Guillotine to fall on three teamsArticle
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BLOG: It looks like the French revolution is in full flow but it's never over until it's over, ehfTV commentator Tom Ó Brannagáin warns before the last Match of the Week in the 2017/18 season.
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Guillotine to fall on three teams

There is something hedonistic about watching knockout handball; equal parts pain for the losers and joy for the winners. You can empathise, sympathise and eulogise, but ultimately you are glued to your screen as the drama unfolds. And much like the cliff-hanger at the end of a season of your favourite drama, you must wait for the next instalment until the result is clear.

We are in unchartered territory here. No-one could have foreseen the elimination of both Veszprem and Barcelona. If I may paraphrase the great Oscar Wilde:

"To lose one big team may be regarded as misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness."

But that is exactly what happened. It's as if Montpellier and Skjern took a leaf out of Napoleon Bonaparte's book:

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

Underrating your opponent is critical in any sport and not to put too fine a point on it, it looks like the big guns from the big groups did just that. Not that Barcelona should have been surprised; this Montpellier team did just the same last year.

And now we are where we are. As if it wasn't enough that the French national team should dominate international handball for so long, now their clubs are doing the same. Everyone believes that Montpellier has a grip on a place in Cologne after their first leg dramatics. If so, the both Paris and Nantes must have a foot and four toes in the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Yes, it looks like the French revolution is in full flow and it wouldn't surprise me if we start to sing

"Allons enfants de la patrie",

in place of hearing the competition's anthem at the show case event.

But it's never over until it's over and Flensburg has been on the end of a win in a situation like this away to Vardar, the year they won the event and of course a loss away to Kielce, the year Kielce won. They are no strangers to tight wins and losses in these knockout situations. They are, simply, never out of it.

But, this Montpellier team is the equivalent of Lazarus coming back from the dead. For years, they were a staple of MOTW and perennial winners of the French league. Only a penalty shootout loss the round before the very first FINAL4 meant that they have never made the big show. Since then they have been up and down like the grand old Duke of York. But suddenly this year, this team of Duracell bunnies is top of the French league and looking a very dangerous proposition.

Their coach is reminiscent of a famous French football manager who recently announced his retirement from managing a top English premiership club. Arsene Wenger has been there for decades and yet despite his illustrious past, the fans bayed for his blood and wanted him out. Canayer to his credit has stayed the course. I mean I don't know if the fans are happy with the odd cup that has come along in the last number of years but the patience and confidence of the club looks to have paid off.

I have never seen a team play like this. I can only describe it as controlled chaos. There doesn't seem to be a position that any player can't play. You might just as easily find Simonet on the right wing, Guigou in the centre and Porte on the left back position as in their starting roles. They never stop moving. They are like leaves fluttering in the wind and it must be a nightmare for defending teams. Add to that their ability to score one against one and it is a potent mix. And they can run. The never stop running. It's a testament to their fitness regime.

They are a very good handball team. It's not only a visual experience with them but auditory also. I wonder whether a name gets you a place on this team. They have deliciously entertaining names that simultaneously delight the palate and cramp the tongue. I mean Diego is so much more musical than James. You have the tongue twister of Truchanovicius, the alliterative Baptiste Bonnefond and the assonance of Arnaud Bingo. My particular favourite is Théophile, friend of God. You've got a wolf in Jean-Loup and an amazing line player who looks like Wolverine.

All in all, it's drama, it's a stage, it's all to play for. The guillotine will fall on three teams after this weekend. And if the French revolution is in full swing, I may treat myself and eat cake, non, I'll have a petite patisserie.

Photo: EHF/Benjamin Nolte

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehftv commentator