New attempt to reach CologneArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 9: Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA)

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New attempt to reach Cologne

To be close to Cologne does not always mean to be at Cologne – this is the story MAHB Montpellier had to learn in the last two seasons of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Failed in the quarter-finals twice

In 2010 the French champions were eliminated by Chekhovskie Medvedi in the penalty shoot out of the quarter-finals, in 2011 Montpellier lost their second leg quarter-final against Rhein Neckar Löwen at home after having won at Mannheim.

"This year I hope that it will be our turn to go to Cologne," said team captain Nikola Karabatic.

"I also hope that our key players will be fit when the crunch time of the season starts," the former World Handball Player of the year added.

Strong group opponents

For the 14th time Montpellier are qualified for the Group Stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League. And like in the season before they will have to face top opponents in the first part of the way to Cologne.

In 2010/2011 they had to compete with Hamburg and Veszprem, this season THW Kiel and AG Kobenhavn will mean strong competition.

Karabatic: "This is really tough, but I believe we that have good chances. After several test matches against my former club, I am now really looking forward to my first official game against Kiel, and specially their Sparkassen Arena."

Slovenian reinforcements

As there were only minor changes in the team, the French champion seem to be well-rehearsed for the season. Di Panda and Juricek left, and two Slovenians arrived to replace them.

Primosz Prost was signed as goalkeeper Michael Robin suffers from a long-term injury. Counter attack specialist Dragan Gajic was transferred as successor of Juricek on the wing.

Aside Wissem Hmam returned to the team after a long injury break. He is ought to strengthen the defence and give Karabatic more time to rest for his duties in attack.

In the first weeks of the season coach Canayer will also have to replace injured left wing Michael Guigou.

New President Lévy

Despite squad and coach – Patrice Canayer has been on the sideline since 1994 – did not see major changes, another era ended in Montpellier.

With Rémy Lévy they have a new president, as he successes Robert Molines. Lawyer Lévy has been vice president since 2009, now he is the third president they have had in 30 years.Optimistic look forward

The hopes of Rémy Lévy: "A new exciting season is ahead, I am proud and determined to assume the leadership of the club. Montpellier will certainly be present in national and European battles, while assuring a handball spectacle and filling the halls as we did last season.

The club will write new pages of its history while conserving its values such as a culture of excellence, keeping its spirit and its social values. This season will be a great one."

Fan magnet

After their new arena, Park&Suites Arena, was opened last season, Montpellier is eager to attract a high spectator figures again.

In the last season seven matches were sold out with 8.500 spectators, in average every home game was 96 percent sold out.

In total 120.000 fans attended the Montpellier home matches in their two halls in the 2010/2011 season.

Three questions to coach Patrice Canayer What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League – concerning your objectives and your group opponents?

Patrice Canayer: After missing the VELUX EHF FINAL4 twice very closely, in 2010 and 2011, it is our great objective to be part of this tournament in May 2012.

I hope it is our time this year. And reaching Cologne is one goal, but to be victorious there is another goal.

But we will have to face top opponents like Kiel, Kobenhavn and Leon already in the Group Stage, which means a tough fight for the final positions in this group.

But as we saw in the last season, it is not necessary to win the group to later qualify for Cologne.

For me Kiel are favourites in our group, Kobenhavn and Montpellier are on an equal level. So if all my players are fit, we are better than them. What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Patrice Canayer: It is our major competition this season. Even though the French league has improved in quality, the VELUX EHF Champions League is still the absolute top competition for all clubs.

In 2003 we won the EHF Champions League – and we want to feel those emotions again. Battling against the best teams is absolutely important for us. What teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and for winning the title this season – and why?

Patrice Canayer: Kiel, Barcelona and Madrid are my main favourites. After that trio teams like Veszprem, Hamburg, Kobenhavn or Montpellier also have the chance to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

Club facts – Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA)

Newcomers: Dragan Gajic (RK Celje/SLO), Primoz Prost (Bjerringbro-Silkerborg/DEN)
Left the club: Adrien Di Panda (Ademar Leon/ESP), David Juricek (St. Raphael)
Coach: Patrice Canayer, since 1994 Qualification for the 2011/2012 VELUX EHF Champions League season: French champions

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2011/2012 season): 14
Winner (1): 2002/2003
Semi Final (1): 2004/2005
Quarterfinal (4): 2000/2001, 2005/2006, 2009/2010, 2010/2011
Last 16 (3): 1995/1996, 2003/2004, 2006/2007
Main Round (2): 2007/2008, 2008/2009
Group Phase (2): 1998/1999, 1999/2000

French Champion: 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
French Cup winner: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010

Further information

Find more information on Montpellier Agglomeration HB HERE.

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TEXT: Björn Pazen