Vardar shock Szeged with flawless end
The underdog mantra adopted by Vardar worked wonders in the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final as the Macedonian side took the lead early and never looked back against MOL-Pick Szeged, earning a 31:23 win.
Still, the VELUX EHF FINAL 4 berth will be decided next Sunday in Szeged, where the Hungarian side have not lost a game this season.
Backs Igor Karacic (8), Dainis Kristopans (8) and Stas Skube (6) scored 22 goals between them
Dejan Milosavljev was superb for Vardar in goal with 12 saves
Szeged face a massive task to gain their first ever VELUX EHF FINAL 4 berth
Szeged are on an eight-game unbeaten home run, including a win against PSG, but have won by more than eight goals only once (33:24 vs Celje)
QUARTER-FINAL FIRST LEG
HC Vardar (MKD) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 31:23 (14:12)
In what could be one of the final VELUX EHF Champions League home games for Vardar in the current iteration, the raucous Macedonian fans duly delivered a hellish atmosphere to pump up their favourites in front of their Hungarian counterparts.
This was no easy game for Vardar, which needed to secure an important win, as Szeged was unbeaten this season on home court.
But a motivated Vardar side delivered in the first half. Taking advantage of Szeged’s attacking woes, the Macedonian side forgot about their problems on the left back and relied heavily on right back Dainis Kristopans’ powerful shot.
As Dejan Milosavljev saved shot after shot, limiting Szeged to a 48% attacking efficiency, Vardar jumped to an 11:6 lead that sent their fans into raptures.
However, a relentless Szeged showed once again that they are no pushovers. It was strength in numbers, rather than one individual, which helped the Hungarian champions cut the gap to only one goal (12:11) thanks to a 5:1 run influenced by playmaker Dean Bombac.
The two-pronged, paradoxical attack of 1.79-metre tall Stas Skube and 2.15-metre tall Dainis Kristopans wrecked havoc in Szeged’s defence, as the Hungarian players did not know how to adapt to both Skube’s fast breakthroughs and Kristopans’ powerful shots.
But every time the Macedonian side rode a four-goal advantage, Szeged managed a way to sneak back and cut the advantage to two goals.
Yet the ending was amazing for Vardar. A 6:1 run, spurred by Igor Karacic in the attack and goalkeeper Dejan Milosavljev on the other end of the court, powered the Macedonian side to an impressive win (31:23) that morphed Vardar from underdog into the favourite before the second leg, which will take place in Szeged in 10 days’ time.
In the return leg, Vardar will have to rely again on Kristopans and Karacic, who were the game’s best scorers with eight goals apiece, while Szeged must find a way to stop the Macedonian attack.
Juan Carlos Pastor, Szeged coach: “We had a lot of problems, especially in the central part of the defence. The last five minutes we played very badly and it resulted in an eight-goal difference for the home team, which is a lot.”
Stefan Sigurmannsson, Szeged left wing: “We allowed Vardar to score a lot of easy goals, and we made a lot of mistakes. Both halves we had good periods but also downs in the game.”
Roberto Parrondo, Vardar coach: “All season, I'm talking about how proud I am, but tonight I am particularly proud. This was a very difficult season both in terms of injured players and in terms of finances. This was our last home match in the EHF Champions League this year and I am grateful to my players … and I want to emphasise that this is the best possible ending in front of our fans.”
Igor Karacic, Vardar centre back: “For us this was a very difficult and emotional match, I think we all cried when the announcement of the players was because this was our last match in front of our fans.”