Montpellier reach showdown with SzegedArticle
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MATCH REVIEW: French record champions leave brave fighting Constanta behind in EHF Cup semi-final to fight for the “missing trophy” on Sunday.

Montpellier reach showdown with Szeged

Eleven years after winning the EHF Champions League trophy, Montpellier Agglomeration will have the opportunity to grab their second international title. The French side made it to the final of the EHF Cup in Berlin on Saturday after beating HCM Constanta 36:32.

While the Romanians missed their first international final by a clear margin and will face event host Füchse Berlin on Sunday in the 3/4 placement match at 13:00 hrs. local time, Montpellier will compete with Hungarian side Pick Szeged to becom the successor of Rhein Neckar Löwen, 2013 EHF Cup winner, in the final at 15:35 hrs. local time. Both finallists have never won this competition before.

EHF Cup Finals, semi-final 2:

HCM Constanta (ROU) vs. Montpellier Agglomeration (FRA) 32:36 (14:18)

Exactly 20 years ago Patrice Canayer took over Montpellier Agglomeration as a coach, now his team is aiming for the second international trophy on Sunday. The semi-final victory - cheered by dozens of Montpellier fans in the Max-Schmeling-Arena - was never really endangered, event though HCM Constanta stood strong for large periods of the game. Finally the bigger rotation and the higher quality on the bench decided the second semi-final in the middle of the second half, when the Romanian side lacked power and concentration.

"We were fully focussed and concentrated until the end, this was the key," said Montpellier coach Canayer, adding: "We know that we can play better in defence, but in contrast we were really good in attack."

Hi counterpart Zvonko Shundovski, coach of Constanta, was disappointed: "We allowed Montpellier to much on the court, wemade too many mistakes and had a weak defence. We had hoped for more but you cannot win when you are down all the time."

Best scorers were Alexander Csepreghi (10 goals) and Alexandru Simicu (7) for Constanta and Dragan Gajic with nine goals for Montpellier.

Sunday will also bring the decision, who will be the top scorer of this EHF Cup season.  Three players, all present in Berlin, are still in the race: After Zsolt Balogh (Szeged) added six goals to his tally, now having 55, he is still below Simicu and Gajic, who are both on 62 goals before the last matches of this competition.

Constanta were weaker as a team in the first half, but were stronger in the individual class of their top players: Mihai Popescu won the goalkeeper duel in the first half against Thieryy Omeyer and Csepreghi was the outstanding court player before the break, scoring six of his ten goals.

But in addition Montpellier led deservedly by four goals at the break. The defence was stronger than Constanta’s, the speed was higher and the alternatives to score much bigger. Mainly the left attack side of the French record champion was strong with Matthieu Grebille and William Accambray, scoring seven of 18 MAHB goals before the break.

Montpellier were in the lead constantly and had gained a four-goal margin already after eleven minutes at 8:4. But the Romanian champions stood strong, reducing the gap to 9:11. The rundown of the first half was like a roller coaster ride: Montpellier forged ahead to 14:9, before Constanta came closer to 14:16 before finally going 14:18 down at the break.

In general, the second semi-final was much quicker than the first, won by Pick Szeged 24:22 against host Füchse Berlin. And more surprising than the speed of the match was that Omeyer remained on the bench after the break, being replaced by Arnaud Siffert, who started brilliantly by saving a penalty from Laurentiu Toma.

And Montpellier needed the saves more than they had expected. Constanta were not shocked when the margin were five goals, in contrast: They found a way back into the match, made their fans in Berlin go crazy and forced a Montpellier time-out when finding the net to make it 20:22 in minute 39.

"We arrived in Berlin to win this title, and we are over the first hurdle now by beating Constanta. Our concentrated performance in attack was the key."

However,  typical for this match the roller coaster changed its direction again - this time decisively. When Dragan Gajic struck for his eighth goal to make it 29:23 in minute 48, the deal was sealed. With only four minutes left on the clock and the score at 33:27, the MAHB fans were standing on their seats and celebrating their berth in the final.

"Montpellier were the clearly better team. We want to cause a surprise but we we made too many mistakes," said Constanta wing Laurentiu Toma.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor