A gruelling stalemate in Skopje handed undefeated Buducnost the group’s top spot with a match to spare while Vardar are assured of finishing second as both teams look forward to the main round.
Lekic injured as Vardar hold Buducnost to thrilling draw
The eagerly awaited rematch between Vardar and Buducnost produced a bruising contest in which the home team’s Serbian international playmaker Andrea Lekic suffered an early ankle injury which sidelined the 2013 World Handball Player of the Year for the remainder of the match.
Buducnost headed into this game missing top scorer Katarina Bulatovic after the towering right back was ruled out with her own injury before the match. However, this did not hold them back as they had the upper hand in the first half but eventually clawed out a draw after the home side threw away a two-goal lead in the dying minutes.
Women's EHF Champions League Group B
WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD) vs Buducnost (MNE) 24:24 (9:11)
Spectacular goals, breathtaking saves and physical defending by both sides marked this enthralling contest which proved in no uncertain terms that Vardar and Buducnost are prime candidates, alongside holders Györi Audi ETO, for a shot at glory should they reach this year's Women's EHF FINAL4.
On the back foot in the first half and losing playmaker Andrea Lekic, to what looks like a serious injury after she twisted her ankle, Vardar came close to ending their barren run against Buducnost after carving out a two-goal lead in the jam-packed Sport Center Jane Sandanski.
Two late goals by winger Majda Mehmedovic, who otherwise had a quiet game, earned 2012 winners Buducnost a well-deserved draw which left them in the section’s pole position ahead of the final group matches round next weekend.
With Katarina Bulatovic sidelined, Romanian dynamo Cristina Neagu took over the scoring workload as Buducnost kept nosing ahead in a balanced first half.
Russian teenager Alena Ikhneva stood in remarkably well for Lekic while robust line player Dragana Cvijic made her presence felt at the other end - finding gaps on Vardar’s six-metre line several times.
It seemed Vardar were on their way to a win after a thundering 8:3 run early in the second half gave them a 17:14 lead, with Croatian left back Andrea Penezic being unstoppable from the nine-metre line as she dispatched one trademark bullet after another.
But Buducnost then scored four goals without reply before another Vardar rally turned the tide, as Ikhneva netted her fifth goal to give the home side a 24:22 lead and send the home fans into what turned out to be premature raptures.
Mehmedovic capitalised on a pair of turnovers in the final two minutes as Buducnost, roared on by several hundred fans who made the trip from Podgorica, showed the mettle and character of a side accustomed to digging deep when the going gets tough.
Penezic was the game’s top scorer with eight goals, winning her personal battle against Neagu who amassed seven. Ikhneva and French winger Siraba Dembele netted five each for Vardar while Cvijic and Mehmedovic had four each for Buducnost.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / bc
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