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15.08.2018, 12:00
Montpellier hope for another perfect season
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VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: Montpellier HB (FRA). The defending champions want to prove that their inspiring run to the title last season was no coincidence
 

Montpellier hope for another perfect season

For the first time a team from Groups C/D made it all the way to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne last season. Montpellier HB went even one step further and lifted the trophy, for the second time after their 2003 title.

Now starting in Group A, can Montpellier surprise everyone again?

Three questions before the new season:

- Can they become the first team to win back-to-back titles under the FINAL4 format?


Since the introduction of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in the 2009/10 season, no team have won the title two years in a row. Montpellier are obviously proud of their achievement but experienced coach Patrice Canayer knows that repeating the feat will be hard.

“Winning the trophy is so hard for a team that has been ranked among the favourites. But we are ready to take on the task with all humility required,” the two-time Champions League winner says. “But, for a club like Montpellier, to qualify for the quarter-finals would already be a good performance.”

- How will they cope with the very competitive opposition in Group A?

Group A includes the last four winners of the Champions League (Barcelona, Kielce, Vardar and Montpellier) as well as the 2015 and 2016 finalists Veszprém alongside always dangerous German side Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

After two seasons competing in Groups C and D, Montpellier might now have to learn how to play the Europe’s powerhouses every weekend.

“All eight teams in the group are potential Champions League winners,” Michaël Guigou says. “It will be tough for everybody. Vardar lost some players but are still very competitive, Barcelona will be eager to come back after losing against us in the Last 16 last season. It will be very hard for us but we can also enjoy the fact that some exciting games are ahead of us.”

- How much will they be affected by Ludovic Fabregas’ move to Barcelona?

Fabregas was a key player on both sides of the court. To replace him, coach Canayer picked Swedish line player Fredric Pettersson, who played the Men’s EHF EURO 2018 Final with his national team in January. Even though the loss of the French national team player is huge, Montpellier have proven in the past that they were able to effectively replace key players, like they did with Jure Dolenec.

Under the spotlight: Vincent Gérard

The French national goalkeeper will play his last season with Montpellier before moving to Paris in 2019. He was elected best goalkeeper at both the 2017 world championship and the EHF EURO 2018, and was decisive at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, especially in the final against Nantes.

Self-esteem

When asked about the season’s goals, coach Canayer keeps his feet on the ground: “To qualify again for the next Champions League and for the quarter-finals of the competition would be considered as a good season.” Remember, Canayer spoke more or less similar words a year ago after Montpellier had lost the battle for the French title two days before the competition ended but would ultimately and up winning the Champions League.

Fun fact

Montpellier belong to an elite circle of clubs which have a 100-percent record in Champions League finals. But one fact sets the French side apart from clubs like Flensburg-Handewitt, Hamburg, Vardar, or Kielce. While the others played and won just one final, Montpellier are now on two titles from two finals.

What the numbers say

15 years! Never before had a coach or a player waited that long to win the Champions League again after a first triumph. But coach Canayer and Guigou set the record last season. Montpellier’s victory over Nantes came 15 years after the club’s maiden triumph in the 2003 final against Portland San Antonio.

Montpellier Handball (FRA)

Qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: Champions League 2017/18 winners

Newcomers: Fredric Pettersson (Toulouse)

Left the club: Ludovic Fabregas (FC Barcelona)

Coach: Patrice Canayer (since 1994)

Team captain: Valentin Porte

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 21
Winners (2): 2002/03, 2017/18
Semi-final (1): 2004/05
Quarter-final (5): 2000/01, 2005/06, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2016/17
Last 16 (6): 1995/96, 2003/04, 2006/07, 2011/12, 2014/15, 2015/16
Main Round (2): 2007/08, 2008/09
Group Phase (3): 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2012/13
Qualification (1): 2013/14

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Final: 2013/14; Quarter-final: 1996/97; Last 16: 1993/94, 1994/95; Last 32: 1997/98

EHF Cup Winners’ Cup:
Quarter-final: 2001/02

French league:
14 titles (1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)

French cup:
13 titles (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016)

French league cup:
10 titles (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016)


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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