Well-oiled Vardar continue quest to claim maiden titleArticle
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SEMI-FINAL REVIEW: HC Vardar’s FINAL4 experience proves crucial as they control the entire second semi-final against Rostov and join Györ in the trophy match
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Well-oiled Vardar continue quest to claim maiden title

Following a commanding victory against Rostov-Don, HC Vardar will face Györi Audi ETO KC in the Women’s EHF Champions League 2017/18 Final – a rematch of the 2017 battle for the title.

Vardar’s victory was hardly ever in doubt, as Rostov’s only advantage stood in the first minute before the Macedonian side claimed the upper hand and cruised through the 60 minutes to finish with a six-goal win at the final whistle.

"Maybe in the beginning it was a little bit nervous, but you know, it’s a semi-final – this is totally normal," said Andrea Lekic after the match, which she thinks was a near-perfect game for Vardar. "For me, I think what is important is that we played defence amazing. Today, running back was amazing. They didn’t have goals from the contra attack and this was the main deal for our locker room."

  • Five-time Women’s EHF FINAL4 participants Vardar defeat Rostov to set up a rematch of the 2017 final versus Györ
  • In a superb showing from the back court, Andrea Penezic and Andrea Lekic both tally seven goals for Vardar
  • After leaving four FINAL4s without a trophy, Vardar hope to make history and win their first on Sunday

Rostov-Don (RUS) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 19:25 (7:10)

Before the semi-final clash on Saturday, HC Vardar centre back Andrea Lekic warned that her team could not afford to underestimate Rostov’s experience as they make their debut at the FINAL4 – but the first five minutes alone showed that her team’s collective experience at the event was indeed a key advantage.

Vardar’s first attack demonstrated the well-oiled machine that the offensive line-up has become through years on court together. From her position as the true leader of the team’s attack, Lekic guided the Macedonian team to an early 3:1 lead after five minutes. Vardar maintained 100 per cent shooting and attacking efficiency well into the opening 10 minutes, while Rostov fell behind with a conversion rate of just 20 per cent.

After Anna Vyakhireva scored the Russian side’s opener on a penalty in the first minute, Rostov had to wait almost 10 for their first goal in positional play. Vardar’s defence was prepared for everything Rostov had to throw at them, and the support of a superb Amandine Leynaud was there on many occasions. Rostov also relied heavily on their keeper, as Mayssa Pessoa singlehandedly kept them in touch thanks to her saves.

Following the intermediate result of 2:4, an outstanding show from both goalkeepers resulted in no goals for seven minutes. Rostov coach Frederic Bougeant tried rearranging his defence in a 5-1 formation, which resulted in some turnovers for his team, but it was Lekic who broke the scoring drought in the 17th.

When the whistle for the break sounded, Vardar held a comfortable lead after a half that was equal to the lowest-scoring in FINAL4 history – Vardar versus Buducnost, 6:11 at the 2014 edition. Just as Györ had done before them, Vardar only needed to protect the advantage created in the first half to secure their final berth.

Ekaterina Ilina took Rostov in front off a breakthrough goal in the 47th, but that was as close as they would come.

Despite some more great goals from their top scorer of the match Ilina (five goals), Rostov trailed 16:20 as the last five minutes began. With the score at 18:22 and just over three minutes remaining, a penalty save from Inna Suslina decided the match in Vardar’s favour. Suslina added one last penalty save after the buzzer, ending the match on a high for her side.

TEXT: Courtney Gahan / br