After a 25:24 victory against Slovenia in their EHF EURO 2018 opener in Zagreb, FYR Macedonia recorded another one-goal win in Group C on Monday, thereby booking their ticket to the main round in Varazdin. It was another hard-earned win for coach Raul Gonzalez’s side and top scorer Filip Mirkulovski, who was awarded best player of the match after his five goals helped his team leave Montenegro behind 29:28 (15:16).
"It was a tough game, like it was before with Slovenia. We didn't open the game like we wanted and their pivots scored a lot of great goals. In the second half it was much better; we played our fast breaks better and scored some easy goals. In the end, we deserved to win," said FYR Macedonia's Dejan Manaskov.
The first ever official duel of the neighbours, Montenegro and FYR Macedonia, saw a solid defensive battle through to the middle of the second half, when the Macedonians took the upper hand. Montenegro, who have now lost 13 of their overall 14 EHF EURO matches, and have not won a game since 2008, were far better than in their opener when they were defeated by Germany 19:32. But in the end, the Macedonians secured their place in the main round, taking the lead in Group C with the maximum four points after two wins.
Before the final match day in Group C in Zagreb, FYR Macedonia and Germany are confirmed for the next stage, while Montenegro (still on zero points) need a victory against Slovenia (one point) to proceed. The Macedonians and Germans face each other in the battle of the group leaders.
After an equal start, Stefan Cavor and Nemanja Grbovic were the keys for Montenegro to take control. The match was something like a rollercoaster ride for both sides until the middle of the second half, as the lead changed hands constantly.
Even the clear majority in the stands did not help the Macedonians, as Montenegro’s defence managed to stop their top star Kiril Lazarov. Therefore, Montenegro’s 16:15 lead at the break was fully deserved.
But finally, a 5:3 series for FYR Macedonia, from 19:17 to 24:20, was the key to success, when Filip Kuzmanovski led a scoring rampage as the time ticked against Montenegro.
When Dragan Djukic’s side was down 24:27, the Macedonians missed the opportunity to seal the deal earlier. A double strike from Milos Vujovic and Bozo Andjelic brought Montenegro back into the match. But when Vuk Lazovic was sent off with a direct red card and an easy goal for Filip Lazarov followed, the Macedonian fans started their traditional chants, knowing that their team had made it to the main round.
"We missed our chance, but at the end I am really proud of my team. They pushed the Macedonian team to the limit," said Djukic.