Vardar continue perfect start to title defenceArticle
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GROUP A REVIEW: HC Vardar went top of Group A after two rounds in the VELUX EHF Champions League, while FC Barcelona Lassa and MOL-Pick Zeged secured their first wins of this year's tournament

Vardar continue perfect start to title defence

The defending VELUX EHF Champions League winners are the only team in Group A that has won its first two games in the group this season. HC Vardar were up against the only other victorious side from the first round in the group, HBC Nantes, and celebrated the two points with a four-goal victory, 27:23.

Meanwhile IFK Kristianstad played a gutsy game against FC Barcelona Lassa but the hosts' finish proved too strong for the Swedish club. In Zagreb, MOL-Pick Szeged made up for their round 1 loss with a five-goal away win.

  • Vardar and Nantes were the only two teams in group A that won their games in the first round

  • Vardar built up a four-goal lead before half time after some tight first minutes

  • In Barcelona, IFK Kristianstad almost caused an upset before the hosts scored four in a row to take the win

  • Zsolt Balogh nets eight times to help Pick Szeged to a win over HC PPD Zagreb


HC Vardar (MKD) vs HBC Nantes (FRA) 27:23 (14:10)

The fight was close from the very beginning as HC Vardar hosted HBC Nantes. Both teams took turns finding the net until Vardar scored three goals in a row to gain a two-goal lead for the first time, 5:3. If the Macedonian supporters thought that the champions would follow that with a bang, the French visitors had another thing in mind.

Nantes gained the lead 7:6, but it was Vardar that had the last saying in the first half. During the last seven minutes, the Macedonian side went on a 6:2 run. Rogerio Ferreira‘s five goals in the first half alone helped Vardar to build up a four-goal lead before the half-time whistle.

Nantes fight hard

Vardar kept their comfortable lead after the break and stood firm against Nantes’ assault. The French side scored four goals in a row to cut Vardar’s lead down to one goal, 19:18, but that was the closest they could come.

The Macedonian champions turned up the heat again and there was nothing that Kiril Lazarov, who was not able to score in his first appearance back in Macedonia with Nantes, or any other player from the French side could do about it.

Although the lead was cut down to one once again, Nantes failed to find the back of the net for the last seven minutes. Vardar won by four goals in the end, 27:23, and is the only team in Group A with two wins after the first two rounds.

Best opponents yet

Vardar coach Raul Gonzales said Nantes were their "best opponents" of the season so far.

"They play very good handball, very fast indeed," he said. "The second half Nantes improved their game, they caused some problems for us with a few fast break goals. I’m satisfied because I know how great a team Nantes is, they beat Montpellier and PSG with very good performances. We have to enjoy this result because it was a hard-won victory."

Nantes goalkeeper Cyril Dumoulin said: "We have four days ahead us to prepare for our following game against Rhein-Neckar Löwen and we just have to keep working harder, because we believe that we can do something in this competition.”

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE) 31:29 (15:12)

Barcelona ground out a hard-fought home win against IFK Kristianstad with a 4:0 streak in the closing stages of an absorbing contest after the Swedish side came agonisingly close to staging an upset.

The home team's right wing Victor Tomas was instrumental in forcing the final twist as he scored three of his four goals during the streak and Slovenian centre back Jure Dolenec sealed the win with a thunderbolt from nine metres, which forced the visitors into submission.

Barcelona had the upper hand in the first half, when left wing Valero Rivera, the home side's top scorer with eight goals, kept finding space on his flank and enabled his team to carve out a four-goal advantage (15:11) before IFK slashed it to three at the interval.

Finishing flourish

A dramatic finish was always on the cards after Kristianstad, led by the irrepressible Tim Sorensen who netted six goals for his team, nosed ahead 17:16 by scoring four unanswered goals.

Visiting goalkeeper Leo Larssen had racked up 15 saves by this stage of the game and a rollercoaster ensued as the lead changed hands several times before IFK went 29:27 ahead thanks to lethal fast breaks.

But having called a time out, Barcelona came roaring back in the last few minutes and had the last laugh as Tomas, who had had a quiet game until that point, sprung to life and dealt a crushing blow to Kristianstad's hopes of pulling off what would have been a shock win against Europe's most trophy-laden team.

HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 23:28 (12:17)

Hungarian giants MOL-Pick Szeged were made to work hard for their win at HC PPD Zagreb after engineering an early advantage which they nearly spilled in the closing stages, after a spirited figthback by the Croatian champions.

Propelled by Denis Buntic in the early stages, as the Croatian back tormented his compatriots in the first half with five goals, Szeged took a 9:4 lead and kept firing on all cylinders although the home side tried as hard as they could to stay in touch.

Sergei Gorbok and Zsolt Balogh added four goals each for the visitors in the opening period, as the prolific trio exploited chinks in Zagreb's armour to devastating effect.

Balogh brings it home for Szeged

The pattern remained unchanged after the break, with Balogh taking over as the top scorer. The Hungarian sharpshooter netted seven goals by midway through the second half to put Szeged 22:16 ahead and it seemed there was no way back for the home side.

However, Zagreb then scored five goals without reply and were still in the hunt several minutes later, with Szeged ahead by a solitary goal (24:23) as the match headed into the home straight.

The home team ran out of steam in the closing stages and Szeged pulled away to put the game beyond Zagreb by netting the last four goals of the contest. The impressive Balogh tallied a game-high eight goals from nine shots for the winners while Mario Vuglac and Luka Mrakovic scored five each for Zagreb.  


Zagreb coach Kasim Kamenica was candid in his assessment of the match, saying Szeged “simply outplayed us”.

Centre back Luka Mrakovcic said Zagreb had a “bad opening and bad defence”.

“Allowing 17 goals is too much against any team,” he said. “In the end we even had a chance to turn the match over but lacked a bit of luck to do it. We must remember good things, work on bad ones and get ready for upcoming challenges.”

Szeged left back Alen Blazevic said his team set out to attack and be ready for Zagreb's powerplay actions.

“In the second half we however entered a black period. I don't know the reason but what is important is that in the end we managed to strengthen our defence once again, Marin Sego saved some key shots and we reached an important win,” Blazevic said.


TEXT: Andri Yrkill Valsson & Zoran Milosavljevic/jh