Cupic’s last second goal propels HC Vardar to handball's cloud nineArticle
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FINAL REVIEW: The VELUX EHF FINAL4 2017 has ended with a major sensation. Debutants HC Vardar take the trophy.

Cupic’s last second goal propels HC Vardar to handball's cloud nine

First HSV Hamburg in 2013, then SG Flensburg-Handewitt in 2014, then Vive Tauron Kielce in 2016 and in 2017 HC Vardar – the series of surprise winners at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

One day after they had beaten FC Barcelona Lassa in the semi-final, the Macedonian champions defeated Paris Saint-Germain Handball 24:23 courtesy of a last second goal by Ivan Cupic.

Thus the right wing became the first male handball player since 2009 to defend an EHF Champions League title.

“I am very proud to be part of that team. The guys are great characters and full of courage during the whole season. This is very important for all the team, for the club and for the whole country. We didn’t just come here to play, we came here for winning the title,” said the line player and captain of Vardar Stojanche Stoilov.

  • Vardar are the first Macedonian club to win the EHF Champions League and the 13th overall club to win the trophy

  • Vardar are the sixth different champion in the past six years.

  • FYR Macedonia are the third nation after Slovenia and Spain which is now represented by men's and women's EHF Champions League winners. Kometal Skopje won the women’s competition in 2003.

  • After Spain, Germany, Slovenia, France and Poland, FYR Macedonia is the sixth nation representing a men’s EHF Champions League winner.

  • Raul Gonzalez is the third Spanish coach in the past three years after Xavi Pascual (Barcelona) and Talant Dujshebaev (Kielce) to win the VELUX EHF Champions League.

  • Four weeks ago, Vardar's women's team had lost their EHF Champions League Final against Györ after extra-time

VELUX EHF FINAL 4 FINAL: Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 23:24 (12:11)

Vardar Skopje have written handball history on Sunday – and caused one of the biggest successes in Macedonian sport.

Following the second incredible performance in just 24 hours, the second buzzer-beating goal and the and the second one-goal after their 26:25 against FC Barcelona Lassa on Saturday, the team of coach Raul Gonzalez took the VELUX EHF Champions League trophy.

“Congratulations to my players, they are the best of the world. I am proud of these guys. I don’t want to speak about the game itself, because this is not the right moment to analyze. I only want to say thank you to the players, to the club, to all the people in Macedonia who watched the games.

"And I want to dedicate that trophy to my family and my best friend Gonzalez, this is very important for me to say,” Vardar head coach Raul Gonzalez said.

The final was a thriller like last year, when Kielce beat Veszprem after penalties – and just like in 2016, Ivan Cupic was on the winners’ podium. The Croatian left wing made a whole country jump for joy with his last-second goal.

But the match winner was Arpad Sterbik, who was also awarded Most Valuable Player of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2017.

His 16 saves paved the way to the podium and Sterbik took his personal fourth EHF Champions League trophy. He also won it in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with Ciudad Real.

The second award went to Paris' Uwe Gensheimer, who became top scorer of the 2016/17 season with 115 goals, two of them in the final, in which Nikola Karabatic (5 for PSG Handball) and Timur Dibirov (6 for Vardar) were the top scorers.

The final win was a deserved one as Vardar were ahead most of the time in the match.

Already in the first 15 minutes, PSG had huge problems to score. The reason was obvious: Sterbik had shut up his shop, nine of his overall 16 saves came before the break.

When the Macedonian champions had extended the gap to 5:2, Paris coach Noka Serdarusic had to hit the brake and tool an early time-out after only twelve minutes – and the German with Croatian roots found the right words.

Backed by the saves of goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer (nine like Sterbik in the first half) and the three goals of current World Handball Player Nikola Karabatic before the break, PSG turned the match around.

Vardar still stood strong in defence, but did not find the gaps in attack or the opportunities for counter attack goals. Therefore, they were down 11:12 after 30 minutes.

But the tide turned quite quickly. Vardar took the upper hand easily, as like at the start of the match, Paris did not score as efficient as before. Most of their goals were single actions of players, while Vardar stopped many attacks with a movable defence. And due to the high number of mistakes, Vardar benefitted from turnover goals.

After only seven minutes in the second half, Vardar were up two goals again at 15:13, and as Serdarusic replaced goalkeeper Omeyer with an additional court player, Vardar took the chance to score twice, with Ilija Abutovic and Daniil Shishkarev hitting the empty PSG goal within only 30 seconds for the 20:17.

Defending hard but smart, Vardar tightened the grip around PSG, but could not cast off the French side.

As now Omeyer again was 'in the lead' in the goalkeeper duel on world class level against Sterbik, Paris had the momentum on their side when the last ten minutes started. When his team levelled at 21:21, Serdarusic took his next timeout.

But this time it did not work: PSG missed their next three chances, Vardar again forged ahead to 23:21 with four minutes to play. The final of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2017 had turned into a true thriller.

Luka Karabatic received a suspension, Paris had to play the last 90 seconds with one man less on the court. 28 seconds before the end, PSG had their final time-out at the score of 23:22 in favour of Vardar. Seven seconds before the end, Narcisse equalised for the 23:23 – timeout Vardar.

And with the final buzzer, Cupic found the gap in the Paris defence to score the historic goal, which made Vardar become EHF Champions League winners.

“Vardar had a beautiful weekend, they won both matches by scoring a goal in the last second. I don’t know if this ever happened before," Narcisse said.

"Difficult to find some words. We work all the year for that title. We tried to give our best this weekend, but we didn’t succeed. As usual in a final you have one team having fun and the other one crying. That’s sports. That’s beautiful. We are not happy, but we made a good job. We did better than last year," he added.

TEXT: EHF / br