Toskic leads Vardar to quarter-final berthArticle
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LAST 16 REVIEW: Toskic scores eight as Vardar secure their quarter-final berth with a one-goal win against Plock.

Toskic leads Vardar to quarter-final berth

Skopje’s Jane Sandanski Arena witnessed a real thriller when HC Vardar claimed victory in the dying minutes of an amazing match. The 25:24 (13:15) win secures the third VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final berth in a row for the Macedonian powerhouse, following a 30:30 draw in the first leg played in Plock.

“Tonight we witnessed both teams playing an intense and hard game, full of excitement. The ambience was also at the highest level,” said Plock coach Manolo Cadenas. “We were competitive during the whole game, we led several times during the game, but at the end Vardar were a little bit better and they won. Vardar showed why they are one of the best teams in Europe and they have a very good coach. I’m very proud of my players, but also I'm satisfied with the way they played.”

Alem Toskic was the catalyst for Vardar’s success, as the Serbian line player proved an unsolvable puzzle for Wisla’s defence and finished the match with a perfect record of eight goals from eight shots.

Playmaker Dmitry Zhitnikov orchestrated Cadenas’ side, displaying incredible craft and vision to score and create chances, recording a tally of seven goals at the final whistle.

Both teams also enjoyed a superb game from their Spanish goalkeepers, though it was Arpad Sterbik who won the contest with 12 saves to top Rodrigo Corrales’ eight.

Triumphant Vardar will face a well-known rival, Hungarian giants Veszprém, in the quarter-final.

VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, Second Leg
HC Vardar vs Orlen Wisla Plock 25:24 (13:15)
HC Vardar win 55:54 on aggregate

Rampant backcourt shooter Zhitnikov was the sole provider for Wisla in the tightly-contested opening. The in-form Russian scored five goals before half-time.

Alem Toskic’s spell of brilliance brought the difference after the 10-minute mark, as the veteran line player ran riot on Wisla’s defence, scoring three goals and earning his side a penalty.

Vardar held a narrow lead (6:4) despite the team’s best scorer Timur Dibirov having a disastrous opening, with no goals from four attempts mid-way through the first half.

Reckless defending from Tiago Rocha earned him an early direct red card to Plock’s dismay, and Cadenas used a time-out to instil some confidence in his players after Alex Dujshebaev set the game-high lead of three goals at 8:5 14 minutes in.

Corrales stopped his second penalty of the match as both Dibirov and Dejan Manaskov were unsuccessful from the seven-metre line, and even managed to add one goal to his four saves with a long-range effort that levelled the score at 9:9.

Evergreen left wing Ivan Nikcevic scored from a fast break to grant Wisla their first lead at 12:11 with five minutes to go in the first period, prompting Vardar coach Raul Gonzalez to call his second time-out of the half.

But the Polish vice-champions capitalised from positional play, extending their lead to 15:13 in the dying minutes of the first period after defensive specialist Ilija Abutovic was shown the second direct red card of the match.

Wisla carried their momentum into the second half, as Zhitnikov led their offence to a three-goal lead at 18:15 seven minutes in.

The long-awaited momentum shift came when experienced Petar Angelov saved a Michal Daszek penalty shot. After that usually high-scoring left wing Dibirov finally broke his barren run, scoring his first goal to bring the match back on level terms at 19:19.

Vardar began to find their way through Wisla’s 5-1 defence using right winger Daniil Shishkarev in a bid to disrupt the visitors’ central block.

Both coaches attempted to add variety to their offensive game plan as the last 15 minutes of the match were heavy with technical errors as tension in the stadium grew.


Vardar’s attempts to play without a goalkeeper in favour of an extra attacker were wasteful, as they conceded two goals, but Toskic remained the main attacking outlet for the Macedonian powerhouse. The Serbian led the scoring charts with his seventh goal putting Vardar back on level terms at 23:23 with 10 minutes to go.

At that point the match went into a five-minutes goal draught, with neither team able to claim the advantage before Dibirov made amends for his underwhelming early performance by scoring the winning goal in the 57th minute.

“They led after the first half by two goals, they were three goals ahead during the second half, but at the last part of the game we managed to turn around the result,” said Vardar coach Gonzales after the game. “We came back and I’m very proud of my players because they showed character. We are in the quarter-final for the third year in a row and this the most important thing at the moment.”

TEXT: Nemanja Savic / cg