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22.04.2016, 08:56
Vardar and Veszprem to fight until the last breath
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QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW: HC Vardar and MVM Veszprém continue their rivalry in the VELUX EHF Champions League, as the last year's finalist Veszprém visit the heated Jane Sandanski Arena in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
 

Vardar and Veszprem to fight until the last breath

HC Vardar and MVM Veszprém continue their ever-growing rivalry, as the Hungarian giants make their fourth visit to Jane Sandanski Arena on Saturday. However, despite their seven previous encounters in all competitions, the up coming VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final is by far the most important historic doubleheader, given the VELUX EHF FINAL4 berth at stake.

HC Vardar (MKD) vs MVM Veszprém (HUN)
Saturday 23 April, 16:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

Seems like the current VELUX EHF Champions League season is marked with dueling Spanish coaches. Having outwitted the experienced Manolo Cadenas, Raul Gonzalez now faces Xavi Sabate - a disciple of Carlos Ortega - who has done wonders in what may have a turbulent season for Veszprém.

With the joint history, regional rivalry and quality each team posses, every factor needs to be taken into account ahead of this difficult duel.

Both teams are experiencing a steady rise in competitive form, with domestic challenges underway. Veszprém have already lifted their 24th (ninth consecutive) Hungarian Cup trophy last weekend, while Vardar made a flying start to their Macedonian league title defence.

Is history repeating itself?

Veszprém stand the more successful of the two team with four wins, while Vardar have recorded only a single victory over the Hungarians until now. Handing them their most recent defeat to defend the SEHA League crown, for which Vardar will seek revenge.

"On paper, Veszprém are the favourites because of their excellent game in the past few years. They played excellent this year in the Champions League, they won the SEHA League, but I still think that they are not so far from where we are.

"We have a chance, but many pieces of the puzzle have to fall into place and we have to play both matches on the highest level. Those will be our days and if we play as we know we can, I think we will go further," said the experienced line player Alem Toskic to rkvadar.com.mk.

Moreover, during the course of the SEHA League season, the two regional powerhouses have met three times in the 2015/16 season alone; with two matches ending in a draw and one narrow Veszprém win.

Whilst Vardar have unsurprisingly recorded their only triumph in front of the home fans back in 2015, Raul Gonzalez and his team will take heart from that performance, in hope of recapturing the spirit that brought them the victory that put a dent to Veszprém’s perfect season in the SEHA League last year.

On the VELUX EHF Champions League stage, the two teams have crossed swords twice in the group stage. Veszprém stole the victory in Skopje  with a last gasp win, before steamrolling the Macedonians and their dreams of topping the group in a seven-goal rout in Veszprém Arena.

A farewell gift for Toskic

Vardar will have to compensate the injury of the Macedonian left back Filip Lazarov. He was not the only one to miss the last match, as the world class goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik rested because of a hurting back and maybe also in order to preserve the edge and form of the 36-year old for the all-important encounter.

It is safe to expect the tinkerer Gonzalez coming up with a special game plan for Veszprém, especially with the vast rotation options at his disposal and a number of fit players thriving in their role.

The Balkan connection seems to be working wonders for Vardar, with the line player Alem Toskic playing at the top of his game on his farewell season, desiring the longed-for FINAL4 berth as a goodbye present. His influence on both ends will be the decisive factor for keeping the favorable goal-ratio in the first leg.

"I tell my colleagues that the perfect farewell would be the FINAL4 berth, because when you get there, you never know what could happen. We were not lucky enough to secure a place there in the past two years. This is our third year and I think this time we have a chance, although Veszprém are the favourites. At the moment, I am focused on the next match and I would be more than happy if this wish comes true," said Alem Toskic.

Paramount challenge

Veszprém come to Skopje with history on their side. They are undefeated in three of their most recent encounters and the confidence boost they got will surely serve to minimise the intimidation factor of the Macedonain crowd in the sold out arena.

The cloud of uncertainty is upon Momir Ilic’s availability, as the Serbian left back has missed all matches since suffering an injury at the SEHA league finals. However, the medical team of Veszprém will most certainly do whatever it takes to get the sharpshooter ready, while Ilić’s determination to help the team despite injury has never been questioned.

Xavi Sabate’s team are the most consistent side in the VELUX EHF Champions League this season. However, actions speak louder than words at this stage and their visit to Skopje will present the paramount challenge towards their dream of lifting the elusive trophy in Cologne on the weekend of the 28/29 May.


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / es
 
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