The seventh Final 4 of the SEHA – Gazprom League took place in Skopje from the 13th to the 15th of April. But it all started much earlier. The preparations have started over a month ago, and it all finished so soon. We have reached new heights this year, confirming once again that SEHA – Gazprom League is one of the 'lighthouses' in the sport of handball - just like Michael Wiederer, the EHF President pointed out.
The teams arrived on Wednesday and Thursday - PPD Zagreb were in Skopje first. At that point we already had some events, including meeting some performers, promoting the event in the Skopje City Mall and much more. That just goes to show that once again the Final 4 tournament lasted more than those 3 days! Handball discussion was once again very interesting, putting multiple opinions and views into one- with everyone agreeing that the SEHA – Gazprom League is consistently moving forward.
The long-awaited show started on Friday, about 20 minutes before the first match - Vardar versus Meshkov Brest. People slowly started to fill the SC Jane Sandanski hall and it was all painted in 'red and black'. When everyone was ready to experience handball, the first out of four matches started. Vardar were the big favourites, as Meshkov Brest were missing many key players; Stojkovic, Djordjic, Igropulo, Shkurinskiy were among the ones that did not travel to Skopje. In the end, it was a big win for Vardar, led by Luka Cindric who scored 6 and of course, Arpad Sterbik who recorded 20 saves. After, Vardar's 33:24 win, the time has come for the 2nd semi-final. PPD Zagreb were the slight favourites against Celje PL, who were playing at their first SEHA Final 4. That match was closer than the first one, and the winner was not decided until the very last minute. Domagoj Pavlovic scored his 7th goal of the second half in the last minute to put the Croatian champion up by 2 with only seconds remaining. Celje PL managed to score one, but it was not enough- it finished 29:28.
Even though there were not any matches on Saturday, the day was quite eventful. First we had some fun with our teams at media meetings, then the youngest fans had a chance to hang out with the players at Kids day. Lesjak and Sliskovic represented Celje PL, Karacic and Dibirov were there for Vardar, Horvat and Pavlovic of PPD Zagreb came to the event, and Poteko and Razgor showed up in Meshkov Brest colours. Autographs, t-shirts, balls and much more were all part of the fun.
Sunday was once again reserved for the best handball in the region. The 3rd place match was scheduled first- and it was Celje PL against Meshkov Brest. The Slovenians looked much better throughout the entire match, and it was the 17-year old Domen Makuc who was consistently finding ways to score or set up his teammates. Ziga Mlakar led the team in scoring, often creating his own shots. Rade Mijatovic provided sparks for Meshkov, but it was not enough and Celje PL took the 3rd place in their first Final 4 appearance. Everything was ready for the Final, 94th match of the seventh SEHA – Gazprom League season!
The final was nothing short of spectacular. The atmosphere in the SC Jane Sandanski hall was electric, and it was definitely the best atmosphere of the season. Vardar came out strong, but PPD Zagreb did not give up for the entire match. Zlatko Horvat kept on scoring, but it looked like Vardar had more options in attack. However, the lead was not a big one, and it really could have gone either way. But Vardar were too experienced to let the lead slip, which ultimately meant they deservedly took another trophy. It was the fourth title for the Macedonians - the first one in Skopje!
The All- star team of the Final 4 was announced at the medal ceremony: Sterbik, Cindric, Dibirov, Abutovic (Vardar), Pavlovic, Horvat (PPD Zagreb), Mlakar (Celje PL) and Shumak (Meshkov Brest). Luka Cindric got chosen as the MVP.