Macedonia Celebrates Vardar's European Handball Championship TitleSports | June 5, 2017, Monday @ 10:45| 567 views
Illustration, Photo: MIA/PrintScreen
Thousands of fans loudly celebrated Vardar's triumph in the European Handball Championship, with the win over Paris Saint Germain. Ivan Cupic scored the winning goal in the final second of the dramatic match, for a 24:23 win for the Macedonian team.
The win comes 15 years after Kometal Gjorce Petrov won the European women's title, and the first such trophy for Vardar. Both teams were strong in defense, with goalkeepers Sterbik and Omeyer excelling at their jobs. Vardar was on top for most of the first half, with up to three goals ahead of the French team, but slipped up at the end and PSG had a halftime lead of one goal (12-11). The second half brought a faster pace of play which suited Vardar, whose fast players were able to intercept French attacks and score from counterattacks. The PSG tactic to drop the goalkeeper and go on the attack with an empty goal cost them dearly, as Vardar scored two easy goals from intercepts.
The PSG team pulled itself together in the middle of the second half, ad led by the unstoppable Nikola Karabatic the French scored six times in a row and evened the game out. Vardar had a two goals buffer in the 56th minute, but the last minute and a half had everybody on the edge of their seats, as PSG evened the score with seven seconds to go. Vardar coach Raul Gonzales asked for a time out, organized the team, and prepared the attack that allowed Cupic to score just as the buzzer was about to sound.
Cities across Macedonia erupted in cries of joy, and soon afterwards cars draped with Macedonian flags were circling and honking in celebration, as TVs beamed images of the Macedonian team saluting the numerous fans in the Cologne sports arena. Skopje's central Macedonia square was the main site of the celebration, with crowds waving Macedonian and Vardar flags and singing late into the night. A grand welcoming ceremony is planned for Tuesday, in a rare celebration of sports success that will likely match the party that followed the unexpected 4th place finish for the Macedonian team at the 2011 European championship.
"I'm proud to be the captain of this team. Our players showed cojones. I can't explain this win in any other way. This is the first time we have a men's European champion from Macedonia. We knew it will be difficult, just as the semifinal match against Barcelona was a really tough one. We were fortunate to have a great goalkeeper", Stojanche Stoilov said after the match.
Beloved coach Gonzales, speaking in his heavily accented Macedonian, praised his team saying that they are heroes. "My players showed they are the best in Europe. This is the result of our hard work over the last four years", Gonzales said.
Goalkeeper Sterbik won the MVP title for the final four tournament in Cologne. Despite announcements of impending retirement, driven by his emotions, he left the door open to remain in Vardar. "This was my 9th European championship finals. We showed that the collective is our main strength, our team and our coach Gonzales", said Sterbik, who added the trophy to the three he already holds.
Timur Dibirov was the best scorer for Vardar, with 7 goals, followed by Cindric, Borozan and Cupic with three each. Karabatic scored five goals for PSG, and in the third place match, Hungarian Veszprem beat Barcelona 34 to 30.