Vardar demolish Zagreb in Match of the Week
The Macedonian powerhouse Vardar were superior in the first leg of their Last 16 match against HC PPD Zagreb, winning 27:18 away in front of a packed Arena Zagreb.
With the result, Vardar are one step closer to the quarter-finals, leaving Zagreb with a near-impossible mission before the return match next week in Skopje.
- Vardar justified their position as one of the favourites, rarely breaking sweat to move one step closer to the final eight teams
- Dainis Kristopans and Igor Karacic scored five goals each for Vardar, while David Mandic scored the same for Croatians
- Vardar defensive system and Milosavljev’s saves were crucial for the Macedonian champions
LAST 16, FIRST LEG
MOTW: HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 18:27 (6:14)
Away side Vardar started strongly, grabbing control of this regional rivalry match-up in their hands from the very beginning as they secured victory in the first 30 minutes.
PSG-bound Dainis Kristopans was unstoppable in the opening with three consecutive goals, while the home side had to wait seven minutes for their first goal, scored by David Mandic.
In addition to the attacking threat, the Macedonian side saw a strong performance in the first half from goalkeeper Dejan Milosavljev who had an amazing save rate of 62% in the first 20 minutes, as his opponents could only place the ball into his net three times.
Vardar's Brazilian giant Rogerio Ferreira Moraes dominated as well, ending the first half with four goals - the same as Kristopans which meant an eight-goal difference at the break for the Macedonian side.
Those eight goals were more than the total scored by the whole of Zagreb in the opening period – just six. This was their lowest first half score this season in the VELUX EHF Champions League, and the small number was no surprise as after 25 minutes their shot success rate was just a woeful 17%. However, their sixth – and final – goal of the half, was scored by the young, recently-signed Slovenian Aleks Vlah – his first-ever strike at this level.
Nothing changed in the second half as Zagreb could not find a solution for the great defensive system demonstrated by the Macedonian team. An additional headache for the Croatian champions was caused by a red card for Josip Vekic under 10 minutes from the end after a foul on Christian Dissinger.
Mandic was the best scorer on the Croatian side with five goals but that was not enough for the team led by Branko Tamse who saw his side almost wave the flag of Last 16 defeat already with the nine-goal loss.
“Things went wrong for us from the very first minute,” said Tamse after the match. “We gave Milosavljev a chance to catch the right rhythm early with a few easy saves while we on the other side we played completely opposite of what I'd like to see from this team of the offensive side of the court.”
David Mandic put it more bluntly: “We scored only six goals in the first and that says everything.”
Vardar goalkeeper Dejan Milosavljev was awarded with the Player of the Match of the Week award by the winning fan of the VELUX EHF Champions League MOTW Experience activation and he was beaming after the decisive result.
“It was a big match for us, one that we've been preparing for throughout the full course of the season,” he said. “The quarter-finals is one of the steps towards the goal we've set for ourselves as a team prior to the season.
"We've had enough time to prepare for the game against PPD Zagreb, which is a team we're familiar with - we were tough in defence, patient in attack and it was a real pleasure to play in Zagreb.”