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24.02.2018, 19:00
Motor earn unexpected win, Montpellier return to winning form
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ELIMINATION ROUND C+D REVIEW: Motor lead by up to six, but are forced to settle for a two-goal win against Skjern in the first leg of their play-off duel, while Montpellier have little trouble defeating Leon by four
 

Motor earn unexpected win, Montpellier return to winning form

HC Motor Zaporozhye stopped Skjern Handbold’s second-half comeback on Saturday evening, but will have to play at the top of their game in the away leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Elimination Round C+D Play-off. The Ukrainian side won the first clash with a close two-goal score line, 32:30.
 
Montpellier HB lost their last two games, but had the match against Abanca Ademar Leon under control from start to finish, as they claimed a 28:24 win in the away leg. The French team are now the favourites to proceed to the Last 16 for what would be the fourth consecutive time, as they can even afford a narrow loss in the second-leg game against Leon.

• Right wing Artem Kozakevych is flawless for Motor, scoring eight times, including seven goals in the second half
• Skjern take a strong record into the second-leg clash next Sunday: They have claimed five victories at home in the group phase, winning their games by an average of 10.8 goals
• Montpellier right back Melvyn Richardson has his best game of the season, with nine goals
• After winning three away games in 2017/18, Leon need a victory of at least four goals against Montpellier next Sunday to proceed to the next phase
 

ELIMINATION ROUND C+D PLAY-OFF – FIRST LEG
HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs Skjern Handbold (DEN) 32:30 (19:14)
 
The Ukrainian side had the upper hand in the home game, with the experience of two consecutive seasons contesting the play-off games behind them. But few expected the hosts to create a 19:14 lead by half-time in the match against the Danish champions, who looked out of their depth in defence and were stopped in their tracks in attack by a resilient Motor.
 
The two sides were neck-and-neck in the first minutes, before a 5:1 run inspired by Motor’s playmaker Barys Pukhouski saw the hosts take an impressive 11:6 lead.
 
It was an off night for Skjern’s experienced left wing Anders Eggert, but backs Markus Olsson and Kasper Søndergaard helped the Danish side stay afloat. However, it was clear Skjern needed to bounce back in the second half if they were to improve their chances of claiming the Last 16 berth.
 
Kozakevych leads Motor through second half
 
While their fast-paced style might have helped them in the group phase, Skjern had to adjust in the second half against Motor – and they did just that, with their defence helping them take control. While Motor’s efficiency dropped, the Danish side quickly came back into the game, minimising the damage from the first half.
 
The difference decreased, but right wing Artem Kozakevych was unstoppable in the second 30 minutes, helping Motor when the home side were trouble.
 
Their experience was a huge advantage for Skjern. The Danish side managed to keep the gap in check and even come close to levelling the score in the final five minutes. Yet Motor had enough power to withstand and the Ukrainian side will now enter the second leg with a two-goal advantage. The narrow lead could prove difficult to contain, as Skjern had an average winning margin of 10.8 goals in the group phase.

Abanca Ademar Leon (ESP) vs Montpellier HB (FRA) 24:28 (12:14)
 
After winning eight games in a row and securing first place in Group D, Montpellier lost their previous two Champions League matches. But that did not mean that Leon, who snatched a play-off berth by the skin of their teeth, were favourites against the French side, as Montpellier showed little to no rust in the opening minutes of the first-leg clash.

Leon-Montpellier_Causse_565

Helped by an improved version of Melvyn Richardson, Montpellier jumped to a 10:6 lead, as the 21-year-old right back scored four times in the first 12 minutes. At the other end of the court, the French team’s defence enjoyed a great start.

An unanswered 4:0 run for Leon saw the Spanish side level the game, 10:10, with a flawless Juan Antonio Garcia Lorenzana leading the way at 40 years of age. However, Montpellier were by far the superior side and soon reclaimed the lead to hold a two-goal advantage, 14:12, at half-time.

No trouble for Montpellier
 
It was more of the same in the second half, as Richardson picked up where he left off, scoring with ease. The French side boasted a healthy 20:16 lead after 40 minutes.
 
Leon had no answer for Montpellier, as the visitors looked like the invincible team that dominated the first part of the group phase. As they created a 27:21 lead, the answer as to which team would qualify for the Last 16 was practically answered.
 
With goalkeeper Vincent Gerard in fine form, all the pressure was on Leon and an opportune time-out brought them back in the game, with a 3:0 run.
 
But it was too little too late, as Montpellier secured a comfortable 28:24 win, setting themselves as favourites to proceed to the next phase.

“We played very well. We have faced one of the best teams in the world,” said Leon goalkeeper Vladimir Cupara. “It will be difficult, but there are 60 minutes left and we will do our best.”


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg
 
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