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28.04.2016, 12:10
Sabaté: "I only care about my team and our next match."
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NEWS FEATURE: MVM Veszprém welcome HC Vardar with a three-goal advantage from the first leg but their Spanish head coach knows losing concentration would be fatal.
 

Sabaté: "I only care about my team and our next match."

April 2016, and few people would have thought Xavi Sabaté would still be at the helm of MVM Veszprém as many fans did not know that the assistant to previous head coach Antonio Carlos Ortega, who parted company with the Hungarian side after their 27:27 draw against Plock in their opening VELUX EHF Champions League match this season, was a top coach himself.

However, the Spaniard was quick to prove himself and is potentially just 60 minutes away from leading his team to their third consecutive VELUX EHF FINAL4 after they won 29:26 in FYR Macedonia against HC Vardar in the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-Final First Leg last Saturday (23 April).

Watch the second leg live on ehfTV on Saturday 30 April, 17:30 (local time)

Initially as an interim head coach, he took the scalp of fellow quarter-finalists SG Flensburg-Handewitt, Paris Saint-Germain and HC PPD Zagreb and Veszprém, first erased ‘interim’ from his title before offering him a permanent contract until 2017, the same length that Ortega had initially.

Sabaté is now Head Coach of the team that EHF experts consider one of the favourites and they have proved this a number of times, despite it feeling bittersweet for the 39-year-old.

“We are continuing the work Carlos Ortega started in Veszprém,” said Sabaté. “We have the same game philosophy and we consider the same things are important - the players knew what to expect from me when I took over the team.”

As professionals with much experience, the Veszprém players acted accordingly when they started to work under Sabaté in his new position.

The team has improved throughout the season with new players such as Ivan Sliskovic and Aron Palmarsson fitting in and the Hungarian side, led by László Nagy are once again a feared opponent.

Vardar job not done yet
Veszprém became the second team this season to win in Skopje against Vardar, who they know well from the regional SEHA League and Sabaté’s team more than deserved the victory.

“I have absolutely no doubt Vardar will make us work hard to seal our place in Cologne,” he said.

“They are a top team with a top coach and I keep telling my players not to lose even a bit of concentration because that’s instant trouble against such a great opponent.”

Captain Nagy said the same after the final whistle was blown and urged the Veszprém fans to not expect an easy game but to expect their side to fight.

“Vardar coach Raul Gonzalez will surely try to surprise us with some kind of masterstroke so we have to be ready to counter what they plan,” added Sabaté about his compatriot.

Double-trouble goalkeepers
The most important difference between the two sides in the first leg was the performance of both goalkeepers.

“It is an extremely difficult task to pick the starting goalkeeper,” said Sabaté. “Both Mirko Alilovic and Roland Mikler have been on fire lately. It gives us great confidence to have such great goalkeepers and I believe Veszprém have the best pair of goalkeepers in the world - I trust both of them 100%.”

Alilovic was at his best in Skopje, where his saves gave Veszprém the chance to keep Vardar at bay, while Mikler played a vital role in his team’s recent Hungarian cup triumph as Veszprém beat their bitter domestic rivals MOL-Pick Szeged on penalty shots.

The Croatian, whose biggest save made it to the EHF’s weekly selection of top saves, was particularly outstanding in the Jane Sandanski hall against the Macedonian side.

“Mirko made some breathtaking saves,” exclaimed Sabaté. “But I believe our defence also worked very well against Vardar. I always say only the team matters and luckily my players share this philosophy.”

One step at a time
“We have a squad of 18 world class talents but there are no guarantees in sport,” continued Sabaté.

“People keep asking me; ‘are we going to win it this year?’, but with such fierce competition it would be foolish to claim we will win. All I can say is that we will give our all.

“I only care about my team and our next match.

“It would be a huge mistake not to do so as Vardar are a great team. I expect a difficult match against them.”


TEXT: Bence Mártha/amc
 
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