Rock-solid Kielce nose ahead against VardarArticle
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QUARTER-FINAL MATCH REVIEW: The Polish champions produced a clinical performance to carve out a two-goal advantage against their Macedonian rivals in the first leg of a cracking VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-final tie.

Rock-solid Kielce nose ahead against Vardar

Magnificent defending inspired by Croatian goalkeeper Marin Sego carried KS Vive Tauron Kielce to what could turn out to be a precious two-goal win against HC Vardar in a spectacular atmosphere generated by both sets of fans in Skopje’s Jane Sandanski Arena.

Vardar looked poised to take the upper hand in this fascinating doubleheader after engineering a three-goal lead midway through the second half, but Sego’s compatriot Manuel Strlek then stole the show and silenced a fervent 6,000 home crowd.

VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-final first leg:

HC Vardar (MKD) vs KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) 20:22 (11:11)

A jam-packed Jane Sandanski Arena was not big enough for all handball fans eager to see this enthralling contest and thousands were left watching the classic on giant video screens in the Skopje city centre, as a testimony to the game’s popularity in FYR Macedonia.

The vast majority of those crammed inside the venue must have hoped for a different outcome as Vardar maintained a two-goal lead in the opening exchanges before Kielce started taking advantage of the home side’s many turnovers and redressed the balance.

With Vardar’s right back Alex Dujshebaev contained thanks to a tactical masterstroke by Kielce coach and his illustrious father Talant, the home side had to rely on middle back Igor Karacic and left back Sergei Gorbok in attack.

Vardar’s top scorer Timur Dibirov was also largely stifled out while Michal Jurecki ran the show for Kielce in attack. Cheered on by several dozen Polish fans who made the trip to Skopje, the visitors held their own in a raucous atmosphere and headed on level terms into the dressing room at half-time.

A Kielce win did not look likely in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, with Vardar goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik pulling off one superb save after another to propel his team to a 15:12 lead.

It took Kielce 11 minutes to find the back of the net after the interval but once they did, a 4:0 run by the visitors turned the match on its head as they found inspiration from an unlikely source.

Croatian left wing Manuel Strlek, who had been marked out of the game up to that point, benefited from a barrage of creative assists and lethal fast breaks and scored all his five goals in the last quarter of the game to put Kielce in a commanding position ahead of the return leg in Poland.

Robust pivot Stojanche Stoilov did what he could at the other end to keep Vardar afloat, but Kielce stood firm in the last few minutes to silence the home faithful as their goalkeeper Marin Sego also produced a blistering performance between the posts.

The Polish side will be wary of any complacency though, having scraped into the last eight after a 33:31 home defeat by French side Montpellier in the Last 16 return leg followed a 29:25 win in the reverse fixture.

Strlek led Kielce with five goals while Michal Jurecki and Grzegorz Tkaczyk added four each for the visitors. Gorbok was Vardar’s top scorer with five, with Karacic and Stoilov netting four apiece.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / bc