Resilient Vardar lose 29:25 in Hungary, but do enough to progress to Cologne
After losing 31:23 in their first leg last week, Hungary’s MOL-Pick Szeged led by as many as nine goals in the second leg this evening and had one foot in Cologne, but, ultimately, they could not cope with a resilient HC Vardar side, who did enough to stop the Hungarian champions’ momentum and progress for the third consecutive time to the VELUX EHF FINAL 4, despite a 29:25 defeat.
- With an aggregate score of 56:52, Vardar halted Szeged’s challenge for their first appearance in Cologne
- Playmaker Dean Bombac scored six goals from six shots in the first half for Szeged, but failed to score in the second
- Szeged led twice by nine goals, but failed to capitalise on their 81% shooting efficiency in the first half
- Playmaker Igor Karacic was Vardar’s best scorer once again, with eight goals
- The Macedonian side join Barça Lassa, Kielce and Veszprém in the final act of the 2018/19 VELUX EHF Champions League season
QUARTER-FINAL, SECOND LEG
MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 29:25 (17:9)
HC Vardar win 56:52 on aggregate
Everything looked to be against Szeged before the second leg of their quarter-final against Vardar tonight. The Hungarian side had never earned a VELUX EHF FINAL 4 berth before, had only won once in nine games against their opponents Vardar, who, in turn had never failed to capitalise on an eight-goal advantage in an elimination game in the European premium competition.
Yet if somebody could cancel out the 31:23 defeat from the first leg, it was Szeged - a team unbeaten in their past 10 home games in the VELUX EHF Champions League and who would prove to be a force to be reckoned with on home court in front of a lively crowd.
Vardar’s plan early on was to slow down the rhythm of their opponents and their defence worked wonders at the start of the game, limiting Szeged to just one goal in the first seven minutes.
But with a superb playmaker in Dean Bombac, who was just getting hot, Szeged took control of the game and jumped to a 7:4 lead after 14 minutes.
Picking up where they left off last game, Vardar’s dynamic playmaking duo of Igor Karacic and Stas Skube kept their team afloat, yet it was Szeged who were relentless in front of their raucous fans, with the same Bombac inspiring a 5:1 run that saw the hosts pull ahead, 11:6, nearly cancelling Vardar’s eight-goal advantage from the first leg.
What many thought to be an impossible mission for the hosts turned out to be a plausible scenario, as Bombac and line player Bence Banhidi combined for 10 goals to hand Szeged a 17:9 lead at the half-time break.
Boasting an otherworldly 81% shot efficiency in the first half, it was always going to be hard for Szeged to maintain the same rhythm for the whole course of the game and a 3:1 run to start the second half for Vardar was quickly weathered down by the hosts. But Szeged’s momentum came to a halt, as the Macedonian side cut the gap to only five goals, 25:20.
Another 3:0 run for Vardar was enough to seal the deal for the Macedonian side, who did just enough to stop Szeged in their tracks, although the game did stop for a while in the final few minutes when emotions got the better of both teams once the result was clear.
The 29:25 win was bittersweet for the hosts, who maintain their unbeaten run in their stronghold, but who ultimately failed to progress to the business end of the European premium competition as Vardar took a 56:52 aggregate win and celebrated with their small band of fans in Hungary who can now book their break in Cologne for the first weekend of June.