Sterbik and Tournat inspire impressive home victoriesArticle
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GROUP A REVIEW: Vardar end Barcelona’s unbeaten run with brilliant defensive display and Nantes get back on track with big win over Kristianstad

Sterbik and Tournat inspire impressive home victories

Defending champions Vardar produced another scintillating display and rekindled the magic that saw them beat Barcelona in last season’s semi-final, brushing aside the winners of a record eight titles on Saturday.

After a loss against FC Barcelona last week, Nantes got back on track this afternoon, beating IFK Kristianstad by nine goals. A win that gives Nantes five points while the Swedes are still looking for their first win this season.

· Vardar alone at the top of Group A with nine points following dominant win
· Barcelona back court struggle under pressure of Vardar defence
· Nantes win means they have earned all five points on home court


HC Vardar vs FC Barcelona Lassa 27:24 (16:12)

Billed as the rematch of last season’s VELUX EHF FINAL4 classic, the clash of the titans turned out to be a largely lop-sided contest as Vardar dominated for 50 minutes in their jam-packed Jane Sandanski Arena.

Still licking their wounds from the heart-breaking 26:25 defeat by Vardar in Cologne, where the Macedonian side went on to win their maiden title with an equally dramatic 24:23 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the final, Barcelona looked capable of enacting some measure of revenge in Skopje after taking a 4:2 lead in the opening stages.

Sublime Sterbik

They flattered to deceive, however, as Vardar roared back and turned the tide by carving out a healthy 11:6 advantage, mostly on the back of majestic team defending and a string of superb saves by Barcelona’s former goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik.

Another ex-Barcelona player, Jorge Maqueda, tormented his former club at the other end with a barrage of unstoppable shots, while speedy Russian wings Timur Dibirov and Denis Shishkarev were also lethal.

With playmaker Luka Cindric pulling the strings in attack for Vardar, the Macedonian giants held the upper hand in the second half and the writing was on the wall for the visitors when Maqueda’s fifth goal gave the home side a 25:19 lead with six minutes left.

Barcelona stars shut down

Raul Entrerrios fizzed out after a fine start, the towering Wael Jallouz was given no room to operate and talented Frenchman Dika Mem also struggled against a rugged Vardar rearguard.

Imposing Montenegrin back Vuko Borozan led Vardar with six goals, Maqueda added five while Cindric and Dibirov chipped in with four each.

“I want to thank to our supporters, because today they really were our eighth player. I have to mention that I am proud of my teammates because we played with style,” said Borozan. 

Rivera netted a game-high eight for Barcelona and Entrerrios added five, but their solo efforts were insufficient as the Catalan comeback came too late.

HBC Nantes (FRA) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE) 34:25 (19:11)

Nantes welcomed back Olivier Nyokas, who had trouble with his knee in the past few weeks. Even though the left back did not play for a lengthy period, he and David Balaguer helped the French side on a 5:0 run and create an early 10:5 lead.

Kristianstad struggled to close the deficit and did themselves no favours with too many turnovers and missed shots. A 10-minute dry spell for the Swedes saw Nantes increase their advantage to 13:6 after 17 minutes.

Insurmountable lead

The hosts built on their 19:11 half-time lead with Cyril Dumoulin brilliant in goal, while Nicolas Tournat found plenty of space between Kristianstad's defenders on the line; his seventh goal gave Nantes their first 10-goal lead, 23:13.

With the game all but over as a contest, Tim Sörensen’s penalties and a trick shot by Viktor Hallen pulled the Swedes back to a respectable margin, but a real comeback was never on.

However, Nantes found their rhythm again towards the end and cruised to a 34:25 win, with Tournat leading all scorers with 10 goals.

"It was important to win these points. We will not be first in our group but it is not our goal. We need to win all our matches at home and are proud of this performance after the tough period we have been through," said Nantes' Oliver Nyokas.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic, Kevin Domas / cor