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26.05.2018, 18:10
Montpellier set up final of the underdogs
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SEMI-FINAL REVIEW: The curse of the defending champions at the FINAL4 in Cologne is extended, as Vardar lose a thriller against the French side by one goal
 

Montpellier set up final of the underdogs

Diego Simonet will definitely be remembered in Montpellier HB’s history: After the Argentinian star confirmed the quarter-final berth with the final goal in Barcelona, he steered Montpellier to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 Final in Cologne against fellow French side HBC Nantes by scoring the decisive last goal for the 28:27 victory against HC Vardar.

Again and as usual since the FINAL4 format was introduced, the champions from the previous year will not have the chance to defend the trophy.

"I am very happy to win this match and to have the chance to be in the final. Vardar are a very strong team, we came here from the lower pools and we beat the defending champions. We hope this great adventure will continue on Sunday. On Tuesday we had lost an important match by one goal in the French league, I know how Vardar feels now," Montpelllier head coach Patrice Canayer said.

• For the third time after 2011 (Barcelona vs Madrid) and 2014 (Flensburg vs Kiel), two teams from the same nation will meet in the Champions League final in Cologne
• 15 years ago, Montpellier won the one and only trophy taken by a French team. Now, it is certain France are about to celebrate a second – all to decide is which city
• Vardar miss the chance to become the first ever defending champions to make it to the final in Cologne
• Montpellier right back Valentin Porte is the top scorer of the semi-final, with eight goals


SEMI-FINAL
HC Vardar (MKD) vs Montpellier HB (FRA) 27:28 (11:14)

Funnily enough, as two of the best goalkeepers in the world, neither Vincent Gerard nor Arpad Sterbik had a major impact in the first half of the semi-final on Saturday. Last year’s FINAL4 MVP Sterbik was even replaced by Strahinja Milic after 23 minutes.

In contrast to their goalkeepers, the defence for both sides worked well. Vardar counted on their towering players, while Montpellier were extremely movable. The French side were in full control in the early stages, before Vardar intermediately turned the tide for their one and only lead at 7:6.

From that point, it was mainly MHB right back Valentin Porte who headlined the match. Six of the 14 Montpellier goals before the break were scored by the 2017 world champion – including the final one, right with the half-time buzzer for MHB’s first three-goal advantage at 14:11.

Vardar were below par and did not find their regular rhythm, except for right wing Ivan Cupic, who was on fire. But even his four goals in the first 30 minutes were not enough to reduce the gap.

In the second half, Montpellier struggle to remain ahead of the defending champions, who reduced the gap to 14:15 quite early. With Milic and Spanish right back Jorge Maqueda on fire, Vardar improved, but could not turn the match around until the final stages. Montpellier were ahead by three goals – but then Milic stood in the way.

With seven minutes to go, Montpellier were ahead 22:21 – and the match was on the edge. Young Melvyn Richardson, son of 2001 Champions League winner Jackson Richardson, took the responsibility for Montpellier. But, for the first time after 7:7, Vardar managed to level the result (27:27) 90 seconds before the end thanks to the first goal from team captain Stojanche Stoilov.

Diego Simonet struck for 28:27 19 second from the buzzer, and a Vardar timeout immediately followed. But when Vuko Borozan missed the last shot, the dream of the defending champions was over – and Montpellier were back in the final, 15 years after their last and so far only triumph.

"I did not have one of my best games today, but we showed that we can make a difference, when it counts," Argentinian centre back commented after the game.

"We didn't have the luck we had last year when we won. But Montpellier deservedly won because we had the chance to win. They shoot and score and we don't score in the end, that's the difference. And that's sport," Vardar's playmaker Joan Canellas said.

Photo: EHF / Heimken, Hocevar, Lämmerhirt, Stadler


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg
 
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