Tense game to be expected in the Balkan semi-finalArticle
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SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW: How will both teams deal with Knezevic's absence is the main question ahead of the second semi-final. Can Vardar take advantage of it, or Buducnost cope with it?

Tense game to be expected in the Balkan semi-final

The second semi-final of the MVM EHF FINAL4 between Vardar Skopje and Buducnost Podgorica is harder to predict than the other pairing. A very tense, even game is to be expected, when rock solid defending combined with abundance of talent goes head-to-head with brilliant attacking and a full scale of goalscoring options.

Team vs individuals

Buducnost, winners of 2012 boast probably the best defence of all women’s handball while the Montenegrin wall’s efficiency is boosted by the contribution of their team captain, Clara Woltering.

“I am ready for the challenge of competing with the best. I feel our defence is the key, and our players know that. We have prepared a lot for this, and we all know what to expect from each other, as well leave the room for a few surprises to come. We’re going for the win here in this competition,” said Woltering who was voted the best goalkeeper of the 2013/14 season just one day ahead of the semi-final.

The unity of Podgorica’s pride is rooted in years of playing and winning together and the question hangs whether a group of outstanding individuals can challenge their magnificent display of mutual understanding in the court.

Vardar is still forming but the Macedonians are shaping out to be a powerhouse of European handball. While as a team Vardar is a newcomer they can be treated as outsiders due to the individual skills their players have. Though the French superstar commando is still struggling to settle last year’s winners with Győr Andrea Lekic and Jovanka Radicevic immediately found fifth gear in Skopje and took the promising, yet, a bit unreliable squad to the FINAL4.

"I feel we can only get better in time. We’re newcomers here, but there is a feeling like we have played together for much longer time. This season has been amazing for me, and the good things don’t seem to end just yet. I feel a great understanding and friendship with these girls," said Lekic, the reigning World Handball Player of the Year.

Big game players

Buducnost have been protagonists in the scene of women’s handball for a while now winning an enermous amount of silverware and judging by their ongoing campaign there’s no ground to expect them to shake under the burden of pressure. Vardar on the other hand tend to lose concentration at times and feel less comfortable away: the Macedonians have not managed a single away win in the Main Round.

It is not common for a playmaker to be a fundamental part of her team’s defence but this very much is the case with Milena Knezevic, who may be considered as the engine of Buducnost’s game at both ends. Knezevic will be sourly missed by the Montenegrins and her absence provides Vardar with a chance to exploit their opponents’ possibly haphazard display.

Decisive factors

The referees’ approach to Buducnost’s benchmark defence, which sometimes crosses certain lines will be vital. If the Montenegrin side are forced into a lot of shorthanded action their defence may not be as tough as usual and Vardar’s versatile shooting options could capitalise on the extraordinary amount of chances.

Buducnost will have to stop the most productive output of Vardar, Andrea Lekic. Without current player of the year the Macedonian attacks lack the required spark and promiscuous attacks would tip the scale towards Buducnost.

The two teams have never met before, the semi-final of the first ever FINAL4 will their first, though not blind date.

TEXT: Bence Martha / br