The last match of the first round in the Main Round brought a real Balkan derby with the two winners of Groups A and B: ZRK Vardar and Buducnost met in the Montenegrin capital on Sunday evening. With Vardar being the only undefeated team of the competition – although they lost a point in Skopje against FTC right in the opener – and Buducnost always being strong on home soil, it was hard to tell who would have the upper hand in the match of the first round.
The two teams met recently in a tournament but this time, there was no sign of a friendly match. Vardar started the match a lot better than the host who were missing Milena Raicevic due to a surgery. The Macedonian superpower proved once again why they are usually considered as one of the main contenders for the trophy: after just 15 minutes played, they were already up by 5 goals (5-10). Buducnost’s famously strong defense was struggling hard against the Andreas of Vardar: Lekic and Penezic stood on top of their troops. After Dragan Adzic’s well-timed timeout, Buducnost suddenly found the rhythm of the game and came back into the game with a quick run. The game flow was rather like Vardar’s style, running fast and scoring many goals, the opposite of Buducnost’s usual game plan of strong defense. As the champions of 2012 and 2015 found their way back into the game, the match became a real derby with a lot of excitement. Buducnost’s leader was once again the Romanian superstar, Cristina Neagu who finished the first half with 8 goals, the half of the Montenegrin goals (16-16).
In the beginning of the second half, Buducnost was able to raise the level of defense supported by Marta Batinovic and it was clear to see on the score – they didn’t let Vardar run and score like in the beginning of the first half (23-20). As the time passed and the two teams didn’t seem to be able to decide easily (24-24), there was a lot of excitement and tension expected for the final minutes of the match. The two teams entered the “money time” with a 27-27 score so the last 5 minutes were supposed to decide the winner. In the most important part of the game, Vardar was the team that proved their strength, winning the final minutes 4-1 to take two important points back to Skopje (28-31). The Macedonian team is still unbeaten in the Champions League and has a very good chance to finish in the first place of Group I in the Main Round.
EHF Champions League – Main Round Group II – Round 1
Buducnost – ZRK Vardar Skopje 28-31 (16-16)
Buducnost: C. Neagu 10, I. Grbic 4, N. Irman 4, K. Achruk 3, D. Cvijic 3, D. Jaukovic 2, K. Bulatovic 1, S. Lazovic 1
Vardar: A. Penezic 8, A. Lekic 7, A. Lacrabere 5, C. Herrem 3, J. Radicevic 3, A. Covic 2, S. Damnjanovic 1, B. Lazovic 1, T. Mavsar 1
Penalties: 3/4 ; 2/2
Suspensions: 4 minutes ; 2 minutes