QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW: Veszprém were expecting Kielce to be their quarter-final opponents, but the French outfit proved them wrong and are eager to continue upsetting higher-rated teams.
Veszprém must take Montpellier threat seriously
Having beaten 2016 champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce in the Last 16, Montpellier HB find themselves up against the other finalists from last season – but this time with a spot in the VELUX EHF Champions League FINAL4 at stake.
Coach Patrice Canayer’s team have everything it takes to upset the struggling Hungarian powerhouse, yet it is still Veszprém that seem to be favourites to reach Cologne.
• Momir Ilic admits Veszprém were expecting to face Kielce in the quarter-finals, but promises the team will give their all against the French underdogs as well.
• Veszprém and Montpellier have never met in the knock-out stage. The French team won only once away from home (in 2009), while Veszprém have recorded four prior victories against their upcoming opponents.
• Veszprém have problems that are extremely difficult to deal with while already-overachieving Montpellier can play without any pressure whatsoever.
QUARTER-FINAL, FIRST LEG
Telekom Veszprém (HUN) vs Montpellier HB (FRA)
Saturday 22 April, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com
There were few supporters who were not surprised when Montpellier emerged as winners from their clash with the reigning champions. Patrice Canayer’s team pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season by beating Kielce in both matches in the first knock-out round.
Telekom Veszprém did the same however, their double win against Zagreb came as no surprise (though the Croatian side did beat the Hungarian powerhouse in the SEHA League) yet the general feeling in Veszprém is that Montpellier did enough to be taken seriously.
“I don’t want to deny we were expecting Kielce but Montpellier’s victory proved they are the better side, so we have no reason to take them any less seriously than we would do with the Polish team,” said Veszprém marksman Momir Ilic.
Lethal backline can cause Veszprém problems
Avoiding Kielce is still something to be happy about in Hungary given how Telekom Veszprém gave away a huge lead in last year’s VELUX EHF Champions League Final against the Polish side. But right after the Last 16, coach Xavi Sabaté remonstrated that Veszprém are fully aware of the threat Montpellier pose and there was absolutely no reason to snub such a great team.
As proven against Kielce, Montpellier’s back line is just as strong as the Polish side’s: Jure Dolenec, Mathieu Grebille and Diego Simonet can and will torment any defence.
Montpellier’s defensive wall may not be as efficient as the elite teams, but Canayer can always rely on the French hero of the World Championship, Vincent Gerard.
Problems mounting for Sabaté
Veszprém seem complete and ready to fight for their fourth consecutive FINAL4 adventure, yet problems are mounting for under-fire head coach Sabaté.
Healthy squad rotation has been an issue since the start of the season as Veszprém continued to lose games and points in the last minutes, and there are limited options in attack due to injuries, fatigue and coaching choices.
These two teams have never met in the knock-out stage of the competition, though Montpellier were once eliminated in Hungary as the title holders, but at the hands of MOL-Pick Szeged.
In the group stages of the Champions League Veszprém have recorded four victories while Montpellier won twice. They last met in the 2014/15 season, when the Hungarian side not only won both games but inflicted one of the French outfit’s heaviest home defeats with a final score of 20:34.
TEXT: Bence Martha / cg