A derby that reaches beyond Macedonian bordersArticle
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MATCH PREVIEW: A historic battle awaits in the Skopje, as two sides from the same city meet in Europe's biggest club competition for the first time

A derby reaching beyond Macedonian borders

In the past this duel was just a city event, then it became a Macedonian and Balkan duel, but now Metalurg vs Vardar has gone European and their match on Thursday 21 November is the first of two historic matches in Group C of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Traditional rivals on the court, the clubs have totally dominated since 2006, winning all domestic trophies between them.

These two matches are important for both clubs from Skopje. Currently Metalurg have six points and Vardar four points after four rounds played. The ‘ideal’ situation for both teams would be to score two points from these two games, but neither team will be willing to share the spoils with their rivals.

“Derby games like this are usually decided by one or two goals. I expect the goalkeepers to be decisive, or a couple of individual performances.

“This match will be very different than the September game in the SEHA League. Now everyone is aware of what this game brings,” says Andon Boskovski, coach of Vardar.

Metalurg see this as a duel of two rivals, not enemies.

“On the court we expect a rival, not an enemy. I wait for Vardar as a rival. We had Vardar as our rival in the championships, in SEHA, and now in the Champions League.

“I appreciate and respect Vardar and all their efforts to create a major club,” said Lino Cervar, Metalurg coach.

According to Cervar, the match will be special and will show how much each team and players value it.

“We have to show our heart, this is not a game for the weak, for those who think about walking on the court or do not think to return to defence.

“This is a match for fighters, for enthusiasts who expect big challenge. Such people and players will leave an impression on people, said Cervar.

Metalurg with their youngsters surprised Vardar in September in SEHA League, drawing 28:28, but emulating that performance may be difficult, but Stojance Stoilov, Vardar’s line player, considered that both teams have their advantages and disadvantages

“Our advantage is the rotation of players. We have a larger roster and they have problems with injured players.

“On the other hand they are more experience and know each other. They have a goalkeeper like Darko Stanic,” said the Macedonian national team line player.

Injuries to force the coaches' hands

Due to problems with player injuries before the match, coach Lino Cervar has little to choose from.

It is certain that Filip Mirkulovski will not be in the team because he is still injured, Nikola Markoski has measles, while Pavel Atman, Velko Markoski and Ace Jonoski are all doubts.

“Velko Markoski started to practice with us, but we need to see how he can play in defence. We will wait for Atman until the last training.

“We know that Vardar have more players and are in better situation than us, but no one can take away our right to want a win,” said Cervar.

The only problem in Vardar's squad is an injury to Alex Dushebaev. He was spared in recent weeks, but the medical team hopes to be able to play on Thursday night.

“I expect Alex to play, but it will be the team doctors’ decision,” says Andon Boskovski.

Equal support from the stands

Although the host team in the first game at the "Boris Trajkovski" will be Metalurg, there will be support for the red and black present after a recent surge in ticket sales for the ‘guests’.

“We first thought that there will be not a big number of our fans, but now we heard that they just bought a huge number of tickets for the match.

“So I think it will be like we are hosts and have great support from them,” said Stojance Stoilov, Vardar's line player.

Traditional rivalry

Since 2006 both teams from Skopje have had a huge rivalry with each other. In these eight years Metalurg have won five cups and championship trophies, while Vardar have won three league titles and a domestic cup.

Vardar have eight trophies in both competitions overall and are the most successful team in Macedonian handball.

In 2010 and 2011 Metalurg had two successful seasons with league and cup doubles, while Vardar were trying to stabilise and create a competitive team.

In 2012 Vardar finally managed to end their reign and win the cup, but it took them another season to regain the league title in June when at the last and decisive battle in SRC Kale they beat Metalurg.

The rivalry continues on Thursday at 20:00 hrs. CET in a historic occasion for handball in Skopje.

TEXT: Goran Antevski / cor