Vardar Skopje are the first finalist of the 2017 edition of the Final4 SEHA - Gazprom League. In Brest, Belarus, the Macedonian side clearly beat PPD Zagreb on Friday 36:28 (19:12). It was the fourth SEHA - Gazprom League semi-final clash of both sides, and for the fourth side, Vardar were the winners after 2012 (30:29), 2014 (30:22) and 2016 (26:24). Skopje’s final opponent will be decided between host Meshkov Brest and the defending champions Telekom Veszprem later.
Best scorers in a mostly one-sided semi were two Croats: Zlatko Horvat (Zagreb) and Ivan Cupic (Vardar) each netted in eight times.
Semi-final 1: Vardar Skopje (MKD) vs PPD Zagreb (CRO) 36:28 (19:12)
Zagreb started unexpectedly weak in defence, so Vardar forged ahead quite easily in the initial stages of the match. After only ten minutes, the 2012 and 2014 winners of the SEHA - Gazprom League were ahead 6:2, causing an early time-out of the new PPD coach Slavko Goluza.
But Zagreb’s interim solution found the right words, as his players were at least more focused in attack. Backed by a strong fighting performance of line player Igor Vori and the fact that Vardar received many suspensions and penalty shots, the Croatian record champions took a little more control of the match. But despite four one-man-advantages before the break Zagreb could not manage to reduce the distance to less than three goals.
One key for the continuous Vardar lead was Montenegrin goal machine Vuko Borozan, who scored all his six goals before the break. Still Zagreb lacked stability in defence, mainly against Skopje’s back court players, allowing Vardar to forge ahead even clearer - and despite six goals of team captain Zlatko Horvat (including four penalties), PPD were below by seven goals (12:19) at the break.
With the 21:13, Vardar seemed to have already tamed the "Lions", but Zagreb did not surrender at that point. Backed by the goals of the backs Luka Sebetic and Stipe Mandalinic (second best PPD scorer by seven strikes), the Goluza squad stopped their downswing, while also goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic improved. But now the time of Vardar right wing Ivan Cupic had come: Either by counter attacks or from the wing position, the Croatian scored against his country-fellows, the 28:21 exactly at the half of the second half, was his eighth and already last goals.
Though they were showing a great moral until the end, the time was ticking against Zagreb, and as the Croat side constantly lacked efficiency in attack, they could not manage to cheat the gallows, but will face the loser of the second semi-final on Sunday afternoon. The only thing, they could avoid, was to lose by a double-digit distance. The highest margin were nine goals for several times.
So Vardar took a clear revenge for their only defeat in the regular season, when Zagreb had beaten them by 28:26. In the final stages, coach Raul Gonzalez even could save the powers of his key players for Sunday’s final.