Strong Barça prove too tough for Brest; winning debut for DavisArticle
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GROUP A REVIEW: Barça earn their fourth consecutive victory, 29:21 against Brest, while Veszprém win their second game in a row by the slightest of margins, 30:29, against Montpellier

Strong Barça prove too tough for Brest; winning debut for Davis

HC Meshkov Brest’s strong start in the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 proved to be just a flash in the pan, as the Belarusian side lost their third consecutive game on Saturday.

Usually, points are hard for opponents to find in Brest, but Meshkov’s record extended to two lost home games in the past eight days, as Barça Lassa took an impressive win thanks to a flawless second half in which the hosts scored only seven goals.

Montpellier seem unable to catch a break in the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19. On Saturday evening, the French side lost their fifth consecutive game in the competition, 30:29, against Veszprém, after goalkeeper Roland Mikler saved the Hungarian side once again with another stellar display to follow last week’s in Brest.

David Davis’ tenure as the Veszprém coach had a successful start, but the Hungarian side needs more in defence if they are to compete for the title this season.

• Dika Mem and Casper Mortensen are Barça’s top scorers with five goals apiece as the Spanish side add their fourth win in a row away in Brest
• The Spanish side are now challenging Vardar for the top of the group, while Meshkov are slowly heading to the bottom of the table
• Left wing Manuel Strlek, who played only in the second half, top scores for Veszprém with six goals in their victory over defending champions Montpellier
• Montpellier and Kristianstad share the last two places in the group with zero points, while Veszprém draw level with Kielce and Löwen on six thanks to Saturday evening’s result

HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs Barça Lassa (ESP) 21:29 (14:15)

It was never going to be an easy game for Barça, especially considering Brest’s are led by Manolo Cadenas, a former Barça coach, whose knowledge of Spanish handball could have been enough to trouble the guests. Indeed, there were five lead changes in the first half, with Barça starting the game brightly but faltering, as Brest’s loyal supporters cheered Meshkov to a 9:8 lead in the 22nd minute.

The Belarusian side had 10 players on the scoresheet in the first half, displaying their depth, yet it was Barça who led after 30 minutes following two fast breaks from Casper Mortensen that took the Spanish side in front.

"We knew how tough it is for the away teams in Brest. The first half was complicated, but we managed to keep up with the opponent, and left the court with a one-goal break after the first half," said Mortensen after the match. "In the second half we finally grabbed the initiative and started to build up our advantage. No doubt we are pleased with a victory – many strong teams left Brest with zero points."

A pair of fast breaks from wings Aleix Gomez and Mortensen saw Barça create a 20:17 lead and prompted Cadenas to call a timeout. But French right back Dika Mem, who is establishing himself as the go-to man in Barça’s attack, helped the Spanish side create a six-goal gap, 25:19, with 15 minutes to go.

There was no coming back for Brest this time, irrespective of another Cadenas timeout. The guests were too strong, with Mem and Mortensen running the show, and the hosts could only score seven goals against the strong Catalan defence in the second period.

Barça earned their fourth win in a row, confirming their hot streak, while Brest are now sixth on the table after their third consecutive loss.

Montpellier HB (FRA) vs Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN) 29:30 (16:14)

After a last-gasp win one week ago in Brest, Veszprém entered the Round 5 clash brimming with confidence. The Hungarian powerhouse had just named David Davis as their head coach, while the title holders had lost all their four matches and continued to miss Diego Simonet, Jonas Truchanovicius and Michael Guigou due to injuries.

But Montpellier showed some signs of their lost brilliance in the early stages of the game, taking a 4:2 lead with impressive attack. Sooner rather than later, Veszprém started to bounce back.

While their defence has been under par, the Hungarian side excelled thanks to their wings and with amazing passes to their line player, Andreas Nilsson. The 28-year-old Swede scored four times for in the first half, but still Veszprém could not defend their lead.

A 4:0 run from Montpellier, spurred by Valentin Porte, who scored four of Montpellier’s last six goals, took the French side to a healthy 15:12 lead as Veszprém’s defence collapsed in the last minutes of the first half. It looked like the title holders were going to break the losing streak, as their attack worked beautifully, but their lack of depth and inexperience on the bench was decisive.

"I would have liked at least a draw with Veszprém, that would have rewarded the players for their efforts during this match. The team were cohesive in terms of commitment, their play and effort, but we have a problem of efficiency in several areas. Our goalkeepers are part of this problem, and the last situations of the match were near perfect positions to score," said Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer. "The situation is difficult and saddens us, but we won’t give up and we hope that our luck will turn very soon."

Inspired by seven saves in 10 minutes from Roland Mikler, Veszprém recorded a 7:2 run. Left wing Manuel Strlek led the way, scoring an in-flight goal that saw the Hungarian side reclaim the lead, 26:23.

Montpellier came back, but the French side ran out of steam in the business end of the game, as line player Mohamed Mamdouh Ashem Shebib had his shot saved by Mikler with seven seconds to go.

"This win is a boost psychologically. We played with a completely different system, and it will take some weeks to perfect things, but it’s always difficult to win here and we’re delighted with what we have achieved," said Veszprém's Kentin Mahe.

Mikler’s save secured a winning European debut for David Davis and the second consecutive away victory by the slightest of margins for Veszprém, while Montpellier had their fifth consecutive loss of the season – the worst start for a title-holding team in the history of the Champions League.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg