2012, 2014 - and now 2017! Vardar Skopje are the new record champions of the SEHA - Gazprom League after their third final win. On Sunday night, the Macedonian champions beat Telekom Veszprem in the grand final of the 2016/17 season by 26:21 (14:14). Match winner for the new three times trophy holder was goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik, who saved 15 Veszprem shots.
Thus, Vardar dethroned the defending champions and took revenge for last year’s 26:28 defeat against the Hungarian record champions, who after winning the titles in 2015 and 2016 lost a SEHA - Gazprom League final for the first time.
After 43 mostly equal minutes, Sterbik and the five goals of Final 4 MVP Joan Canellas boosted Vardar. Besides Canellas, Timur Dibirov (Vardar) and Momir Ilic (Veszprem) netted in five times in a defence-orientated final in Brest, Belarus. After the final buzzer, all Vardar players danced on the court in the Victoria arena.
Final of the SEHA - Gazprom League 2016/17:
Vardar Skopje (MKD) vs Telekom Veszprem (HUN) 26:21 (11:11)
The first half had already been a true defence battle including world-class goalkeeper performances of Mirko Alilovic (Veszprem) and Arpad Sterbik (Vardar). Both stood like walls and made scoring really hard for the opponents. Vardar had a slightly better start, but Veszprem managed to remain on eye level quite quick.
Interesting enough, Serbian defence specialist Mijailo Marsenic was Vardar’s best scorer at the break by three goals, while Veszprem only scored eight field goals in the first 30 minutes - another prove for the brilliant defence work in the halftime with the lowest number of goals in the 2017 edition of Final4 in Brest. Vardar twice were ahead by a two goal margin, but Veszprem finally levelled the half time result to 11:11 thanks to a buzzer-beating long distance shot into the empty Vardar goal.
Vardar were so eager and motivated to continue the final that coach Raul Gonzalez did not even ask the team to go to the dressing room, but stayed on court of the Victoria arena. Besides, the neutral Meshkov fans had found their heart for the Macedonians, shouting "Vardar, Vardar" constantly.
Maybe this was the extra power for the 2012 and 2014 winners for the initial stage of the second half. Thanks to a double strike of Rogerio Moraes and Timur Dibirov within 15 seconds, Vardar forged ahead to three goals for the first time at 17:14 in minute 40, causing a time-out of Veszprem’s coach Javier Sabate.
The Spaniards found the right word, his players scored three goals in a row to level the result - and then Sabate’s country-fellow Gonzalez took his green to call for a time-out. Still, Sterbik and Alilovic were the heroes of their teams. But despite some brilliant Alilovic saves, Vardar ook the upper hand, turning the direction of the roller-coaster again by five straight goals for 22:17, crowned by a brilliant spin shot of Russian left wing Timur Dibirov. Sabate’s last chance to stop the downswing: His final time-out eleven minutes before the end.
But nothing changed anymore, Vardar kept full control, and latest at the 24:19 the deal had been sealed for the Macedonians, who -like Veszprem - end of April have their next goal ahead: the quarter-finals of the EHF Champions League. And maybe both sides clash again at Cologne.