For the first time in SEHA - Gazprom League history, one team, Vardar 1961 or PPD Zagreb will not participate in the Final Four tournament. First match between the two is scheduled for Thursday, 26th August in Skopje (20:15 CET at SC ‘Jane Sandanski’). Winner of these two duels will have a chance to fight for the SEHA trophy in Zadar.
For the first time in over a year, Skopje will have the opportunity to host fans in SC ‘Jane Sandanski’. They are expecting about 1,800 spectators who will be eager to support the ‘Red and Black’. Since the start of the league, PPD Zagreb has only won once in Skopje - 6 years ago - which presents a major advantage for Vardar 1961. Their last meeting finished with a 31:32 ‘Lions’ loss that ended their quest for the SEHA - Gazprom League championship.
Both teams have consistently been a part of the Final Four event, but that will change after these clashes. Vardar 1961 are slight favourites because they won five championships, while PPD Zagreb won the grand trophy only once.
One thing which could be of great importance is team chemistry. Vardar and Zagreb went through major lineup changes, so their rosters will look a lot different compared to those that played during the season. Therefore, it will be interesting to see which coach prepared his team better in this brief period that they were given. The guests brought in eight new players this summer: Filip Ivic, Dino Slavic, Jakov Gojun, Sandro Obranovic, Ivan Cupic and Zeljko Musa. At the same time ten players left the club: Matej Asanin, Nemanja Obradovic, Senjamin Buric, Mario Vuglac, etc.
Vardar also changed their lineup and appointed a new coach. After an eight-year break, Veselin Vujović returned to Skopje. This will be his third mandate with the five-time SEHA champion, and he will be looking to repeat some of his accomplishments from before. As soon as Vujovic came to the club, everyone knew Vardar was in for a busy summer which ended with signing of nine new players and several call-ups from the youth team. The most famous name to sign with the squad is Eduardo Gurbindo - gold-medal winner at the 2020 Olympics.
Vardar 1961 already played three finals this summer, but only triumphed at the Struga tournament (won against Eurofarm Pelister). Bitolan team handed them a loss in Macedonian Super Cup, while Magdeburg triumphed at the Hummel Cup versus Veselin Vujovic squad.
Veselin Vujovic, Vardar 1961 head coach:
I think this will be the tightest Quarter-Final match in SEHA - Gazprom League. The final winner and Final Four participant will be decided after 120 minutes. Nothing will be decided after the first match in Skopje. Zagreb come here in good shape, while we are slowly lifting the form. I am glad that there will be spectators at our match. I am not thinking about victory, draw or defeat, or how many goals we need. If the players deliver a great match we will be able to eliminate a strong team like Zagreb.
Martin Tomovski, Vardar 1961 goalkeeper:
Zagreb is a solid team that has been playing SEHA for a long time. This season they are strong, especially in defense. That will be their main weapon, knowing they defense is orchestrated by two very experienced players from the Bundesliga. We had enough time to prepare, go through video analysis, and see all their weaknesses. There are no dilemmas, we are going to win both matches and qualify for Final Four in Zadar.
Ivica Obrvan, PPD Zagreb head coach:
Three weeks of preparations were concluded with the tournament in Doboj, That is over and now we’ve got an important match ahead of us. I would say that the chances for both teams are equal. The result from the first game will not guarantee anything, unless one club comes up with a big difference. So, I believe that the Final Four participant will be decided on 31st August in Zagreb. We still have a few trainings left to prepare as much as possible for Vardar, but we have raised the level of our form to a pretty good level. I hope that we'll show a satisfying style of play and earn a spot at the Final Four of SEHA-Gazprom League.
David Mandic, PPD Zagreb player:
“We are playing with a team that is equal to us in all segments, so I'm expecting a good tough match. Vardar has changed its roster quite a bit and they are a very good team for which we always have to prepare well. We definitely want to play good defense. We had a very difficult and long preparation period, but our mindset is that we still have to work a little harder. There is a great atmosphere in the team and we can't wait for the season to start. We will definitely 'fight' and hope to win in Skopje.