Barcelona move into quarters and Vardar secure thirdArticle
«Go back

GROUP B REVIEW: Barcelona won the group, after a convincing win against Rhein-Neckar Lowen while Vardar made sure third place was theirs.

Barcelona move into quarters and Vardar secure third

An excellent defensive display, which limited the German powerhouse to 20 goals, saw Barcelona become the first side to earn a quarter-final berth in this year’s VELUX EHF Champions League.

While Löwen started the last round in third place, the German side were overtaken by Vardar, after the Macedonian side stormed Montpellier in the last 20 minutes, cruising to a 34:26 win.

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 26:20 (11:10)

It was a make-or-break tie for the German powerhouse, who started the weekend in third place. But after losing against the current titleholders, the Lions could fall to fifth place, if MOL-Pick Szeged win against Kielce on Sunday.

In need of at least a draw to ensure a quarter-final berth, Barcelona enjoyed a bright start of the game, with a flawless defence that prevented Löwen to score in the first five minutes.

However, the game was as balanced as expected in the first half, with a defence-first mindset for both teams.

But Barcelona kept pushing in attack, being the more decisive team, as the Spanish side looked set to win their 11th game in the group, cruising to a 9:5 lead at the middle of the first half.

A crucial 10-minute period between the 17th and the 27th minute saw the game turn on its head. A flurry of missed passes and turnovers saw Barcelona lose their lead, trailing 10:9.

There was no room for panic for the hosts, Barcelona’s experience kept the team cool and consistent. However, consistency was Löwen’s problem all night.

Therefore, it was no surprise that the German side lost their edge in attack. With Barcelona’s defence pressing harder and harder, Löwen’s mistakes proved costly and the German team was never in a position to mount a comeback.

A 10:2 run for Barcelona, sparked by Kiril Lazarov and Raul Entrerrios, between the 27th and the 43rd minute saw the title holders seal the deal, taking a 19:12 lead.

It was a wake-up call for Löwen, but it proved to be too little, too late for the Bundesliga’s leaders. As the guests went all-out in attack, Barcelona’s 9-meter line continued to take advantage of Löwen’s precarious defence, with Jallouz and Lazarov trading blows for their counterparts.

Therefore, after their 26:20 win, Barcelona top Group B, with 23 points after 14 games, becoming the first quarter-finalist of this year’s VELUX EHF Champions League.

HC Vardar (MKD) vs Montpellier HB (FRA) 34:26 (17:17)

An impressive run, with three wins in their past four games, saw Vardar challenge for a top-three finish in Group B.

With Montpellier already through and unable to move above sixth, Vardar had a perfect opponent in the final round, as the Macedonian side needed a win doubled by a Rhein-Neckar Löwen defeat in Barcelona.

But it hardly proved to be a walk in the park for the hosts. The French team, who rested several players on Wednesday in their win against Nimes (30:27), put up a fight for the first 40 minutes.

With a free-flowing attack, it looked like Vardar would score an easy two points after powering to a 11:6 lead in the 15th minute.

But a well-taken timeout by Patrice Canayer helped Montpellier mount an unexpected comeback. In superb form, Dragan Gajic led the French charge, as the sides engaged in an nip and tuck battle, resulting in a 17:17 deadlock after 30 minutes.

Surprisingly enough, Montpellier started the second half better and even took the lead for the first time, 22:21, after 40 minutes.

Never in disarray, with a clear objective and a thorough attack phase, Vardar managed to grab the lead again two minutes later.

It was the last time the French side was able to match their counterpart’s power. Montpellier scored only five goals in the last 20 minutes.

A 13:5 run was more than enough for Vardar to grab their ninth win in 14 games and end the group on a high, while the visitors earned their tenth defeat in the group.

Vardar’s coach, Raul Gonzales, said: “We started well in the first 15 minutes, but then we fell in our rhythm. We also managed to use the fact that Montpellier players were little bit tired, because they played tough match at Wednesday.”
Vardar’s Mijajlo Marsenic said: “This was a very tough match for us. As my coach mentioned, the first 15 minutes we played good game, but then came a period of crisis that lasted until the middle of the second half.”

Dejan Manaskov and Alex Dujshebaev were Vardar’s top scorers with seven goals apiece, while Dragan Gajic had six goals for Montpellier.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / gs