The final was close, tomorrow we'll play for bronze!
The Champions League trophy is unfortunately not for us. Although it was very close, we eventually lost the semi-final match of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 against Telekom Veszprém 30:33. After initial problems in attack, after which Veszprém was leading 4:0, we managed to stabilize the game, slowly catching up with our rivals. In the second part of the match the game was very equal. Unfortunately, near the end of the game, the Hungarian team managed to increase the goal difference again, with Petar Nenadić scoring a total of twelve goals, and eventually it is Veszprém who can celebrate their advancement to the final. The rival of PGE VIVE in the third place match will be determined in the clash between Barça Lassa and HC Vardar.
Telekom Veszprem HC – PGE VIVE Kielce 33:30 (13:13)
Telekom Veszprem HC: Sterbik, Mikler – Manaskov, Ilić 1, Tonnesen 2, Gajic 5, Nilsson, Nagy 3, Marguc, Strlek 4, Terzic, Blagotinsek 2, Nenadic 12, Mahe, Mackovsek, Lekai 4
PGE VIVE Kielce: Cupara, Ivić, Wałach – Bis, A. Dujshebaev 7, Aginagalde, Jachlewski 1, Janc 3, Lijewski, Jurkiewicz 1, Kulesh 3, Moryto 2, Mamić 2, Cindrić 5, Fernandez 1, Karalok 5
Anyone who has never been in the LANXESS Arena at the Champions League finals should regret it, because the atmosphere there is otherworldly. This is especially true when there is a match between teams whose fans have been friends for years and support each other. Already before the start of the match, the yellow, white and blue sector of the audience gave our goalkeeper a motivating welcome by shouting CU-PA-RA! However, the beginning of the game did not go well for us. Arpad Sterbik was saving the throws of our players, and his teammates were quite easily beating Vlad Cupara on counterattacks. It was already 4:0 when Alex Dujshebaev finally broke the impotence of our team. However, László Nagy added another one for the Hungarians and it was now 5:1 for the rivals.
Our game in attack was not going well at all, the passes to line players were not good enough, the shooting efficiency was poor. Fortunately, our rivals slowed down a bit, or in fact their counterattack was stopped by Vladimir Cupara. The venue once again filled with the fans chanting and a penalty throw was won by Alex Dujshebaev. Unfortunately, Blaz Janc only hit the hand of Arpad Sterbik and Veszprém was again in attack. While it was clear that they made it a point of honor to gain the largest possible advantage from the very beginning, so that the story from 2016 would not happen again, they too started to make mistakes. After one of the passes the ball went out of play, and a moment later Uladzislau Kulesh gave a demonstration of his strength, scoring the third, very important goal for PGE VIVE.
The match slowed down. Both teams got tired of the chase from the first minutes of the match. This proved to be better for the Kielce team, because after 20 minutes the result was only 8:7 for Veszprém. Then a sad situation occurred - during a counterattack, while throwing the ball, Marko Mamić, hooked on the foot of the so-far phenomenal Arpad Sterbik while falling into the goal area, and the latter had to leave the court, assisted by a physiotherapist. He was replaced by Roland Mikler. The Kielce players unscrupulously took advantage of the goalkeeper's lack of warm-up and thanks to the counterattacks of Arek Moryto and Angel Fernandez they finally took the lead 9:8 in the twenty-third minute of the game.
Meanwhile, Sterbik with a bandaged foot was slowly walking behind the sideline, as if checking whether he would be able to return to the court. He didn't. On the other side of the court Vlad Cupara, in a trance, was stopping one action after another. The pace of the game got very fast again. Loss for loss, counterattack for counterattack, goal for goal. Five seconds before the end of the first half, when the result was 13:13, coach Talant Dujshebaev asked for time-out. If there was anyone who could have come up with an effective action during such a short time, it was him. Everything went great, the players worked out a great position for Luka Cindrić, but unfortunately the hands of Roland Mikler stood in the way of the ball and this part of the game ended with a draw.
In the second half it didn't look like any of the teams could get a large advantage. The game was very tough, as proven by a red card for Blaz Blagotinsek in the fortieth minute of the game for attacking Vlad Kulesh's neck. Literally a few seconds later Alex Dujshebaev received a two-minute suspension for interrupting Veszprém's counterattack against the rules. The scoreboard showed 19:18 for our rivals, but because Vlad Cupara was pulled back for the duration of Alex's suspension, Petar Nenadić and Dragan Gajić scored a total of three empty net goals, quickly increasing the lead to 22:18. The bad streak was only interrupted by Krzysztof Lijewski from positional attack.
This short period made the situation very difficult for the Kielce players, who now started to hurry. In the forty-fourth minute Luka Cindrić finally scored his first goal in the game. In a moment our quarterback added another one and it seemed that he was the only one who can get us out of trouble. 15 minutes before the end we were losing 21:24. It’s nothing for us - that's what probably some fans thought. Boom! Another goal by Cindra! And another one! It's the fourth one! And the fifth! The Croat, as if inspired, was doing miracles on the court.
For a while the crisis was solved! After this incredible series by Luka Cindrić and another goal by Blaz Janc, we were losing only 27:28. The teams were again exchanging punches. Less than six minutes before the end the result was 30:28 in favor of Veszprém, and coach Dujshebaev asked for a time-out. Playmaking was taken care of by Luka Cindrić, Alex Dujshebaev and Blaz Janc. Unfortunately, the ending saw too many mistakes on our part and this time the Hungarians turned out to be better, winning against PGE VIVE in regular time 33:30.
On Sunday, at 3:15 pm, the players from Kielce will once again enter the court of LANXESS Arena, to fight for the bronze medal of the Champions League. Their rival will be determined by the second semi-final match, in which Barça Lassa will play against HC Vardar.