Montpellier top the table, La Rioja suffer shock high-scoring loss
Naturhouse La Rioja suffered a surprising defeat at home against Chekhovskie Medvedi in Round 7 of the VELUX EHF Champions League, which leaves Montpellier HB at the top of the group following a fine away win in Presov.
Montpellier recorded their fourth straight win in Group C and strengthened their position for a berth in the play-off stage.
• TATRAN Presov remain winless against Montpellier after fourth head-to-head game
• Montpellier top the group with 10 points, La Rioja trail just behind with nine
• Presov lose their sixth second half from seven games played
• Chekhovskie back in the race for play-off berth after surprising win
• La Rioja and Chekhov play the second-highest scoring game of the season
TATRAN Presov (SVK) vs Montpellier HB (FRA) 24:28 (9:14)
Montpellier took two points home from eastern Slovakia after a match between two in-form teams ended in a four-goal victory for the visitors.
The French side are now on ten points – four points clear of their opponents for Saturday’s fixture.
"I would not lie at all if I say we wanted to win this game," said Presov left back Dominik Krok following the match. "We believed we could manage it. However, Montpellier showed on the court they are a top team.
"We made a lot of mistakes in the first half when our defence did not work properly. In the second half we changed the system after several minutes. We started to play 2-4 defence and we managed to reduce the score. If we did not make so many mistakes we could have reached a better result."
Injuries deplete Presov
With offensive ace Oliver Rabek missing, Presov had some difficult moments against the French powerhouse, while Montpellier counted on their deeper roster and strong performances from the back court.
Montpellier played without Arnaud Bingo, but with Ludovic Fabregas, who missed the first game against Presov in France and turned out to be one of the most influential players for the visitors on Saturday.
Technical faults halt hosts
Presov held back Montpellier in the opening minutes of the game before beginning to make technical faults that gave their opposition more chances.
As the match progressed Montpellier enjoyed superb form, demonstrating that the team seem to have found a perfect balance after an inconsistent start to the 2016/17 season.
Six new signings and the 2016 Olympic Games were two factors contributing to the slow start to the French team’s Champions League campaign, but now that Montpellier have found their rhythm they are rolling on.
Playing with ease, the visitors did not leave any doubt about the winner of the clash in Slovakia.
Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) 34:37 (19:17)
Vladimir Maximov’s men grabbed two points after a shocking win against all odds in Logrono, which keeps them in the race for the elimination round.
A fine second-half comeback by Chekhov saw La Rioja unable to respond in a high-scoring thriller.
Better beginning followed by second-half slip up
Unlike in Round 6 against Elverum, La Rioja were concentrated from the first minute, though Chekhov did not allow the Spanish side to create a significant lead before half-time.
Even without Pablo Cacheda, La Rioja were a threat from all over the court, but things changed after the break.
Always a drama
In Round 1 in late September, La Rioja missed the chance to claim a late win, ending their first-leg game against Chekhovskie in a stalemate.
Another close match was therefore on the cards in Palacio de los Deportes de La Rioja, the result of which saw Chekhov move in front in the head-to-head score between these sides with their second-ever win over the Spanish team.
Chekhov not troubled by recent defeats
Two close defeats against Presov did not hit the confidence of the Chekhov team. In both these matches, the ‘Bears’ fell behind and were not able to come back despite improved performances.
On Saturday night they played more compact and their return after the break was perfect.
A high-scoring thriller
After missing out against Presov in the last round, Alexander Chernoivanov proved his importance for the team with five goals and hard defensive work.
Firepower also came from the strong back court duo, with left back Dmitrii Santalov adding five goals to Alexander Kotov’s six as the Russians were mentally very strong through the second half in particular.
The deciding factor was the 71% efficiency from the ‘Bears’, though normally 34 goals from La Rioja would be enough for a win – but not today.