Elverum and Alpla reach qualification tournament finalArticle
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SEMI-FINALS REVIEW: The Norwegian champions and Austria’s title holders will meet on Sunday in a battle for the last remaining berth in the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase

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Elverum and Alpla reach qualification tournament final

Fans in Banja Luka’s Borik Hall were treated to a pair of fascinating encounters in the VELUX EHF qualification tournament, with Norway’s Elverum HH and Austrian side Alpla HC Hard going through to Sunday’s final.

While Elverum produced a strong final quarter to down a battling OCI-Lion, Alpla edged hosts RK Borac m:tel after a scintillating clash which went into extra-time.
Borac and OCI-Lions will meet in the third-place match before the winners of Saturday’s semi-finals take centre stage to determine who will advance to the business end of Europe’s elite club competition.

VELUX EHF Champions League Qualification Tournament, semi-finals:
Elverum Handball Herrer (NOR) vs OCI-Lions (NED) 35:30 (14:15)

Norwegian champions Elverum moved a step closer to reaching the group stage after a hard-fought win over Dutch rivals OCI-Lions, having pulled away in the last 15 minutes of a thrilling contest.

It seemed Elverum would stroll into the final of the qualification tournament in Banja Luka after racing into a 5:2 lead but a spirited fightback by Lions saw the underdogs hold the upper hand for much of the game.

Line player Ivo Steins was unstoppable with five goals in the opening half and goalkeeper Luuk Hoiting pulled off eight stunning saves as OCI-LIONS turned the tide and took a 10:7 lead, cheered on by a vociferous band of supporters who made the long trip from the Netherlands.

Elverum then moved up a gear and nosed ahead 11:10 but another surge by the Dutch side saw them take a slender one-goal halftime lead.

The rollercoaster continued after the break as right wing Jonas Burud kept tormenting the team from Limburg with unstoppable fast breaks.

Burud played a crucial role midway through the second half, when he scored three quickfire goals in a 6:1 run which gave rampant Elverum a decisive 28:23 lead.

Propelled by Steins and right back Joris Baart, OCI-Lions launched one last fightback to pull back to 32:30 but ran out of steam in the final few minutes as the Norwegian outfit raced away for good and secured their passage to the final.

Burud finished with a game-high nine goals for Elverum, incisive centre back Steffen Stormo Stegavik added eight and athletic left wing Andre Lindboe chipped in with seven. Baart and Steins netted seven apiece for the combative OCI-Lions.


Alpla HC Hard (AUT) vs RK Borac m:tel (BIH) 35:33 AET (30:30, 17:14)


It really is a pity that one of these two teams had to lose as Alpla and Borac kept fans in a jam-packed Borik Hall on the edge of their seats in a match worthy of a knockout stage contest.

Few would expect a preliminary round qualifier to produce a classic but that’s exactly what the audience was treated to over 70 minutes of exhilarating handball.

Unfazed by the cauldron roaring on the home side, Alpla took the game by the scruff of the neck in the opening 20 minutes, carving out a six-goal lead thanks to centre-back Gerald Zeiner who scored and dished out assists almost at will.

But Borac were not about to roll over and came storming back inspired by Zeiner’s counterpart Srdjan Trivundza, who pulled all the strings for the home side.

The Bosnian outfit halved the deficit to three goals by halftime but Alpla stood firm after the break and looked like they would stay in the driving seat when Marko Tanaskovic scored his fifth goal to keep them 24:20 ahead midway through the second half. Trivundza had other ideas, though.

The mobile and creative centre-back was unstoppable and Borac piled on the pressure in the final 10 minutes, earning the additional 10 after Mirko Mikic converted from the left wing to level the score in the dying seconds of regular time.

Elated home fans must have thought Borac turned the tide when they took a 31:30 lead with their first possession of extra time but Zeiner, who had a quiet second half, then drilled in two crucial goals and Roland Schlinger netted as many to force the final twist.

Borac gave themselves the last ray of hope when they pulled back to 34:33 but Trivundza missed a chance to equalise and Schlinger took full advantage by scoring the game’s final goal to seal his team’s progress into the final.

The magnificent and relentless Trivundza led all scorers with 13 goals but his valiant solo effort fell short as Zeiner netted eight and Schlinger added seven for resilient Alpla.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br