|27.04.2017, 22:10||◄ last page|
QUARTER-FINAL REVIEW: Zdravo, Cologne! Vardar book their first ever VELUX FINAL4 ticket by demolishing Flensburg on home ground.
Vardar make history and a whole country jump for joy
Vardar became the first ever Macedonian team to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, and the first ever team from a former Yugoslavian country to be part of the pinnacle event in club handball.
The roof of the Jane Sandanski Arena was struggling to stay on when the final whistle was blown. Five days after winning 26:24 at Flensburg, the Macedonian champions proved their strength with a demolition of the 2014 VELUX EHF Champions League champions.
The 35:27 (15:10) victory was a moment for Vardar fans to remember, but it was the last international match of Ljubomir Vranjes as Flensburg coach, as he will depart to Veszprem after this season.
The party will be long in Skopje. After falling at the quarter-final stage for the past three years of the VELUX EHF Champions League, Vardar ended their curse in a brilliant way on Thursday night.
It was another incredible performance of goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik, who will now play in Cologne with his fourth different club (Ciudad Real, Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona), and seven goals from the outstanding Luka Cindric.
The first half was similar to the first leg - with a couple of little differences. Flensburg scored ten goals, as opposed to nine, while Vardar had an aggregate advantage of +7 goals after their 26:24 victory in the first leg.
It seemed Flensburg had not learnt their lesson, mainly in attack, and it looked as though they were affected by the vociferous audience, who were booing, shouting and causing an incredible noise.
Both defences were extremely strong, organized by the 'Concrete Mixers' Ilija Abutovic for Vardar and Tobias Karlsson for Flensburg. Both players received their second suspension at the start of the second half. Karlsson even had to watch the last minutes from the tribune after a red card.
When Cindric netted his fourth goal, the margin was five goals for the first time (12:7) and with five minutes still to go in the first half. All tactical measures of Vranjes did not have any positive effect as his players made too many individual mistakes. Neither changing the goalkeeper nor replacing the goalkeeper by an additional court player seemed to work.
Vardar ignored the huge pressure on their shoulders as coach Raul Gonzalez kept calm and patient, in contrast to the noisy crowd inside the arena.
Right after the restart, Flensburg managed to improve and to reduce the gap but the well-known Vardar protagonists had seen enough. Sterbik again shut up the shop, Cindric either scored (like for 20:16 and 21:16) or brought his teammates into position.
Vranjes saw his hopes dashed and time running out for his side, using his second time-out at 17:22 and 19 minutes to go. But the number of mistakes was still too high, and the home crowd went crazy in the stands - singing, shouting "Sterbik, Sterbik", and celebrating the victory when Borozan’s fourth strike was hammered into the net for the decisive 24:17.
They could not believe it when they saw another double strike - including an empty goal strike of Daniil Shishkarev for the 26:17, which was nearly averted by a mopping girl. The deal was sealed, the players already started celebrating on the bench.
After winning an unprecedented third SEHA - League title some weeks ago, now they made the 2016/17 season a perfect one already. Eight minutes before the end, the Macedonian fans even proved their language skills, singing "Auf Wiedersehen" at more than 100 decibels.
"Congratulations to Vardar for deserved win. They have played excellent game not only here, but also in Flensburg. Today they were even better during the whole 60 minutes in both ends. We tried our best but we couldn't manage to achieve enough. I'm satisfied with the way my players played, but I'm not pleased with the efficiency," said Ljubomir Vranjes, SG Flensburg-Handewitt coach.
"What I have to say about this game are only few words, those are that we knew how a quality team is Flensburg and we realised that we have to play our best if we want to win. Arpad Sterbik was superb, our defence worked perfect, except our transition in counter attack and attack," said HC Vardar coach Raul Gonzalez.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap