QUARTER-FINAL REVIEW: Veszprém lead throughout the match but the French side stay focused and keep the 2016 runners-up to a three-goal difference at the end of the first leg.
Relentless Montpellier keep hopes alive in Veszprém
Telekom Veszprém beat Montpellier HB by three goals in the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final in Hungary on Saturday. The 2016 finalists were ahead for most of the game but Patrice Canayer’s team remained focused all the way and never let the Hungarian powerhouse take full control.
• Veszprém are content with 23 goals conceded but not with 26 goals scored as they encounter problems against the massive Montpellier defence
• The French team rigidly stick to their battle plan and frustrate Veszprém in attack, thereby keeping everything open ahead of the second leg
• The top scorer for the home team was Aron Palmarsson with six goals while Valentin Porte scored five for Montpellier – all in the second half
QUARTER-FINAL, FIRST LEG
Telekom Veszprém (HUN) vs Montpellier HB (FRA) 26:23 (13:10)
Having eliminated title holders KS Vive Tauron Kielce, surprise quarter-finalists Montpellier HB travelled to Veszprém to take on the other 2016 finalists as underdogs yet again.
Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer’s battle plan was clear from the first minutes: Make Veszprém suffer hard in attack against his team’s open defence and force the first leg of the quarter-final to be a running game.
But the visitors did not surprise Veszprém coach Xavi Sabaté, who ordered his players to track back as quickly as possible whenever they lost the ball.
Strong start from the visitors
Montpellier showed great skills against the Hungarian side’s defensive wall as they regularly found Ludovic Fabregas, who made no mistakes from the line.
Vincent Gerard made important saves but it hurt Veszprém more when their defensive stalwart Timuzsin Schuch was shown a direct red card for a hit on Diego Simonet as early as the 16th minute.
Despite Gerard continuing to frustrate the home team’s players Veszprém gained momentum. Led by Aron Palmarsson and Laszlo Nagy, the Hungarian side pulled ahead by three goals for the first time in the balanced match.
Mirko Alilovic had a lot to do with the home team’s run – after a mediocre first 15 minutes the Croatian goalkeeper kept Montpellier out of the goal for six minutes as Veszprém’s defence started to show its better side.
“We were prepared to contain their fast breaks and overall I am happy with the 23 goals Montpellier scored, but we could have done more in attack,” said Veszprém captain Laszlo Nagy. “Our opponents are a very strong team and we have to give our all in France to reach the FINAL4.”
Veszprém keep Montpellier under pressure
Defence dominated the first minutes of the second half as Baptiste Bonnefond also saw red for his third two-minute suspension.
Veszprém continued to defend aggressively and the margin started to grow as Palmarsson tore the visitors’ defence apart with his trademark assists – but before Veszprém could gain full control of the game, Montpellier fought back with goals from Jure Dolenec and Jonas Truchanovicius.
As the last 10 minutes approached the pattern of the game refused to change: Veszprém climbed to a four to five-goal lead only to see bravely fighting Montpellier minimise the margin within minutes.
Veszprém finally increased the advantage to six goals before Michael Guigou stepped up and brought his team closer to the home side once again.
Montpellier remained focused and it seemed the visitors had more fuel left in the tank as Porte scored his fifth goal and cut Veszprém’s lead to two three minutes from the final whistle.
It was the same story of the 2016/17 season for Veszprém, who had great periods but allowed their opponents to crawl back when fatigue took its toll.
Sabaté’s team claimed the win in the end, but seeing how well Canayer built Montpellier’s tactics Veszprém’s three-goal lead is anything but reassuring in the two-game aggregate knock-out contest.
“You never know if three goals are enough or not, but at the end of the day we can be proud because we beat a remarkable opponent,” said Sabaté. “Our defence was great – Montpellier usually score over 30 goals and we managed to keep them on 23.”
TEXT: Bence Martha / cg