02.03.2018 18:18

Montpellier aim to build on the first-leg advantage, Skjern count on dominant home form

VELUX EHF Champions League Elimination Round C+D concludes on Sunday with the return legs of the play-offs to be held in Denmark and France. Skjern Handbold enter the rematch against HC Motor Zaporozhye trailing by two goals on aggregate, while Montpelier HB take on Abanca Ademar Leon with a four-goal advantage from the first leg.

• Skjern vs Motor is the first MOTW in Groups C and D
• Skjern have taken five victories with an average advantage of 10.8 goals at home this season
• The match in Montpellier is the 200th European cup match for Ademar Leon
• Montpellier aim to advance to Last 16 for the fourth consecutive time

MOTW: Skjern Handbold (DEN) vs HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)
Sunday March 4, 15:10 local time, live on ehftv.com

This season, the VELUX EHF Champions League welcomed Skjern back after 14 long years. Back in 2004, the Danish club were eliminated in the Last 16 by Magdeburg. This time around, coach Ole Norgaard’s team are taking on a tough Motor side, in what will be the first Match of the Week in Groups C and D.

Unlike Skjern, Motor Zaporozhye did not play mid-week and therefore, coach Patryk Rombel’s team are fully concentrated on defending their narrow two-goal advantage from the first leg, which would take them through to the Last 16 again after a two-year wait.

Skjern will need a robust home display on Sunday, but the statistics this season on the home court are in their favour. They have claimed five victories at home in the group phase, winning their games by an average of 10.8 goals. However, the first home defeat after 15 matches, by Bjerringbro-Silkeborg on Wednesday night, does not serve as a morale boost.

Lithuanian star centre back, Aidenas Malasinskas, who was named in the ehfTV Best 7 for the previous round, is aware of the tough task Motor face: “I think even five or six goals would be inadequate. As the match showed, two good teams met. The game in Kharkov did not change anything in general. Only the first half ended. We are leading by two goals and now we will try to return from Denmark with the ticket to the Last 16.”

Motor could have gone to Denmark with far more breathing space however, Skjern’s strong attack showed its potential in the second half. Victor Kireev, who made nine saves in the first period, knows what Motor need to avoid: “The Danes play very fast handball. I think we need to knock down their pace a little and not take the time, better to dispose of the ball in attack and defend in defence.”

Motor have now taken two victories and one draw in the overall head-to-head results against their play-off opponent. All the matches between the two sides were dramatic, and the same can be expected in Skjern Bank Arena on Sunday.

Whoever emerges victorious on Sunday will face the second-placed side from Group B, which could be Veszprém, Flensburg or Kiel.

Montpellier HB (FRA) vs Abanca Ademar Leon (ESP)
Sunday March 4, 17:00 local time, live on ehftv.com

Despite the four-goal win in Leon, Montpellier have everything to play for when they take on Ademar Leon in the return leg on Sunday afternoon.

With the four-goal advantage from the first leg in Spain, Montpellier HB’s quest to advance to the Last 16 for the fourth consecutive time is on a positive path. Coach Patrice Canayer’s team suffered their first Starligue defeat of the season on Thursday night, in a tough away game against PSG however, they still lead France’s top flight.

Without Mathieu Grebille, Aymen Toumi and Valentin Porte, even 10 saves from Vincent Gerard and seven goals from Melvyn Richardson did not help Montpellier spoil the night for the Parisian team. But these statistics suggest who will be the main pillars for Montpellier in the return leg of the play-off against Ademar Leon.

As Richardson was also crucial in Leon, scoring nine goals, it seems Montpellier have found the man who can cover for injured star right back Valentin Porte.    

“I feel better and better here. Vid Kavticnik and I have to make up for Valentin's absence, even though he was playing at very high level lately,” said Richardson. “Valentin and I communicate a lot, he gives me a lot of advice. Of course, not having him in a team can be a problem, but we all have to prove that we can play well without him.”

The dominant performance from Montpellier in Leon is a warning for Ademar. They come to France with a tough nut to crack. Injured Juan Jose Fernandez, who will undergo surgery next week, will be missed at both ends of the court.

There will be a special taste to this match for the Spanish side, as it will be their 200th match in European competitions. The overall balance in all competitions is 121 victories, nine draws and 69 defeats, with 5,846 goals in favour and 5,309 against.

The Spanish side returned to their winning ways in the Spanish Asobal League on Wednesday night, beating Zamora 30:26. Perhaps the most inspiring performance was from 21-year-old left wing Jaime Fernandez, with five goals.

We can also expect a dramatic Simonet battle on Sunday evening, as brothers Sebastian (Leon) and Diego (Montpellier) meet on court.

Ademar have definitely not said the last word in this match-up and if they can lift their performance, they will make life tough for Montpellier.

Author: Tomas Cuncik / cg