MOTW: Vardar take huge step towards CologneArticle
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QUARTER-FINAL REVIEW: Vardar earn a 26:24 win at Flensburg in Saturday's Match of the Week thanks to 19 Sterbik saves but the Macedonian team let a seven-goal lead slip away.

MOTW: Vardar take huge step towards Cologne

Vardar Skopje are well on their way to make it to the VELLUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne for the first time after failing in the quarter-finals in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Macedonian champions won the Match of the Week in Flensburg 26:24 and have their fate in own hands on home ground on Thursday.

• After defeats against Barcelona and Kiel and a tie with Veszprém, Flensburg could not win another home match against a top team this season
• After three defeats and one draw in their previous four quarter-final matches in 2015 and 2016, this was Vardar’s first victory in this stage after the 27:25 against Flensburg in 2014
• Johan Jakobsson netted six times for the hosts, while both Alex Dujshebaev and Luka Cindrid scored five for Vardar
• Seven goals (17:10) early in the second half was Vardar’s biggest lead

Quarter-final, 1st leg:

MOTW: SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs Vardar Skopje (MKD) 24:26 (9:15)

Flensburg were behind for the whole 60 minutes, from the start to the final buzzer, in sharp contrast to the quarter-finals three years ago, when they beat Vardar 24:22 on their way to winning the title.

On Saturday, Vardar goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik was the reason for the visitors’ highly successful start. The 19 saves in total by the 2013 world champion and three-time Champions League winner boosted Vardar.

Flensburg could not start their regular fast counter-attack based match play, as Vardar was very patient and efficient in attack.

Fourth lowest ever half-time score

After 30 minutes, Flensburg’s nine goals were their fourth lowest ever at half-time in any Champions League match: Twice against Ciudad Real in the 2010/11 season (7:9 in the group phase and 8:19 in the quarter-finals), and against Zagreb (8:11 in the Last 16 in 2005/06) they had scored less goals.

Going 15:9 ahead was more than a statement by Vardar – being on their way to their second victory on German ground this season after winning 33:27 at Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the group phase.

Right after the break, Ivan Cupic made his team mates jump for joy when he scored 17:10.

Improved defence

But thanks to an improved defence, Flensburg stroke back. They recovered from 21:15 down to trail by just two goals (23:21) 11 minutes before the end.

Probably taking too much risks, Flensburg gave let Vardar back in the game and mainly Alex Dujshebaev took the responsibility and restored a four-goal cushion (26:22).

The two late strikes by right back Holger Glandorf might be significant for the second leg. But in order to win at the Jane Sandanski Arena by at least three goals, Flensburg need to improve clearly on Thursday.

Post-match statements

Rasmus Lauge, Flensburg centre back: “We still have a chance. The second half proved that we can even beat them at Skopje. But the first 30 minutes were terrible.”

Ljubomir Vranjes, Flensburg coach: “It was great to see the fighting spirit after the break but we have to talk about our attacking performance before the break. Skopje adapted perfectly to our match play.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew