Same city, same finalists: like in 2013, when Skopje hosted the SEHA – Gazprom Final 4 for the first time, HC Vardar and PPD Zagreb play for the trophy on Sunday (20:15 CET). After the hosts had easily made it to the final by beating Brest 33:24 before, the duel of PPD Zagreb and Celje PL was a true thriller, decided only in the last minute. Finally, a hammer goal of Domagoj Pavlovic for the 29:27 25 seconds before the end, secured the Croats the ticket to the final. Celje’s last goal for the final result of 29:28 came too late.
Five years ago, Zagreb had won the final after a 25:24 after extra-time, on Sunday, Vardar have the chance to take revenge. After 2013, it is the second time for the Croatian record champions to reach a SEHA-Gazprom League final – and for the second time, they face three times winner Vardar (2012, 2014, 2017).
Celje will face Meshkov Brest in the third-place match on Sunday. Best scorers in a defence orientated semi-final were Pavlovic with seven strikes for Zagreb and Borut Mackovsek, who netted in six times for Celje.
Semi-final 2: PPD Zagreb – Celje PL 29:28 (14:11)
After losing five semi-finals in six occasions, this time PPD Zagreb had learnt their lesson well – but needed to shiver until the final buzzer. Like in the matches of the regular season, when PPD took a victory and a draw, they remained unbeaten against the Slovenian side.
The key to success were the solid-rock defence and Pavlovic. Zagreb were ahead from the start to the end, building the base with a 6:3 series right after the throw-off. On Celje side, only Mackovsek managed to find some gaps in the Croatian concrete wall.
After 20 minutes, Zagreb were ahead 10:6, and even an intermediately strong period, when Celje reduced the gap to 10:11, did not stop the team of Zlatko Saracevic. At the break, the margin were three goals at 14:11, and when Domagoj Pavlovic netted in for the 20:14 in minute 40, the deal seemed to be sealed already.
But Celje PL coach Branko Tamse found the right words in the following time-out, as his side managed to come back to 18:21. For some minutes, Zagreb had lost their rhythm in attack, but when former Celje goalkeeper Urh Kastelic saved two important shots of his former teammates, the Croats gained confidence and stability, but still could not cast off their opponents.
Backed by their frenetic, yellow dressed Floriani fans, Celje were back on track, now clearly improved in defence. At 25:23, the Final 4 debutants had two chances to reduce to only one goal, but failed twice. Zagreb answered by a double strike, but still nothing was decided, as Mackovsek still was on fire. Three minutes before the end, Tamse took his final time-out at the score of 28:25 in favour of PPD. Zagreb were shaken, when the score was 28:27 – but finally Pavlovic made his team jump for joy.