Vardar sensationally eliminate defending championsArticle
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MATCH REVIEW: The biggest sensation of the Last 16: Hamburg defeated on home ground by Macedonian champions

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Vardar sensationally eliminate defending champions

“The greatest day of my career,” said Igor Karacic. “A sensational result, which we never expected,” added Alex Dujshebajev. Vardar Skopje made their dream come true and made it for the first time to the Quarter-finals of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Another first is that since the implementation of the current playing system in the 2009/10 season, the defending champions were eliminated in the Last 16.

So Sunday was another historic day for Macedonian handball. For the first time two teams are part of the quarter-finals after Metalurg progressed thanks to a second win against Kolding.

VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, second leg:

HSV Hamburg (GER) vs. Vardar Skopje (MKD) 29:30 15:17
First leg: 28:28,57:58 on aggregate

Though their Russian top star Timur Dibirov had to miss the rematch in Hamburg due to an eye injury, Vardar fully surprised the defending champions in the first half. Backed by the nine saves of goalkeeper Petar Angelov (in total ten) and five of in total six rockets from Filip Lazarov, Skopje were constantly in lead in the first 30 minutes.

“We had the advantage that we could prepare more relaxed than Hamburg, as they had a tough match on Thursday. Maybe this was decisive,” said Vardar player Vladimir Petric.

Hamburg lacked precision and concentration in attack and missed too many chances to gain a better result – with one exception: right wing Stefan Schröder, who scored five of his seven goals before the break after he had struck nine times in the first leg in Skopje.

Only the brave deserve luck

Boosted by around 100 vociferous fans among the 2,907 spectators, the Macedonian champions were ice-cold and intermediately went ahead by three goals.

And Skopje even had not only been hit by missing Dibirov, but also by the severe knee injury of Stojanche Stoilov, who needed to get carried out on a stretcher in minute 21 directly to hospital – so he missed the 17:15 halftime lead for his team.

Anyone who thought that Vardar would lack power in the second half, was completely wrong. Igor Karacic added goal after goal on his tally, mainly by penalties, additionally Alex Dujshebajev had started his engine, scoring five of his seven goals in a very short term.

Though the defending champions intermediately equalised at 20:20, causing a time-out of Vardar coach Raul Gonzales, their match play was anything but full of confidence. The number of mistakes even arose in attack, while Skopje’s defence stood like a rock.

The result was a 6:1 series to 26:21 of Vardar, shocking HSV and their spectators and making the red and yellow dressed fans sing their well-known songs. Schwalb took his time-out, but his players still could not get through the strong Vardar defence easily.

Six minutes before the end, the Vardar advance had melted to only two goals at 28:26 – and the flames of hope were fired again by HSV. When Duvnjak (seven goals) netted for 28:29, the arena went crazy and Gonzalez used his green card to stop the downswing. 

Dujshebajev took the responsibility to score for 30:28 with his seventh goal and the deal was sealed, Hamburg were eliminated, two Macedonian teams are in the quarter-finals and could even face each other again, as Metalurg are in pot 2 and Vardar in pot 1.

“It really hurts to get eliminated as the defending champions, but Vardar were the clearly better team. They deserved to proceed, as we had too many mistakes,” HSV coach Martin Schwalb said, while Vardar player Petric mentioned the “historic day for Vardar Skopje. One can say we were lucky, but only the brave deserve luck.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor