Angelov keeps Vardar’s hopes aliveArticle
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MATCH REVIEW: Flensburg miss the opportunity to open a large advantage by failing to figure out Skopje goalkeeper

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Angelov keeps Vardar’s hopes alive

SG Flensburg-Handewitt broke their '21 April curse' by coming out on top of their first leg encounter, but the German side is anything but through to the VELUX EHF FINAL4. In the completion of the opening quarter-final game, Flensburg beat Vardar Skopje 24:22 on Monday evening – but it could have been more, had it not been for the brilliant performance of Vardar goalkeeper Petar Angelov.

The Macedonian debutants, who are renowned for their strength at home, now have their fate in their own hands to qualify as the first Macedonian team in Cologne. The second leg will be played next Saturday (26 April) in the Boris Trajkovski Arena in Skopje.

VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals, first leg:
SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs. Vardar Skopje (MKD) 24:22 (13:14)

Like in their sensational Last 16 win at Hamburg (30:29), Vardar stood extremely strong in defence in the first half – including a brilliant performance from goalkeeper Petar Angelov, who saved eleven shots before the break (22 in total).

Flensburg had lost their last three quarter-finals in 2009 (Hamburg), 2011 (Ciudad Real) and 2013 (Hamburg again) – including two huge home defeats on 21 April (2011: 24:38 against Ciudad Real) and 2013 (26:32 against HSV). This time they grabbed the win, but still are not secure of their ticket to Cologne.

“It is only halftime. I am satisfied with the victory, but we carry only two goals to Skopje. It will be interesting what happens in Skopje on Saturday,” said SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes, while SG defence chief Tobias Karlsson added: “I am looking forward to an exciting game in the lion’s den. We have less than one week to improve for the second leg.”

On the other hand, Vardar coach Raul Gonzales was satisfied, mainly with the defensive performance: “We managed to stop a top player like Thomas Mogensen, but nothing is decided, all is open.”

Vardar's Slovenian wing Matjaz Brumen remained cautious at the halfway mark of the tie: “Even as our spectators now might think that we are already qualified for Cologne, this is anything but true. I have full belief in my team, but the quarter-final will be decided next weekend.”

Vardar were not shocked by the flying start by Flensburg, leading 5:2 and 8:5. Minute by minute the hosts were less efficient in attack, allowing Vardar, and top scorer Igor Karacic (nine goals in total), to strike from all cylinders. After three straight goals the match was level for the first time at 8:8 – and right before the break Vardar took their first lead at 13:12, silencing the sold-out Flens-Arena (6000 spectators) significantly.

On the other hand, only the Flensburg wingers Anders Eggert and Lasse Svan were efficient in scoring. Everything changed in the initial stages of the second half and as their defence clearly improved, Flensburg forced the Macedonian side to cause an unusual number of mistakes in attack.

With three unanswered goals, the hosts forged ahead to 20:17, their first three goal lead since the opening quarter and the fans were back to life. A main key for taking the lead again was the change of the goalkeeper from Mattias Andersson to Sören Rasmussen.

But the German side could not manage to cast off their bravely fighting opponents, in fact, Without Rasmussen‘s saves, Flensburg may have trailed in the final stages.

When the score was 24:20 for the hosts, Flensburg missed a number of glorious chances against Angelov, allowing Vardar to reduce the gap to the final score of 22:24, with the final shot from Flensburg’s top scorer Anders Eggert (6 goals) came just after the final buzzer and was not counted.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor