Vardar beat Kristianstad to send Zagreb into Last 16Article
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GROUP B REVIEW: Macedonian giants Vardar celebrate their 100th appearance in the VELUX EHF Champions League with a hard-fought home win over Kristianstad, sending Zagreb into the knock-out rounds.

Vardar beat Kristianstad to send Zagreb into Last 16

IFK Kristianstad’s valiant effort to spring an upset in Skopje and reach the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 fell short after HC Vardar’s Vuko Borozan and goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik repelled the Swedish side's comeback – and brought Zagreb into the knock-out stage with the victory.

Vardar, who were already sure to finish on top of the group, led throughout the contest, but the visitors came close to snatching a point that would have sent them through to the next phase.

•    Vardar fend off IFK rally to win 32:29 at home
•    Sunday’s result sends anxious Zagreb into the round of 16
•    Borozan leads Zagreb with six goals, while Tim Sörensen tallies seven for Kristianstad

GROUP B        
HC Vardar (MKD) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE) 32:29 (17:13)

There was to be no fairy tale ending to the group phase for IFK Kristianstad, who came within a whisker of producing a huge upset and snatching the draw that would have lifted them into sixth position above Zagreb and Celje, thanks to a better head-to-head record.

Instead, Vardar marked their milestone 100th game in the VELUX EHF Champions league with a win the Macedonian giants were made to work for harder for than they might have expected.

Even more so than Vardar, the outcome of Sunday’s Round 14 clash delighted Croatian title holders Zagreb, who squeezed into the business end of Europe’s premier club competition ahead of Slovenian rivals Celje on away goals

Kristianstad launch comeback

The home side, already assured of finishing top of the group and earning an automatic quarter-final berth, were in cruise control from the start as they raced into a 6:2 lead and maintained the four-goal advantage throughout the opening period.


Battling to stay alive and in contention for a Last 16 berth, IFK never rolled over. Having fallen behind 13:19 early in the second half, the visitors launched an impressive fightback, which eventually fell just short of their objective to avoid defeat.

Rattling the home side with trademark Scandinavian individual skill, epitomised by lightning one-on-one moves, fast breaks and creating space on either wing, IFK slashed the deficit to just one goal (22:21) and forced a dramatic climax in Jane Sandanski Arena.

Sterbik and Borozan take charge

Vardar’s back court, led by towering Montenegrin Borozan, then rediscovered their shooting form in attack – but it was veteran goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik who ultimately denied the visitors a chance of a fitting reward for their efforts.

IFK missed several gilt-edged chances to equalise as the home stretch beckoned, with their striking pins frustrated by a barrage of spectacular saves from the unphased Sterbik.

Kristianstad’s hopes were extinguished after Vardar scored two unanswered goals to take a 30:27 lead with less than three minutes left, as Borozan netted twice in quick succession late in the game to make sure the Macedonian giants kept their reputation intact.

Borozan led a long list of 12 Vardar scorers with six goals, while Tim Sörensen stood out with a game-high seven at the other end.  

Motivated Kristianstad

Vardar coach Raul Gonzales congratulated Kristianstad for their attacking play.

"We started with very solid defence, which forced them to make some technical mistakes and we scored from the counter attacks," he said. "But in the second half we didn’t continue with the same determination, we were little bit relaxed while they played fully motivated."

“I was a little bit afraid, because Kristianstad is an excellent team with a quality players," added Vardar goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik Capar. "I like their attractive style of playing. We won our previous clash in Sweden, we won last year but they were always competitive and they proved this again today.

"For us, this game was similar with our visit to Brest last week. We didn’t have full motivation since we secured the first place, but we knew that we had to play for the fair play."

Kristianstad coach Ola Lindgren praised Sterbik's performance and that of his own team.

"They were in advantage from the beginning until the end of the game. From the other side, we pushed them permanently and I think we were close in some stages, but we never managed to level the score," he said.

"I’m a little bit disappointed for our young team, because we wanted to go to the next round. We didn’t start the game as we planned since we failed to play the first half as we wanted, especially in defence. In the second half we improved a lot, both in defence and in offence and we actually had chances."

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cg