FEATURE: Following an away win against 2014 champions Flensburg in the first-leg quarter-final, Vardar are in a strong position to qualify for their maiden VELUX EHF FINAL4.
Hoping for a new page in club history
After securing a 26:24 away victory against Flensburg in their first-leg quarter-final, Macedonian champions HC Vardar are just one step away from writing a new page in their history and qualifying for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for the first time.
HC Vardar had control throughout the Match of the Week on Saturday and goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik was the main reasons why their Bundesliga opponents left for the half-time break with only nine goals.
However, in the second half Flensburg improved the game in defence and reduced the difference, though the match still ended with a two-goal home defeat for the 2014 champions ahead of the second leg in Skopje in Thursday.
Flying wing Timur Dibirov scored several breathtaking goals and, together with Luka Cindric, was the main weapon in Raul Gonzales’ squad.
“The impressions after the first leg are very positive. We managed to win over Flensburg on their court, in an arena that provides the home team with amazing support. I’m very satisfied that we played as a team – this is the only way you should play against the big opponents,” says Dibirov.
“Our 5-1 defence was great in the first match. We didn’t allow our opponents to make fast breaks, which is their main weapon, and this gave us an opportunity for some easy goals on our side,” adds Cindric.
Flensburg will fight to the end
Despite the results of the first quarter-final match, Flensburg coach Ljubomir Vranjes is emphatic that his team will not wave the white flag in Skopje and will fight until the end for the FINAL4 spot. However, both Cindric and Dibirov believe there is not much space left for tactical surprises.
“There is not enough time for changes. Both teams know each other so at the end details will decide the winner,” says Cindric.
“Flensburg is a very dangerous team led by an excellent coach, who I’m sure will try to surprise us in some respects. However, as my teammate Cindric said, I think that there is not much time left for serious changes,” says Dibirov.
Looking back, history is on Flensburg’s side as the German team eliminated Vardar on their way to the final tournament in Cologne in 2014 thanks to an efficient penalty shot from Danish wing Anders Eggert. Dibirov still remembers the match but thinks both teams have made progress since then.
“There are quite big differences between the teams in 2014 and now. Both teams worked very hard over the last three years and made significant progress. But now is the moment to see which team’s efforts will pay off,” says the Russian wing.
“We have never been closer to the FINAL4”
In the last three years, HC Vardar have been quarter-finalists three times, but never made it to the FINAL4. Now with an away victory already behind them, the Macedonian side believe they have the experience to go one step further.
“We have never been closer to the FINAL4 and we have to think only positively before the match on Thursday. The pressure is on our side as everyone has high expectations after our victory in Germany,” says Cindric. “Flensburg are a great team and we have to prepare well physically for them, and keep our concentration on a high level during the whole match.”
“I think that at home it will be even harder for us. We already forgot the away victory and we are getting ready like it is the beginning. Yet, we hope that with our atmosphere in the arena, together with our fans, we can achieve our goal and finally qualify for the FINAL4,” concludes Dibirov.
TEXT: Amina Idrizi / cg