever on the international stage. For the first time ever, they were group winners in the VELUX EHF Champions League, meaning a direct ticket to the quarter-finals, skipping the Last 16 stage.

Since then, they won the regular SEHA - Gazprom League season and then they became the first ever team to win the competition for the third time, by dethroning double champions Veszprem in the SEHA – Gazprom League FINAL 4.

“Vardar are extremely strong this year,” said SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes. “They will be a truly tough nut to crack but we all hope that history repeats and we can make it to Cologne again by beating them in the quarter-finals.”

His side have been shaken in the domestic competitions this season though.

First, Flensburg lost their German cup final against Kiel, then they were defeated by Füchse Berlin last weekend - and thus intermediately lost their top position in the Bundesliga to defending champions Rhein-Neckar Löwen. However, since Wednesday’s (19 April) 33:25 win against Bergischer HC, are now back on top.

“We still have our fate in our hands in both competitions – the Bundesliga and VELUX EHF Champions League” said a confident Vranjes, who, after 11 years, will leave Flensburg to join Vardar’s SEHA League rivals Telekom Veszprem.

Vardar surprisingly lost on Macedonian ground, recently beaten by Metalurg in the national league but their Head Coach Raul Gonzales is confident despite this defeat. “We are ready for Flensburg,” he said. “We want to win there and at home.”

He might have to replace injured Croatian international Igor Karacic, while on the other side, all the Flensburg players appear fit for the match-up.

The German side have never won any matches this season against a team coached by a Spanish coach (Barcelona and Veszprem) and this is maybe a good omen, says Vardar’s Spanish goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik.

“We have to make this one crucial step to Cologne,” he said. “Not only for us, but for the club and for all Macedonians.”


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc

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