Vardar have extended their sensational series of this season in the SEHA – Gaprom League to 18 wins in 19 matches. In the opener of the SEHA-Gazprom League Final 4 on Friday, the defending champions took the home advantage in Sport Center Jane Sandanski in the first semi-final to easily beat Meshkov Brest 33:24.
While Vardar secured the spot in the final for the sixth time after 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, Meshkov lost a semi-final for the fourth time after 2013, 2016 and 2017. Thus, Vardar also took revenge for their one and only SEHA-Gazprom League defeat in 2015, when they lost 28:32 against Brest in Vesprem. Top scorers in a mostly one-sided match were Maksim Baranau (9 for Brest) and Luka Cindric (6 for Vardar), but Vardar’s match winner was Arpad Sterbik, who saved 20 shots.
His teammate Timur Dibirov scored his in total 400th goal in the SEHA-Gaprom League.
The distance of nine goals was the biggest ever in any semi-finals of the SEHA – Gazprom League so far, after Vardar’s 30:22 in 2014 against Zagreb and the b36:28 in 2017 against the same opponent.
The final opponent of Vardar will be decided between PPD Zagreb and Celje PL later.
Semi-final 1: HC Vardar (MKD) – Meshkov Brest (BLR) 33:24 (17:14)
Backed by goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik, who had seven of his in total 20 saves on his tally at the break, Vardar dominated the first half most of the time. Mainly in the first 18 minutes, Meshkov caused too many mistakes in attack to stop the Vardar express.
In attack, the Final 4 hosts first counted on the counter-attack or empty-goal goals of Russian right wing Daniil Shishkarev, then on the hammer goals from their back-court aces. Despite an early time-out of coach Sergey Bebeshko at the score of 7:3 in favour of Vardar, Brest could not manage to get closer immediately.
Only after the defending champions were ahead 12:6, the Belorussian side took the advantage of some lack of the hosts’ concentrations and of the saves of their Croatian born goalkeeper Ivan Pesic. At 10:12, Brest were back on track – though they were heavily hit by the injuries of their top stars Konstantin Igropoulo, Rastko Stojkovic and Petar Djordjic, who are out for the Final 4 at Skopje. Finally, the gap were three goals at the break (14:17).
But it took Vardar only seven more minutes, when Vuko Borozan hammered in for the first and pre-decisive eight-goal advance at 22:14 to highlight the 5:0 series of unanswered goals for the hosts. Still, Sterbik was on fire, having already 13 saves on his account after 40 minutes. And after netting into the empty goal for the 28:20 in minute 49, the 2017 European and 2013 World Champion was even among the scorer list. Latest then, the defending champions could save some powers for the final by a huge rotation.