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17.03.2016, 15:30
Guigou and "mini-me" meet in Montpellier
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FACE TO FACE: France left wing teammates Kentin Mahe and Michael Guigou will be opponents as Montpellier HB take on SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the VELUX EHF Champions League on Saturday
 

Guigou and "mini-me" meet in Montpellier

More than three years since their last encounter, Montpellier HB and SG Flensburg-Handewitt will meet again on Saturday in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

At stake, a spot in the quarter-finals of the competition and while a couple of weeks ago Montpellier would have looked like an underdog without much of a chance, their French league cup win against Paris Saint-Germain last Sunday gave them a much-needed boost of confidence.

“We've had a tough season, with all the injuries and the extra things we didn't really need,” explains captain Michael Guigou.

“So this trophy has some special feeling to it. It shows that we're still alive and that, even if Flensburg are clear favourites, we will give them a hard time.”

On the opposing team is someone Guigou knows very well, a he became world champion in 2015 with, Kentin Mahe, for whom the trip to Montpellier is the second time he plays against a French club this season.

He travelled to Paris two weeks ago to play against PSG and now he is heading south, to a place that is very special to his heart.

“I'd say that the game in Montpellier will be even more special than the one in Paris was.

“My dad won trophies with this club, I have family and friends there, I have been on holidays in the city, so playing against Montpellier means a lot to me.”

No walk in the park for Flensburg

To get to this stage of the competition, Montpellier had to fight hard to finish sixth, just ahead if IFK Kristianstad and KIF Kolding Kobenhavn. With seven points, they were in no position to aim for a higher spot, though the 34-year-old Guigou was hoping for a better result.

“Regarding the players we have in the squad, we could have bothered teams like Szeged or Vardar a bit more.

“But there are positive things as well; we managed to win all the key games, just like we did again on Sunday against Paris. We want to use that against Flensburg."

These results mean that the German team, who finished third in Group A behind PSG and MVM Veszprem, does not think that the games will be at all easy.

“There is no way beating Montpellier will be a walk in the park,” explains Mahe, referring to his opponents’ recent victory over the Parisian squad.

“This team is made of real characters, driven by a coach who knows his stuff very well. We've got to be cautious of not letting them play fast and use their fast breaks.”

“We have to do things we’ve never done before”

For Montpellier, facing Flensburg-Handewitt now is a little bit like facing Kielce at the same stage of the competition last season.

With coach Patrice Canayer giving MHB a 20 per cent chance of progressing, and although Michael Guigou cannot help but admit the Germans are favourites he claims: "We've shown lately that we are capable of great things and it's a sign that Flensburg has been struggling far from home, be in Paris, Veszprem, Kiel or even Celje.”

“In order to make it through, we'll have to do things we haven't done before. In the VELUX EHF Champions League every time we've faced a high-profile team, we've lost. Now's the time to show that we have learnt something from our defeats and that we are ready to produce again what we did against Paris.”

On the German side, Ljubomir Vranjes and his boys know that a tough defeat in the south of France would make their business a lot more complicated. And while they can count on one of the most dedicated fan base at home, they will face what Mahe thinks are the best fans in France in the first leg.

“They are like a trademark over there. A lot will depend on our result in Montpellier. Maybe in the eyes of specialists we the favourites, but we'll have to get a good result in the first game to secure a good starting position before the home return.”

Like a mini-me, only crazier

When two young and hungry teams collide in the Bougnol arena, the two men will be happy to meet each other again.

Even though Kentin Mahe underlines the fact that neither player has much time to keep in touch on a daily basis, he has a good relationship with Guigou, who he thinks has been “the number one French left winger for the last ten years.

“His speed and his technical skills are impressive for someone his size. He's definitely a model for me.”

And while he might be a decade older than Mahe, the Montpellier captain is clearly impressed by what he has been showing lately, notably his recent between-the-legs goal against PSG.

“Did you see that? That's all Kentin. The guy's like a mini-me, playing both on the wing and on the backcourt, who is able to do crazy things that nobody would think of but him.

“He's able to be almost as good as Anders Eggert on the wing and as Thomas Mogensen on the centre-back position. That sets the tone, I think,” concludes Guigou


TEXT: Kevin Domas, Björn Pazen / cor
 
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