They combine seven of eight previous trophies of the SEHA - Gazprom League - and on Sunday, they face their third time in a final of this prestigious competition: Telekom Veszprem and Vardar 1961 are the dominant SEHA teams since the start in 2012.
When they clash on Sunday at 20.30 CET at Zadar for the new golden trophy, this final will be something very special for David Davis. For many years the Veszprem coach had been part of the Vardar coaching staff and now will face many familiar faces, though the line-up of the Macedonians changed completely with only some exceptions.
Veszprem continued their incredible series on Friday by a 28:24 semi-final victory against Meshkov Brest, which was deserved after a strong second half. When Veszprem are part of the SEHA - Gazprom League, they always make it to the final - 2015, 2016, 2017 and now. In the first two participations, the Hungarian record champions finally rose the trophy at Veszprem (by beating Meshkov) and Varazdin (by beating Vardar 1961), in 2017, they were defeated at Brest by Vardar. Now they are back - and they want to make up not only for 2017, but also for the 2019 EHF Champions League final, which they lost against Vardar 24:27 at Cologne.
Vardar 1961 were extremely lucky to make it to the final - first they made it to the Final 4 thanks to a great comeback in the quarter-final against Nexe, then by even more sensational last eleven minutes in the semi-final against Zagreb on Friday, when they turned a 17:23 into the victory in the penalty shoot-out (30:29). “Definitely we will remember this match for a long time, and it will boost us for the final,” said left-wing Timur Dibirov, who replaces Stojanche Stoilov as a team captain.
Stoilov had been part of Vardar’s all five SEHA - Gazprom League trophies and now has to miss the final tournament for the first time. After their victories in 2012 at Zagreb and 2014 at Novi Sad, Vardar’s last defeat at a SEHA Final 4 was the 2016 final against Veszprem (26:28). Since then, they gained an incredible series of 7:0 victories at the pinnacle event winning the trophy in 2017 (final against Veszprem), 2018 and 2019 (both finals against Zagreb) and now beating PPD in the semi - the first highlight for new coach Stevche Alushovski.
Vardar and Veszprem were the so far only teams, which managed to defend their trophies in the SEHA - Gazprom League, and except the 2013 title of PPD Zagreb, they have won all trophies since the start of the competition.
Looking upon the squad lists, Veszprem are supposed to be the favorites including their Spanish top newcomers Jorge Maqueda and goalkeeper Rodrigo Corrales, who was the man of the match in the semi against Brest by 15 saves. But his counterpart Borko Ristovski had the same significance for Vardar 1961 in the semi, saving two PPD penalty shots and standing like a wall in the crunch-time of the regular playing time.
The strength of Veszprem as a team is proved by the fact that only Croatian born wing Manuel Strlek is among the 30 best scorers of the completion, on the 30th rank (34 goals, while Vardar 1961 is represented even twice among the top 12 scorers: Timur Dibirov (65) ion the second position and Ivan Cupic (43) on the twelfth rank.