Not here to collect chocolate eggsArticle
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NEWS REPORT: Anticipation is growing for the all-French clash in the EHF Cup Quarter-finals and there appears to be little to choose between the sides in the first leg on Easter Monday
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Not here to collect chocolate eggs

There have been 12 confrontations in French domestic competitions between EHF Cup Quarter-final opponents Montpellier and Nantes, with Nantes yet to win a single game.

“I didn't know about this statistic until recently," admits Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer. “But it's kind of meaningless to me. In my mind, Nantes is one of the teams that have made the most progress in Europe over the last two seasons.”

Which is probably why, no-one at the south of France club was happy about getting such a draw. Issam Tej, Montpellier's line player, remembers that “our last confrontation, back in January, was probably the toughest game Montpellier has played this season.

“These guys are such hard defenders, you get hit from everywhere, and scoring just one goal feels like a victory already,” says Tej, words of respects for their opponent in Montpellier's camp.

However, the same thing can be said the other side. Thierry Anti, who's been coaching Nantes for the last six seasons now, admits that “this will be a meeting between two very similar clubs. And I say clubs, not only teams. We both have got a passionate fan base, we both insist on forming our own players. It's not a surprise that many players have played for both teams.”

There have been numerous examples over the past few years. Frédéric Dole, one of Nantes' EHF Cup adventure heroes last season, had worn Montpellier's jersey for several seasons, as has Marouene Maggaiez, who is now Nantes goalkeeper.

Montpellier goalkeeper Arnaud Siffert moved from Nantes last summer. "I think I feel as good in Montpellier as I did in Nantes" he says. "Charismatic coaches, dedicated fans, sold out halls all season, clubs looking towards the future. There are actually too many similarities to name them all.”

Focusing on the EHF Cup Quarter-finals, the coaches struggle to give a favourite.

"I always hear guys saying it's 50-50, but this time it really is.

"They've got the slight advantage to play home for the second leg, but apart from that, this will be very open,” says Anti, a sentiment that Patrice Canayer agrees with: “Nantes came out of the strongest group of the competition, beating Pick Szeged by nearly ten goals. That says a lot about their quality. They won ten games straight over February and March, they're full of confidence. I can't name a favourite right now."

One thing worth noting is that Montpellier will be playing the return game at their smaller Bougnol venue, where they have not lost an EHF European Cup game over the last four years.

“We didn't even want to, to be honest. But our bigger arena had already something planned for the weekend, so we decided to play at Bougnol, which has been our home for years. This is a venue that some of our opponents fear, cause they know it gives us extra strength,” concludes Patrice Canayer.

Thierry Anti is pretty confident the first match in Beaulieu, home of the EHF Cup Finals last season, will be just as hard a battle: "Montpellier won't come here to collect chocolate eggs, even if the match is on Easter Monday.”

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor