MATCH PREVIEW: Romanian champions not in Berlin to make up the numbers and fancy their chances against a star-studded Montperllier side
Constanta aim to continue surprising
The only former EHF Champions League winner part of the second edition of the EHF Cup Finals, will face the surprise team of the competition, which arrived in Berlin full of confidence. Will Montpellier manage to fulfill the dream of their goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, who still misses the EHF Cup trophy in his silverware cabinet? Or will HCM Constanta stand strong again, like they did in Berlin already in the Group Phase?
EHF Cup Finals, semi-final 2
On paper the roles might be clearly marked, as MAHB Montpellier are a big name in international handball and HCM Constanta have not played a semi-final of a European Cup competition since the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals in 2007.
But the French record champions are aware of their opponent, despite the fact they are the only team to arrive at Berlin with a clean sweep of ten wins in ten EHF Cup matches this season including qualification.
After missing the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase after the aggregate defeat against Polish side Wisla Plock, MAHB (2003 Champions League winner) changed their objective on international stage to winning the EHF Cup. And they went through this competition like a hot knife through butter, including the quarter-finals against their domestic rivals Nantes, host and finalist of the first edition of the EHF Cup Finals in 2013.
Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer hopes for a decision like it occurred in Nantes one year ago: “We want to play the role of Rhein Neckar Löwen in 2013 - reaching the final and beating the host.”
On the other hand, HCM Constanta are the big surprise at Berlin. The Romanian champions were also part of the Champions League qualification, missing the spot in the Group Phase after losing the qualification tournament final against FC Porto.
Then they were drawn in a tough group with Füchse Berlin and Chambery, but managed to take a draw at Berlin and remain unbeaten against Chambery to finally grab the second position. “We had the hardest of all groups, but we are here, which proves the strength and the character of our team,” Constanta coach Zvonko Shundosvki said during the media call on Friday.
In the quarter-finals they booked the ticket to Berlin in the first leg by clashing Swedish side Lugi Lund by 31:21, led by their top scorers Alexander Simicu and Laurentiu Toma. In total, Montpellier and Constanta faced four times in EHF competitions, the Champions League seasons 2007/08 and 2009/10 - and Montpellier took three wins, while Constanta were successful only once.
But Shundovski, internationally well known as former Macedonian national team coach, is confident that the role his team plays, provides a good opportunity to cause another surprise: “We are not here as spectators, we want to fight for our chance for the final. Our semi-final is a 50:50 encounter, in which Montpellier might have more international experience compared to our team. But we are well prepared for this game and the event.”
According to Shundovski, to be part of the EHF Cup Finals it is the biggest success of Romanian men’s handball since the end of the Warsaw Pact and the “Golden era” of the national team. In his second season he changed the composition of the team: “We do not need so many players from abroad, as our Romanian players have a huge quality, they want to prove in Berlin. At home, the handball fans have great expectations in our team.”
On the other hand, Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer has great respect for Constanta: “We are not the favourite, but we are hungry for winning this title.”
The good news from his side is that Montpellier is not hit by any injuries: “All of our squad are present in Berlin and none of them will miss those crucial matches. But as usual in this stage of the season, no one is on 100 %, however, we have no major injuries in our squad.”
MAHB goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, four-time EHF Champions League winner with Montpellier and Kiel, will have his last international matches for MAHB before leaving to PSG Handball, and he has a special motivation for the event in Berlin: “I never won the EHF Cup in my career, as I always played in the Champions League before. But any time there’s a trophy to grab, I am eager to win it.”
And by looking upon his previous games in the German capital, Omeyer is optimistic: “I never lost with my former club THW Kiel at Füchse Berlin and the Max-Schmeling-Halle - I hope this series will continue this weekend.”
Slovenian right back Vid Kavticnik hopes for a perfect stay in Berlin, but he is humble before the start: “We are no favourite in our semi-final against Constanta. Four equal teams fight for the trophy this weekend, but of course Berlin are in a special position, having the fans behind them. We don’t think about Berlin or Szeged, but only focus on Constanta.
"I really hope to be in the final. If we play like we did in the French league against champions PSG last week, we will make it to the final. If we play the final to our ability, we have a chance to win the title,” concluded Kavticnik.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
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