Night becomes dayArticle
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BLOG: ehfTV commentator Tom O'Brannagain writes his blog from Skopje with "pleasure unalloyed" after he witnessed a handball spectacle of both city rivals in the Round 6 Match of the Week.

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Night becomes day

Redemption is a word I would use sparingly. It has religious connotations and therefore is best used in its purest sense. But the match between the bitter foes of Skopje redeemed both after their dour encounter last week.

What a difference a week makes. Last week Vardar was the greatest team in Skopje; and Metalurg  (or so we're told) was rife with infighting, coaching problems, lack of control, in a nutshell their day had passed and Vardar was now the kingpin of Macedonian handball.

It proved a false dawn for Vardar and for all the passion of Macedonian fans, it proved a point. You are never as bad as people think you are, nor are you as good.

It reminded me of the old nursery rhyme of 'The Grand Old Duke of York'

"And when they were up they were up
And when they were down they were down"

There is no middle ground in this sports mad country. The seismic shifts in public perception are based on the latest polling figures. They won = They are the best.

This week, Macedonia was on the world's stage, as a handball spectacle, as MOTW rolled into town, and it was obvious that both teams, fans and clubs knew it.

There was a palpable sense of occasion about the event, that was desperate to prove that handball in Macedonia deserved its place on the world map.

If last week was the yin of handball this was the yang. It could not have been anymore different if the poles had been reversed and night had become day.  Whereas last weeks game was dark, fractious and parochial, this game was light, flowing and international. It blossomed into a testament of how both teams could perform.

The fans, the majority of whom, were Vardar, lent to a magical atmosphere in which both teams thrived. The game was played in a physical and technical way, which the German referees conducted with consummate ease.

But whereas, last week, everything Vardar touched turned to gold, this week it was Metalurg who had the Midas touch. The first half ended in a slight advantage to Vardar but the second half was all Metalurg.

A 7-1 blitz at the start of the second half left Vardar scrabbling for a toe hold in the game. A major contributing factor was the amazing Mijatovic in goal. Rade was in rude health. He saved everything that Vardar could throw at him, the cherry on the icing of the cake being his one on one against Karacic, that is save of the week whether it wins or not.

Karacic jumping from 6m almost jumps into the net and somehow Mijatovic saved it. There is no word other than miraculous to explain it. It is up there with the save made by Dudek against Shevchenko in the 2005 CL Final. In the end Mirkulovski wasn't the miracle here but maybe his return sparked a little mini revival in his team.

By way of contrast, the little things went against Vardar. The little bits of luck, the flow of the ball, that they enjoyed last week were almost entirely going Metalurg's way. A potential Vardar interception, missed by a cm, led to a goal to the old enemy. It was a role reversal of an order that I have never seen.

I always like to think of the game in tiny segments, and a moment at the very end of the game sums up Vardar's day. The Metalurg defence, knowing that a Vardar score would be meaningless, allowed Brumen to shoot unopposed. He missed the goal entirely. It was just another something that, this week, didn't go the way of Vardar.

It just shows in sport, that if it's not your day, it's not your day.

But it's what makes our sport of handball so amazing. You can never second guess a score line. Just when you think you know it all, handball does something unexpected. Just this week look at Dunkirk away at Kiel, Kolding's double victory against Kielce, Flensburg overcoming a 7 goal defecit or even Celje just losing out to mighty Veszprém.

And we should all hold up our hands and say that we never expected this result for Metalurg.

In the end, for both Vardar and Metalurg it was expectation that beat them. It is no fluke that both lost the "home" game. When Metalurg was seen as the strongest team, they lost and the reverse was true for Vardar. The pressure to perform, for each, was just too great.

But it is with pleasure unalloyed that I write this blog. My faith is restored in sport. In the end hope did emerge from Pandora's box and Skopje treated us to a game, where, even if both had an axe to grind, players were sharp, the game had an edge and the "dashing blade" Vugrinec cut through Vardar in a replication of former years.

Over two legs, it's honours even.

This game, however, was played with honour.

Redemption, pure and simple.

TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator