The only team besides Buducnost participating in all the previous EHF FINAL4 events is the Macedonian superpower ZRK Vardar. Right in their first EHF Champions League season, they made it to the first ever EHF FINAL4 in Budapest and ever since, they haven’t missed one main event. In all the three previous times, Vardar finished on the 3rd position. This year, they want to break this routine and make it to their first ever EHF Champions League final.
Vardar didn’t have a really difficult group in the Group Phase: besides FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, they had to face the young Russian team Astrakhanochka and HC Leipzig. Right in their first CL-match against FTC in Skopje, they dropped a point (27-27). This result was enough for a change on the bench: Indira Kastratovic left and the help was brought from inside: David Davis, the assistant coach from the men’s team of Vardar, took over the bench. His arrival boosted the team from Skopje as they won the rest of their matches very confidently. Their 11 points of the 12 possible was the most that any team collected during the Group Matches.
In the Main Round, they started with a confidence-booster win in Podgorica, and it seemed Vardar is on the right track to make one more step in this season’s Champions League. However, Buducnost managed to take revenge in Skopje and then the biggest defeat of the club’s CL-history came in Metz (28-42) which meant the end of the Davis-era in Skopje. Irina Dibirova, formerly known as Irina Poltoratskaya who was one of the best Russian playmakers in the history, took over the bench. The wife of Russian star and Vardar player Timur Dibirov has experienced a lot in the handball world – but she is completely unexperienced as a head coach: her first ever match as a head coach was the match between Vardar and Thüringer HC in the last round of the Main Round. Vardar didn’t have an easy quarterfinal duel against FC Midtjylland, but the two two-goal victories meant a ticket for the Macedonians to Budapest.
Without a doubt, Vardar has a lot of potential in the team. The squad is very deep, world class players are sitting on the bench as well. They are one of the richest clubs in today’s women’s handball with the widest squad, still something was missing from Vardar so far to go all the way. It is hard to tell if this coach-misery will do any good for the team and if an unexperienced coach can take them closer to the trophy. Vardar had the best attacking performance in the season so far: their 451 goals are more than any of the teams has scored in this edition of the Champions League. Last season, the surprise team CSM Bucuresti stopped them in the semifinal (21-27), this year they can take revenge on the Romanians for that. The main name in Vardar’s attacks is Andrea Penezic: with her 87 goals scored this season, she is currently on the list of top scorers. With a 7-goal advantage over the next player still in race for the 1st place, she is the biggest contender for the trophy. As we said before, Vardar has a lot of potential in the team. The only question is: will the fourth time be lucky for the Macedonians in Budapest?