Billed as the rematch of last season’s VELUX EHF FINAL4 classic, the clash of the titans turned out to be a largely lop-sided contest as Vardar dominated for 50 minutes in their jam-packed Jane Sandanski Arena.
Still licking their wounds from the heart-breaking 26:25 defeat by Vardar in Cologne, where the Macedonian side went on to win their maiden title with an equally dramatic 24:23 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the final, Barcelona looked capable of enacting some measure of revenge in Skopje after taking a 4:2 lead in the opening stages.
They flattered to deceive, however, as Vardar roared back and turned the tide by carving out a healthy 11:6 advantage, mostly on the back of majestic team defending and a string of superb saves by Barcelona’s former goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik.
Another ex-Barcelona player, Jorge Maqueda, tormented his former club at the other end with a barrage of unstoppable shots, while speedy Russian wings Timur Dibirov and Denis Shishkarev were also lethal.
With playmaker Luka Cindric pulling the strings in attack for Vardar, the Macedonian giants held the upper hand in the second half and the writing was on the wall for the visitors when Maqueda’s fifth goal gave the home side a 25:19 lead with six minutes left.
Barcelona stars shut down
Raul Entrerrios fizzed out after a fine start, the towering Wael Jallouz was given no room to operate and talented Frenchman Dika Mem also struggled against a rugged Vardar rearguard.
Imposing Montenegrin back Vuko Borozan led Vardar with six goals, Maqueda added five while Cindric and Dibirov chipped in with four each.
“I want to thank to our supporters, because today they really were our eighth player. I have to mention that I am proud of my teammates because we played with style,” said Borozan.
Rivera netted a game-high eight for Barcelona and Entrerrios added five, but their solo efforts were insufficient as the Catalan comeback came too late.
A note must be added for the Lithuanian officiating duo who were absolutely terrible particularly in the last ten minutes of the match when the duo started ejecting Vardar players literally for sneezing. At the time Vardar had a large seven goal cushion (23-16), and the refs decided to offer assistance to Barcelona by simply ejecting Vardar players one by one. But even then, Vardar were simply too strong for Barcelona and proved why they are the defending champions.