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05.09.2018, 09:00
Beginning of a new era: Can Vardar shine again?
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown: HC Vardar (MKD). After two consecutive FINAL4 qualifications, Vardar aim high again – this time with a new leader and key changes between the posts
 

Beginning of a new era: Can Vardar shine again?

In 2017, HC Vardar claimed their historic first title in the VELUX EHF Champions League. Last season, even though they did not repeat the result, they travelled to Cologne to play their second consecutive FINAL4 tournaments among Europe’s elite clubs.

Now, with plenty of changes in the playing roster and a new head coach, the team from Skopje hope to maintain their position among the top handball clubs.

Three questions before the new season:

- Will the new head coach cope with the roster changes?


Roberto Garcia Parrondo has succeeded Raul Gonzales at the helm of the Macedonian champion. Before taking over as coach of Vardar, Parrondo was Gonzales’ assistant in the Macedonian national squad and assistant coach for Vardar’s women’s team.  

This season, Vardar faced many challenges after some significant changes to the roster, which saw several key players leave the club. It is obvious that new head coach Parrondo will face some difficulty coping with the loses of Arpad Sterbik, Spanish back-court players Joan Canellas and Jorge Maqueda, Luka Cindric, Mijajlo Marsenic and defence specialist Ilija Abutovic.

- How much will the departure of Sterbik affect Vardar’s strength?

Arpad Sterbik and Strahinja Milic both left the Macedonian champions ahead of this season, which means Vardar have two options between the posts: Dejan Milosavljev and Daniel Gjorgjevski.

22-year-old Serbia national team goalkeeper Milosavljev seems to be one of the most promising young goalkeepers. He started his career in RK Jugovic – the same as his predecessor between Vardar’s posts and one of world’s best goalkeepers, Arpad Sterbik – but will still have a difficult task considering he arrives as a replacement for one of the biggest names in handball.

Vardar have less than two weeks before the start of the Champions League to decide if they will stick to these two options or if they will be active on the handball market and bring a late reinforcement.

- Can Vardar make it to Cologne once more?

With two quarter-finals and two consecutive participations at the FINAL4 behind them, Vardar are again aiming high. On the way to the FINAL4, they will first face strong opponents in Group A.

“We are familiar with the qualities of our rivals in the group stage. Vardar’s best chance is to fight to be at the top of the group. We don’t underestimate any of the opponents and we are going fight for first place,” says the team captain Stojanche Stoilov, who will miss the first part of the season due to an injury.

Under the spotlight: Stas Skube

Often compared to Ljubomir Vranjes, Stas Skube is considered one of Slovenia’s best playmakers. With a height of 176 cm, Skube joins Vardar as Luka Cindric’s replacement and will have big responsibility on his shoulders, as he will be orchestrating his new team’s attacking play.

Self-esteem

In 2017, Vardar wrote their name into handball history. Regardless of the loss of several crucial players, Vardar’s wishes remain the same, as the team wants to stay among the top in Europe.

“Vardar's goal is always to be at the top, regardless of the competition and its rivals. Achieving top results in elite European competitions is always difficult but we are ready for any challenge,” says club manager Davor Stojanovski.

“In the last few years we showed continuity, therefore we would like to keep it that way. I cannot promise anything because it is a difficult task, but I hope to fulfill our wishes and play in Cologne one more time,” says team captain Stoilov.

Fun fact

The new head coach of the Macedonian team, Roberto Garcia Parrondo, has won two Champions League trophies as a player. Now, in his debut season with Vardar, Parrondo has the opportunity to continue the tradition and win the title as a coach.

What the numbers say

There are five Russian players in Vardar’s roster this season. This year, Timur Dibirov and Daniil Shishkarev will be accompanied by old acquaintances Sergei Gorbok as well as Dmitrii Kiselev and the latest signing Gleb Kalarash.

In addition, Vardar’s roster includes players from seven different countries.

HC Vardar (MKD)

Qualified for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: Macedonian champions

Newcomers: Stas Skube (MOL-Pick Szeged), Sergei Gorbok (MOL-Pick Szeged), Dmitrii Kiselev (St. Petersburg), Dejan Milosavljev (HC Partizan), Gleb Kalarash (Magdeburg)

Left the club: Joan Canellas (MOL-Pick Szeged), Jorge Maqueda (MOL-Pick Szeged), Luka Cindric (Kielce), Mijajlo Marsenic (Füchse Berlin), Arpad Sterbik (Veszprém), Ilija Abutovic (Rhein-Necker Löwen)

Coach: Roberto Garcia Parrondo (since summer of 2018)

Team captain: Stojanche Stoilov

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2018/2019 season): 13
Winners (1): 2016/17
Semi-final (1): 2017/18
Quarter-final (3): 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16
Group Phase (7): 1999/00, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2007/08, 2009/10

Other EC records:

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Semi-final (3): 1998/99, 2004/05, 2010/11
Quarter-final (1): 2006/07

Macedonian league:
12 titles (1999, 2001-2004, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2015-2018

Macedonian cup:
13 titles (1997, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014-2018)

SEHA League:
Winners (4): 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018


TEXT: Amina Idrizi / cg
 
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