Ristovski THE HERO: Vardar win penalty thriller in the semi against Zagreb


PPD Zagreb were so close to end their semi-final curse against Vardar 1961, but in the end, the record winners were jumping for joy, praising their hero Borko Ristovski. The Macedonian goalkeeper saved two shots of Vlado Matanovic and David Mandic in the penalty shoot-out of the second semi-final of the SEHA- Gazprom league Final 4 in Zadar on Friday night. 

Zagreb had already been on the winners’ way, leading 23:17 eleven minutes before the end, but then the defending champions turned this thriller around, with the final goal in the regular playing time by Lovro Jotic right with the final buzzer. Like in 2016 and 2017, the final of the SEHA - Gazprom League will be Telekom Veszprem vs Vardar 1961 on Sunday, 20.30 CET. Each side had won one of those finals. 

Vardar 1961 will aim for their sixth title, which would be the fourth in a row. Unlucky Zagreb lost their eighth match against Vardar 1961 in the ninth duel at SEHA Final 4 tournaments - and the fifth semi-final against the Macedonians after 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. The team of new head coach Igor Vori will play for the bronze medal against Meshkov Brest on Sunday at 18:00 CET. 

Best scorers of the semi-final final were David Mandic with eight goals for Zagreb and Christian Dissinger and Timur Dibirov by each six goals for Vardar. 

The first half was fully equal until the 9:9 in minute 18. After a strong start of Christian Dissinger, who later on got a cut over the eye, Vardar had light advantages but did not score for five minutes after the 9:8. Thanks to a 5:0 series including several spectacular counter-attacks, Zagreb turned the match around to a quite comfortable 13:9 advance. Igor Vori’s side had the upper hand though Vardar 1961 managed to reduce the gap intermediately - in the first half with a low goalkeeper performance on both sides. 

When David Mandic netted in by a double-strike within the last 25 seconds, Zagreb entered the dressing rooms with a three-goal lead (16:13). PPD counted on a much stronger defense after the break too, in the attack, they waited patiently for their chances - and therefore the “Lions” forged ahead fully deserved to a five-goals gap already in minute 34 at 19:14. At that time, Zagreb had full control over the match - and at least were ahead by four goals until the crucial endgame.

When Marco Vuglac netted in with his third strike for the 23:17 eleven minutes before the end, the deal seemed to be sealed. But like in the thrilling quarter-final against Nexe, Vardar 1961 showed their incredible morale and fighting spirit. Boosted by the saves of goalkeeper Ristovski and much stronger defense, Skopje reduced the gap goal by goal and were close to the equalizer four minutes before the end, when Timur Dibirov scored the 23:24 and later-on Ivan Cupic netted in for the 25:26 in minute 59.

With only ten seconds to play, Ristovski saved another Mandic shot - and on the other side, Croatian international Lovro Jotic netted in for the 26:26  - the penalty shoot-out needed to decide the second finalist, after Zagreb gave a six-goal advance from their hands in the final eleven minutes.

As all Vardar players were as cold as ice from the penalty line, Vlado Matanovic and David Mandic failed against Borko Ristovki. 

Photo credit: Kolektiff Images