Guigou optimistic about Montpellier's top flight returnArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part: 13: EHF Cup finalists Montpellier Agglomeration Handball delighted to be back among Europe's elite and ready to battle their way out of a tough group

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Guigou optimistic about Montpellier's top flight return

The previous season was a pure rollercoaster ride for Montpellier Agglomeration Handball.

First they signed Thierry Omeyer to set high goals, then the French record champions failed in the qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League.

After two points were deducted from them in the French league, Montpellier started an incredible run to chase the leaders, but defeat in the last round against Chambery saw them miss out on the two top places in the league, finishing below Dunkerque and PSG.

However, an additional place bid for the 2014/15 VELUX EHF Champions League was successful and a return to the top flight secured.

Montpellier also qualified for the EHF Cup Finals in Berlin, made it to the final, but then defeated by Szeged. The final major headline of the season was losing two of their key players to one of their biggest domestic rivals, as Omeyer and William Accambray signed for PSG, while experienced former Tunisian international Wissem Hmam also departed the club.

As for newcomers, former Olympic and world champion goalkeeper Venjo Losert arrived from Kielce and the number of Slovenian players in the team increased to five with Borut Mackovsek joining from Celje.

Patrice Canayer has been in charge of Montpellier for more than 20 years and this season he and his charges hope to cause some surprises in all competitions, including the dream of their first ever participation at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

The tasks awaiting the 2003 EHF Champions League winners are far from straightforward, as Veszprem, Rhein Neckar Löwen, Vardar, Medvedi and Celje await in Group C.

Nevertheless, team captain Michael Guigou is optimistic about clearing these hurdles: Our objective is to proceed to the knock-out stage and to develop as a team as quickly as possible, in order to avoid a difficult opponent in the Last 16.

“However, we know that the group phase will be extremely hard, competing with three contenders for the title, Veszprem, Löwen and Vardar, who all will be supported by extraordinary audiences at their home matches.

“We will have to fight for the fourth position with Celje and Medvedi and we count on our fans at home to have a good base for the away matches. Prestigious games are ahead for us and we are going to take the challenge.”

Three questions to coach Patrice Canayer:

What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League - regarding your objectives and group opponents?

Patrice Canayer: Participating in the Champions League always brings big ambitions. However, it’s necessary to remain realistic. Montpellier returns after a one-year absence and after being part of the EHF Cup, in which we were finalists. Now we hope to make a beautiful season in the Champions League – and despite our ambitions we stay humble. Our group phase opponents are at a very high level. I believe that the matches will be very interesting and that we are going to attend a very big Champions League.

What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Patrice Canayer: The EHF Champions League for me is the most prestigious competition. It is an honour for the club of Montpellier to participate in it, to compete with the biggest European teams and to welcome them in our Park and Suites Arena. With this competition we can also attract a wider audience and a higher number of partners.

What teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and to win the title this season – and why?

Patrice Canayer: For me Kiel, Barcelona, Flensburg, Kielce and Vezsprem are the favourites. They are the main contenders to make it to Cologne.

Montpellier Agglomeration Handball (FRA)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: Third ranked in France

Newcomers: Venio Losert (Kielce), Borut Mackovsek (Celje), Baptiste Bonnefond (MAHB training centre)

Left the club: William Accambray (Paris), Thierry Omeyer (Paris), Wissem Hmam (Saint Raphael), Maxime Arvin Berod (Chartres), Mickaël Robin (Cesson)

Coach: Patrice Canayer (since 1994)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 17
Winner (1): 2002/2003
Semi-finalist (1): 2004/2005
Quarter-finalist (4): 2000/2001, 2005/2006, 2009/2010, 2010/2011
Last 16 (4): 1995/1996, 2003/2004, 2006/2007, 2011/2012
Main Round (2): 2007/2008, 2008/2009
Group Phase (3): 1998/1999, 1999/2000, 2012/13
Qualification (1): 2013/14

Other EC records:

Finalist: 2013/14
Quarter-finalist: 1996/97
Last 16: 1993/94, 1994/95
Last 32: 1997/98

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

French league champions: 1995,1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
French cup winners: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
French League cup winners: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor