Rock-solid PSG close in on FINAL4 berthArticle
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QUARTER-FINAL REVIEW: French giants PSG overpower Zagreb thanks to a masterful performance in the Croatian capital’s jam-packed arena.

Rock-solid PSG close in on FINAL4 berth

Paris Saint-Germain Handball made a big step toward the VELUX EHF FINAL4 after an impressive display of speed, strength and skill gave them a resounding win against HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb, who fought bravely for 50 minutes but ran out of steam in the home stretch.

VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final, First leg
HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) 20:28 (13:16)

French giants PSG have all but booked their first ever VELUX EHF FINAL4 berth after a magnificent performance in Zagreb. A spectacular introduction to the match in the Croatian capital’s impressive arena paved the way for an equally breathtaking contest, in which the gulf in class became apparent only in the last quarter of the match.

Zagreb held their own well for the best part of the David versus Goliath tussle, with PSG’s potent firepower in attack making the difference as the home side fizzled out in the closing stages.

“We really have a lot of respect for Zagreb and we started proving that from the very first minute,” said PSG’s Igor Vori. “We were aggressive but once again we had a bad period of about 10 minutes, which is not good for us of course. Zagreb will surely not come to Paris with a white flag – they’ll do everything to surprise us but we must not allow it.”

Bar another Zagreb miracle in the return leg, PSG look bound to finally reach the showpiece event in Cologne in their third successive attempt. Zagreb, who stunned German powerhouse Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the Last 16, will take heart from the fact that they achieved their previous feat in the return leg with a 31:29 away win.

Driven by the unstoppable Mikkel Hansen, PSG held the upper hand throughout the first half of the match, which showcased handball of the highest quality.

The big Dane’s lethal long-range shots rained in from all angles, forcing Zagreb coach Veselin Vujovic to deploy Filip Ivic in place of Ivan Stevanovic midway through the first half after the latter failed to stop any of PSG’s opening eight shots.

With Ivic making several good saves, Zagreb slashed a tough 5:10 deficit to a more encouraging 10:12, but visiting centre back Nikola Karabatic and line player Vori kept the visitors firmly in the driving seat at half-time.

Roared on by their passionate fans, who created a memorable atmosphere, Zagreb came out with all guns blazing after the break and hauled themselves back to level terms at 16:16 then 18:18 several minutes later.

But Hansen found another gear as Karabatic pulled the strings in attack with slick passes, allowing Vori to rifle in a barrage of goals against his former club from the six-metre line.

PSG nosed ahead 23:20 and Zagreb, running on empty in the last 10 minutes, succumbed as the visitors carved out a massive advantage for the return leg in Paris.


“There was too big of a goal difference in the end despite everything – reduced roster, many sidelined players,” said Zagreb’s Lovro Sprem. “We were repeating some mistakes, they were punishing that easily and it was not easy to keep close against such a team. It was really nice to play here today and of course we’re not satisfied with this loss, but we have what we have and we still have to travel to Paris and believe.”

PSG’s streak in the final stretch was also backed by several superb stops from their evergreen goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer.

The irrepressible Hansen scored a game-high nine goals from 13 shots, Karabatic added six, while Vori and livewire right wing Luc Abalo chipped in with five each for PSG.

Stipe Mandalinic and Stefan Vujic led Zagreb with four goals apiece, as Zlatko Horvat and Antonijo Kovacevic netted three each.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cg