Could Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer have a crystal ball? Just 10 days ago, after a French league match, he was asked about the importance of having Diego Simonet back in his squad for the last run of the season.
“Diego is a player that's very unique. You probably won't find any other like him. He's a centre back who is able to disorganise any defence with his speed,” said Canayer. “He's something like a wild card in our game. One that you have to preserve for the important times. To have him back and fit at this point in the season is very important.”
The evening his coach said that, the Argentinian scored six goals in his second game back on court after a shoulder injury sustained during the World Championship in January. Since then, he scored another six in the French league, before impressing everyone by finding the net eight times against Kielce on Sunday, helping Montpellier beat the VELUX EHF Champions League title holders 33:28.
Even Kielce coach Talant Dujshebaev had something nice to say about him: “I'm not surprised by his performance. He's been among the best players of the French league in the last seasons, and I guess you saw why today.”
Finding solutions against taller opponents
Before this near-perfect performance, Simonet had to endure a long period of various injuries. An injury to his knee in March last year left him in the stands for six months, before his hamstring gave him trouble.
Finally, when everything seemed to be coming back on track, Simonet hurt his shoulder in January during the World Championship in France.
While his previous comebacks were slow and progressive, the latest one has been hastened by the absence of Vid Kavticnik.
“My game depends a lot on rhythm, on how I'm able to play game after game,” Simonet said after Sunday's win, before commenting on his excellent performance against Kielce.
“I know I can't compete physically with them – they're much taller and stronger than I am. So I had to be smart, to give the ball at the right time, shoot when they didn't expect me to, force my opponent to go somewhere he doesn't want to go.”
Kielce will find solutions
Patrice Canayer hopes his magician will be able to produce more of the same on Sunday for the return leg in Poland – and Simonet has everything in his power to do it.
Two seasons ago, he scored 11 when his team won by two in Hala Legionow in the Last 16 phase of the Champions League. Added to the six scored at home, the Argentinian tallied 17 goals against Kielce.
The last trip there, though, was something else entirely:
“That was the worst game of my career,” Simonet recalls, before talking briefly about Montpellier’s chance of making it to the quarter-finals. “We can't think that we're there already with a five-goal advantage. Kielce will work hard during the week to find the solutions to the problems we caused.”