La Rioja get play-off berth, Montpellier secure top spotArticle
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GROUP C REVIEW: La Rioja defeated their rivals for second place, Metalurg, to earn a play-off spot, while Montpellier became group winners by earning their sixth straight win - against Chekhov.

La Rioja get play-off berth, Montpellier secure top spot

Montpellier cannot be overtaken on top of VELUX EHF Champions League Group C anymore after the French team’s 33:27 win at Chekhov. La Rioja claimed the second play-off spot by beating Metalurg 31:25.

  • La Rioja raised their points total to 11 which guarantees them second place in the group

  • La Rioja's 31 is the most goals Metalurg conceded so far this Champions League season

  • Montpellier have won Group C following their victory in Chekhov

  • It was 12th win for Montpellier against their Russian opponents

  • Sixth straight win leaves Montpellier just one short of their longest winning run


Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs HC Metalurg (MKD) 31:25 (16:14)

Despite their recent slump in form and two defeats - against Chekhov and Montpellier - La Rioja were the favourites at home against their Macedonian opponents, who arrived in Spain without six injured players.

Metalurg’s head coach Lino Cervar said before the game that the defence would be his strongest weapon.

La Rioja, however, boast a good attack and that made the duel exciting from the starting minutes. The host team were more efficient up front and dominated the first half as their advantage reached four goals a couple of times (11:7,12:8).

Metalurg weathered the storm and had a good run towards the end of the half, drawing level at 13:13 and again at 14:14.

But during the last minute before the break, Mohamed Hisham Sanad and Angel Montori Cabello scored to give the hosts a two-goal half-time lead.

Extremely tight battle

Early in the second half Metalurg staged a comeback. The spectators witnessed an extremely tight battle until the score was 19:19.

After that, La Rioja had an excellent eight-minute run which they won 8:0. Coach Cervar finally had to ask for a time-out, and only after listening to his instructions, Metalurg players started to score again.

But contrary to Cervar’s hopes, their defence could hardly stop Angel Fernandez Perez and other members of the Spanish outfit. As many as 11 La Rioja players put their name on the scoresheet, with Fernandez Perez leading with 10 goals.

Metalurg had beaten La Rioja by one goal (24:23) earlier this season in Skopje. They fought hard until the end but could not avoid their fifth defeat in Group C. Vanja Ilic finished the game as their best scorer with six goals.

Post-match statements

Lino Cervar, Metalurg coach: "My team played better in the first half but at the beginning of the second half, the attack and the defence were bad. My young players had problems with Naturhouse's defence."

Jesús González, La Rioja coach: "I am very proud of my players and how they played. At the beginning of the second half my team were not so good, especially in defence, but overall I am happy with the game. It is good that we advance to the next phase two years in a row."

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs Montpellier Handball (FRA) 27:33 (13:14)

Montpellier Handball handed Chekhovskie Medvedi their biggest home defeat of the season. Jure Dolenec and Arthur Anquetil each scored eight for the visitors, while Dmitriy Kornev also had eight for Chekhov.

Dolenec, Mathieu Grébille and Vid Kavticnik have been the most influential players in the back court for Montpellier. Together with Anquetil on the wing, they provided the offensive firepower for the visitors.

Tough nut to crack

In their current form the French team will be a tough nut to crack for any opponent in the Champions League. Coach Patrice Canayer‘s men can produce a focused performance throughout the whole 60 minutes.

The biggest difference between the teams was in attack. The variety presented by Canayer was perfect. Tactical awareness and technical quality have been supported by a relaxed mood in the Montpellier camp.

Pressure was lifted from their shoulders after they qualified for the play-offs, and they are just enjoying handball right now.

Best attack in the group

Stats proved to be a good predictor this time as Montpellier, with the best attack in the group, prevailed against the second worst defence of the section.

Despite the presence of Alexander Chernoivanov in defence, Chekhov were unable to stop Montpellier from firing long range goals from the back court.

Also, Chekhov found no answer to Anquetil’s dominance on the left wing, while they were too inconsistent in attack to become a real threat to Montpellier’s six-goal victory.

TEXT: Tomas Cuncik, Sergey Nikolaev / ew