Szeged edge Zagreb, while Kielce and Vardar roll onArticle
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GROUP B REVIEW: MOL-Pick Szeged beat HC PPD Zagreb in a thrilling contest, while holders KS Vive Tauron Kielce and Macedonian giants, HC Vardar, celebrated resounding home wins in the second round of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase.

Szeged edge Zagreb, while Kielce and Vardar roll on

An enthralling tripleheader in Group B saw MOL-Pick Szeged celebrate a valuable 26:24 win at HC PPD Zagreb, as champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce blew away IF Kristianstad 38:28 and HC Vardar eased to a 31:27 away victory over Meshkov Brest.
  • Kielce’s stars and winger, Paczkowski, shone against IFK
  • Bielecki and Aguinagalde also in fine form for Kielce  
  • New signing, Vuko Borozan, propelled Vardar against Brest
  • Obranovic sank former club Zagreb in an exciting finish

KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE) 38:28 (18:13) 
If the opening two rounds are anything to go by, KS Vive Tauron Kielce have no intention of resting after winning their maiden VELUX EHF Champions League title last season.
The Polish title-holders steamrolled at full throttle from start to finish against underdogs IFK Kristianstad, who fought hard, but were outdone by a team of superior quality in every department.
Dynamic duo makes the difference
A balanced start to the game, with Kristianstad able to hold their own in the early stages, lasted for seven minutes before Kielce hit top gear thanks to evergreen left back Karol Bielecki and their unstoppable line player, Julen Aguinagalde.
Untypical for a pivot, with exceptional mobility and speed for a player of his size, Spaniard Aguinagalde kept ripping through the visiting defence with swift movement along the six-metre line.
Bielecki, in turn, rifled in a flurry of perimeter shots to give the home side a five-goal lead midway through the first half, which they maintained comfortably at half-time.
The rampant Kielce enjoyed an astonishing 81% shot success rate in the opening period, with Bielecki and Aguinagalde netting four goals each.
Brief fight-back by Kristianstad
Philip Henningsson was a rare beacon of light for the visitors and he orchestrated a short-lived comeback, when Kristianstad slashed the deficit to just two goals early in the second half.
Any hopes of an upset the Swedish outfit might have nurtured were extinguished after the relentless Bielecki instigated a fearsome response. Kielce romped away into a 32:23 lead with 10 minutes remaining and the writing was on the wall for Kristianstad.
The home team’s coach, Talant Dujshebaev, could afford to rest many of his starters after his team pulled away. The bench players made the most of their time on the court, as Darko Djukic and veteran goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal kept Kielce firmly in the driving seat.
Effervescent Paczkowski
Flowing as a still water that runs deep, winger Pawel Paczkowski ground down his rivals with ruthless efficiency throughout the contest and finished as Kielce’s top scorer with seven goals from as many shots.
Djukic and Aguinagalde added five each without missing a shot while Bielecki netted four, capping a mature performance with a barrage of incisive passes.
The talented Henningsson led IFK with six goals and winger Jerry Tollbring scored five. 
HC Vardar (MKD) vs HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) 31:27 (13:13)

Unlike Kielce in the earlier group B game, HC Vardar were at times made to work hard for an eventually emphatic win against a dogged HC Meshkov Brest side, who outplayed their more illustrious opponents in the first half.

Vardar struggling in attack
A rugged Meshkov defence thwarted many of Vardar’s raids in the opening period as the visitors gave their more talented opponents no room to operate in attack.

At the other end of the court, towering pivot Rastko Stojkovic caused the home side all sorts of problems, steering Meshkov to an 11:8 lead as half-time beckoned.

Sensing danger, Vardar moved up a gear and drew level at the interval, mainly thanks to an inspired performance from Alex Dujshebaev who led his team’s charge with five goals in the opening 30 minutes.

Borozan puts on a one-man show 
The teams were still deadlocked (15:15) early in the second half before Vardar’s robust Montenegrin left back Vuko Borozan, who joined the Macedonian side from German outfit TuS Nettelstedt-Lübbecke during the close season, rifled in four quick-fire goals.

The hosts, traditionally roared on by their fervent fans in the Sports Center Jane Sandanski, never looked back after their 19:15 advantage soared to 28:22 in the home straight.

Vardar then appeared to take their foot off of the gas pedal and hard-fighting Meshkov needed no second invitation to close the gap to just three goals (30:27) in the final minute, although forcing a final twist was always beyond the Belarus champions.

The versatile Dujshebaev finished as the game’s top scorer with nine goals from 12 shots, while the impressive Borozan added seven from 11 efforts.

Stojkovic was unstoppable at the other end and netted eight goals from 10 shots for Meshkov, whose Iranian new signing Iman Moorchegani Jamali chipped in with five.
Raul Gonzalez, Head Coach HC Vardar said after the game:
“We were a bit upset because we knew it would be a tough game tonight.
“In the first half we made some mistakes in defence, but we also played badly in offence and we couldn’t find our game. 
“In the second half we improved a lot, we changed defence to 5-1 and our goalkeeper Strahinja Milic made some superb saves which resulted with our advantage by 4-5 goals. 
“Brest managed to cut our lead and we had to fight hard for this win. I’m satisfied because we got two points and now we are looking ahead for our next game against Celje in Slovenia.”
HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 24:26 (12:12)

Croatian champions, HC PPD Zagreb, suffered their second successive VELUX EHF Champions League defeat of the season, compounding their 30:28 loss at Celje in the opening round with a 26:24 home reverse against Hungarians, Szeged.   

Physical Defence
A fast-paced start by both teams produced plenty of thrills and spills at both ends of the court, as spectacular goals went hand-in-hand with near misses, acrobatic saves by the two goalkeepers and a flurry of turnovers.

Veteran line player, Igor Vori, back for his third spell with HC PPD Zagreb, after spending the last seven years of his career abroad. Vori played a major role in guiding his team to a 10:7 lead, after the home side made their fast breaks count.

However, the resilient visitors hit back and some of Zagreb’s former players were at the heart of their effort, with backcourt shooter Sandro Obranovic and goalkeeper Marin Sego instigating a run, which ultimately saw the visitors grind out a precious win.
Magnificent Sego
Having readdressed the balance by halftime, the Hungarian side overcame another adverse patch when they turned a 15:13 deficit into a 17:16 lead early in the second half.

MOL-Pick Szeged never looked back, as the prolific Obranovic started to exploit the errors in Zagreb’s defence, while Sego seemed to bedazzle the home side with a string of fantastic saves.
With the contest headed for a dramatic climax, Szeged’s strategy of deploying seven outfield players at the expense of benching the goalkeeper backfired several times.

But the visitors had the last laugh as Sego returned between the posts to pick off another flurry of shots, while Obranovic, who moved to Szeged from Zagreb during the close season, drilled in the decisive goal with less than a minute left in the match.

Gorbok Outstanding Again
Russian left back Sergei Gorbok, who impressed in Szeged’s opening 28:28 home draw against the Rhein-Neckar Lowen, shone again with six goals and Slovenian Mario Sostaric netted just as many.

Obranovic chipped in with four, while veteran winger, Zlatko Horvat, stood out with six for Zagreb. Stipe Mandalinic demonstrated he was fit to play, as he netted five goals, along with Serbian winger Dobrivoje Markovic.

Said after the game:

Veselin Vujovic, PPD Zagreb coach: "Today, Szeged played a really good, tough match. We were in it until final five minutes with our younger, less-experienced players. We did not open the Champions League well this season in comparison to last season’s two victories in the first two rounds. It is not easy to develop players and seek a good result. Sometimes, we have to pay for our youth, for our inexperience, but I believe we will grow and become better very soon."

Sandro Obranovic, PICK Szeged player: "I warned my players how tough it is to play here in Zagreb. It’s a big two points for us, but we have to forget about this game as soon as possible and start with our preparations for the duel against Kielce."

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević/amc/tm