Both Macedonian teams reach the Last 16Article
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ROUND REVIEW: Vardar's victory against Minsk lifts local rivals Metalurg to the knock-out stage with them, while Veszprem drop first point of the campaign

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Both Macedonian teams among the Last 16

It’s all matter of mathematics: After eight rounds and 96 matches, twelve of 16 participants for the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League are confirmed. In groups B and C, all each four teams to proceed to the knock-out stage are known, while in groups A and D each three teams fight for two spots in the remaining two rounds.

When round 8 was completed on Sunday, it proved to be a historic day for Macedonian handball. For the first time two teams from this country have clinched their berth for the knock-out stage of the competition. Thanks to the sensational 30:22 win for Vardar Skopje against Minsk, Metalurg are also through. The local rivals are now likely to fight for third position below Barcelona and PSG.

And since Sunday none of the 24 teams have a clean record anymore. After seven straight victories, MKB-MVM Veszprem gave their first point away in a real thriller at Rhein Neckar Löwen (25:25).

But like Kiel, thanks to their victory in the Match of the Week at KIF Kolding-Kobenhavn (read the report here), Veszprem clearly top their group, ahead of Löwen by three points.

Group A:

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs. MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN) 25:25 (12:13)

Like the first leg (30:29 for the Hungarians), the re-match was a real clash of two equal titans of handball. The spectators in the fully packed SAP Arena in Mannheim saw a thrilling performance by both sides.

Löwen needed to win to keep their hopes alive to finish on top of this group, but after the draw this chance seems to be only mathematically possible.

After falling 2:4 behind, Veszprem turned the match around, boosted by the goals of Momir Ilic, who was the top scorer of the match with eleven goals in the end. Hig goal to equalise at 5:5 was already the fourth strike from the Serb and nobody in the arena knew at this point that the 5:4 would have been the last Löwen lead until the final whistle. Despite a brilliant first half of Uwe Gensheimer, who scored six of his ten goals before the break, Löwen were down by one at half time.

Veszprem even accelerated after the break, putting enormous pressure on the Löwen attackers. And as the attack of the Hungarian side worked well, they intermediately were ahead by three goals at 18:15. But the reigning EHF Cup champions did not give up and reduced the gap to only one goal several times, but it took until minute 55, when they drew level for the first time in the second period at 24:24.

When Patrick Groetzki found the net to make it 25:25, Veszprem still had some time to win and confirm the group victory, but Löwen defended smartly, leaving the last chance for Veszprem a direct free throw from star Laszlo Nagy, who made his international comeback after a leg injury, but he failed.

HC Vardar Skopje (MKD) vs. HC Dinamo Minsk (BLR) 30:22 (14:11)

A sensational second half paved the way for the first participation in the knock-out stage in the history of Vardar Skopje, while Dinamo are out of the running for the Last 16. The arena “Boris Trajkovski” went crazy for their team, as they put on an extraordinary performance after the break.

Minsk, fighting for their last chance, had the better start, but even a direct red card against goalkeeper Inaki Malumbres did not stop the Macedonian champions. At the break the distance was only three goals, but Russian international Timur Dibirov set the Belarusians on the backfoot with his impressive tally of nine goals.

The deal was sealed at 24:17 with over 10 minutes to play and importantly for Vardar they had won the direct encounter after the 24:26 loss in the first leg. Defeating Minsk 30:22 also meant that Vardar’s local rival Metalurg have also qualified for the Last 16.

TEXT: Björn Pazen