Cindric's buzzer-beater makes Vardar’s dream come trueArticle
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SEMI-FINAL 2 REVIEW: Team from Skopje knock-out record winners Barcelona in a thriller to follow PSG to the final in Cologne.

Cindric’s buzzer-beater makes Vardar’s dream come true

Cologne is the place where players become legends. Thanks to a goal from Luka Cindric four seconds before the end, HC Vardar will lock horns with Paris Saint-Germain Handball in Sunday’s final of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2016/17 season.

The Macedonian side sensationally beat FC Barcelona Lassa in the second semi-final in a sold-out LANXESS arena in Cologne, 26:25.

  • After nine defeats and one draw, Vardar took their first-ever win against Barcelona – in the Men's EHF Champions League semi-final
  • With14 saves, goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik was Vardar’s match winner. The former Barca goalkeeper will play his fourth final in Cologne with his fourth different club (Ciudad Real, Atletico Madrid, FC Barcelona, now Vardar) on Sunday
  • Raul Gonzalez won the duel of the Spanish-born coaches, against Xavi Pascual
  • HC Vardar is the first-ever club to have both men's and women's teams in the EHF Champions League finals – and both in the same year
  • Ivan Cupic’s (now Vardar, Kielce in 2016) dream to become the first player since 2009 to defend a Champions League title continues

HC Vardar (MKD) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) 26:25 (13:12)

When the final whistle was blown, the LANXESS arena was in earthquake-mode. Fans and players of Vardar jumped for joy, danced on court and in the stands. In their first-ever match at a VELUX EHF FINAL4 tournament, the Macedonian champions showed an extreme fighting spirit and eliminated the big favourites, FC Barcelona Lassa.

“I am so proud of my team and our great fans - the best fans of the world. Now we fight for the trophy on Sunday, and I want to win it,” said Alex Dujshebaev, who scored seven times for Vardar and wants victory against PSG on Sunday.

In the initial stages, Vardar showed too much respect for Barcelona – and only their hammering left back Vuko Borozan kept the Macedonian team in the match. But even his series of goals did not stop Barca, who went ahead 8:5 after 13 minutes.

The Catalan powerhouse were backed by the saves of Gonzalo Perez de Vargas - voted best goalkeeper of the 2016/17 VELUX EHF Champions League season - and also took profit from their left back shooter Wael Jallouz.

But somehow, Vardar found their rhythm and pace. Within 10 minutes (23) they levelled the result for the first time at 10:10 (with a strike from Alex Dujshebaev, preceded by five from Borozan) and even took their first lead at 12:11 right before the break.

In the same way, Vardar (and mainly their goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik, who stood strong against his former club) improved, the performing level of Barcelona decreased. Scoring only four goals in the last 17 minutes of the first half, Barca let slip a clear lead from their hands and entered the dressing room being behind, 13:12.

The second half started in the same way as the first had begun – with a series of Jallouz's goals and another series of Perez de Vargas saves. But in contrast to their weak start, Vardar now were well prepared – and withstood the heat thanks to a change in their defensive tactics, acting much more offensive and aggressive.

With both sides focusing more on defence - just 37 goals had been scored in 45 minutes - Vardar found themselves ahead, 19:18. In the meantime, Dujshebaev took the responsibility in Vardar’s attack, as Borozan was on the bench.

But the most important duel was still the one between the posts – and the Spanish internationals on both sides were on an extremely high and equal level.

Thanks to Sterbik, Vardar extended the gap to 21:19 in the 49th minute, but, courtesy of some great work by Perez de Vargas, Barcelona turned the tide with three straight goals to make it 22:21 – their first lead in the second half, under seven minutes before the end.

But finally Luka Cindric was the key to success, scoring the last three Vardar goals - his buzzer-beater two seconds before the end clinched the victory for his side after the highest quality of drama: both coaches had taken late team time-outs and the Macedonian national hero, Kiril Lazarov, had netted moments before for Barcelona’s last equaliser to make it 25:25.

Both semi-finals in Cologne had ended with the smallest possible margin of one goal.

TEXT: Björn Pazen