Veszprem and Vardar shine to keep perfect records intactArticle
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GROUP C REVIEW: Vardar and Veszprem celebrated memorable wins over their respective rivals to stay joint top of the group with three wins each from as many matches

Veszprem and Vardar shine to keep perfect records intact

Hungary’s MKB-MVM Veszprem and Macedonian contenders HC Vardar Skopje won in contrasting fashion on Sunday to pull away from their rivals in Group C and maintain their unbeaten runs in this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League.

Veszprem had to dig deep into their wealthy resources to edge out a battling Montpellier side who forced a dramatic finish, while Vardar blew away Rhein-Neckar Löwen early in the second half in the Match of the Week in front of a passionate home crowd.

Goalkeepers Roland Mikler (Veszprem) and Arpad Sterbik (Vardar) stood out for the winning sides as the two blockbusters fully lived up to the expectations of fans in jam-packed arenas as well as those watching the live coverage around Europe.  

MKB-MVM Veszprem (HUN) vs Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA) 30:29 (14:11)

The old rivals who had previously locked horns eight times in Europe’s premier club competition produced another enthralling contest as Veszprem took a 5-4 lead in their head-to-head record after their top scorer Momir Ilic saved his best for last in a dramatic climax.

Stifled out for long spells by the Montpellier defence, Serbian left back Ilic struck twice in quick succession to give his team an unassailable two-goal lead in the last minute and instigate a deafening roar among the home fans after the French side had clawed their way back into the match in the second half.

There was little to suggest in the first half that Veszprem would have to work so hard for their win as Mikler stood tall in goal, thwarting the visitors with some acrobatic saves while Ilic dished out passes to his team mates and conjured a 12:8 lead shortly before the interval.

The visitors, however, refused to roll over and tied the game at 17:17 early in the second period as Veszprem’s attack started to struggle while Montpellier’s dynamic duo of Vid Kavticnik and Mathieu Grebille tormented Mikler with a barrage of goals.

Veszprem again pulled away as right wing Peter Gulyas scored when the home side were a man down to give them a 26:23 advantage, but the game was still far from over as a contest.

Veszprem again closed the gap and constantly threatened to come away with a draw from one of the most difficult away courts in Europe before Ilic made it 29:26 and then 30:28, with the unstoppable Grebille netting the game’s final goal on the buzzer.

The torrid pace lasted from start to finish and provided for a vastly entertaining encounter in which Kavticnik and Grebille scored nine goals each for Montpellier, but were undone by a more balanced Veszprem outfit.

Ilic led the home team’s charge with six goals, Swede Andreas Nilsson netted five while Gergo Ivancsik and Renato Sulic added three apiece. Six other Veszprem players chipped in with two goals each to leave the Hungarian side firmly on course to reach the knockout stage of the competition.

"We had  a strange week, we had four players out all week, and it was hard to prepare for this game.We were not good in defence at all, and in attack we had big problems, when both of our right backs injured," Veszprem coach Antonio Carlos Ortega said.

"The match was tight to the end, Montpellier made a great job with their fast players. We had problem with their fast goals, and injuries caused also several problems," MKB-MVM line player Andreas Nilsson added.

"Congratulations to Veszprém to win this match! Congratulations also to Montpellier to play such a good game in this great atmosphere. I am a little bit dissapointed, I think we would deserve one point. Congrats all Veszprém fans, they were great as usual," said Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer.

"I think we played almost a pefrect match against a great team. We had the possibility to get one point, we are dissapointed, but still happy we were able to play at this level. Thank you for this atmosphere for all the Veszprém fans," commented MAHB right back Vid Kavticnik.


HC Vardar (MKD) vs Rhein-Neckar Lowen 28:25 (13:13)

The inaugural meeting between these two sides produced a pulsating Match of the Week, in which Vardar made full use of raucous home support in the iconic Jane Sandanski Arena and celebrated a memorable win over one of the strong favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

It was a rollercoaster first half in which the lead changed hands several times, but a staggering run in the second half gave fired-up Vardar an insurmountable lead and the Macedonian side never looked back after running riot in that crucial 10-minute spell.

Vardar scored the opening two goals of the game but the visitors hit back with four unanswered efforts. Slovenian right wing Matjaz Brumen then took centre stage as he initiated a 6:2 run which swung the balance back into the home team’s favour.

A team of RNL’s stature seemed unfazed, though, and they nosed ahead 13:12 before Croatian Igor Karacic unleashed a thunderbolt from 10 metres to level the score on the stroke of halftime, setting up a perfect script for the final 30 minutes of the gripping contest.

With the teams level at 14:14 early in the second period, Vardar’s outstanding goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik unleashed the beast in his team mates as the Macedonian outfit delivered one crunching blow after another.

Goals kept flying in from all angles past RNL keeper Niklas Landin, who had also enjoyed a superb evening up to that point, but ultimately lost his personal battle against Sterbik who racked up a total of 13 crucial saves.

Vardar’s relentless pressure continued until the final few minutes, when the German side were able to salvage some pride and scored the last three goals of the game after the hosts took their feet of the gas pedal.

Brumen led Vardar with six goals as Alex Dujschebaev and Karacic added five each. Alexander Petersson was a lone beacon of light for Rhein-Neckar Lower with a game-high seven goals but could not do all by himself against a high-flying home team.   

“Vardar were better team and they deserved to get two points. We had a poor start in the second half, we made too many mistakes and they scored easy goals. Also I must say that their spectators were fantastic, they made great atmosphere and they helped to the home team to win,” said Nikolaj Jacobsen, Löwen coach.

“The atmosphere was spectacular, I can say that we were surprised with that kind of atmosphere. They played very good game especially at the second half, but I think that their goalkeeper Sterbik made excellent saves and made difference tonight. Also they were efficient at the counter attacks. Once they made big lead, it was very hard to catch the result,” said Löwen player Mads Mensah Larsen.   

“It was a very tough game, against a team that is playing one of the best defence in the world, but also they are one of the best in terms of fast-breaks. They have great goalkeeper and experienced players, and that is why we must play very good tonight. We played equal game in the first half, but we started the second half much better,” said Raul Gonzales, HC Vardar coach.

“This is a big win against a very strong team. They are tough opponents, but we deserved to get two points. With that performance of our goalkeeper and also with our local spectators we simply could not play bad game. I am happy with the win, and we all hope that we will continue with good performance in the next games,” said Blazenko Lackovic, Vardar back player. 

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor