QUARTER-FINAL REVIEW: Down and out of the competition at half-time, Telekom Veszprem rise up to beat Montpellier HB 56:48 on aggregate.
Veszprem stage magnificent fightback in France
Down and out of the competition at half-time, Telekom Veszprem rise up to beat Montpellier HB 56:48 on aggregate and with it, become the final team to book their ticket to Cologne, Germany for the showpiece VELUX EHF FINAL4 in June.
Montpellier led by four-goals at half-time (15:11), enough of a margin to qualify for Cologne
French side could not find their way past Veszprem goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic in second half
Aron Palmarsson, with nine goals, along with Alilovic, decisive in Hungarian win
Veszprem's visit Cologne for their fourth VELUX EHF FINAL4 in a row, Montpellier will have to wait another year
QUARTER-FINAL, SECOND LEG
Montpellier HB (FRA) vs Telekom Veszprem (HUN) 25:30 (15:11)
Telekom Veszprem win 56:48 on aggregate
Losing the ball
After finding themselves three goals behind after the first leg (26:23), Montpellier started this do-or-die game with a very aggressive defence to make life hard for the dual Veszprem threat of Aron Palmarsson and Momir Ilic - and it worked, with the side from Hungary losing ball after ball.
Despite Veszprem’s goalkeeper Roland Mikler having a good start, Baptiste Bonnefond gave Montpellier a three-goals advantage just 11 minutes into the match (6:3), but the French side knew that on the other side of the court experienced players like Laszlo Nagy and Renato Sulic were not going to give up so easily.
Dreaming of Cologne
After this initial period of shock, Veszprem found their feet again while Montpellier experienced problems with their passing. Dragan Gajic was finding the net against his former teammates and his Veszprem side came back within firing distance of their opponents, but just for a little while.
With Jure Dolenec firing on all cylinders in the last 15 minutes of the opening period, Montpellier sailed again with a couple of seven metre shots by their Slovenian right backs, as well as some Vincent Gérard saves, Montpellier made the gap bigger again, going clear by four at the half-time break – enough of an advantage (15:11) to qualify for Cologne and to start dreaming of a FINAL4 place.
Things changed completely after the break for the home side though. With some much-needed defensive changes, Veszprem were back on track again. They were forcing turnovers and Montpellier only managed to make three shots in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
And with Vincent Gérard not as having much success as he did in the first half, Veszprem gradually came back into the game, even taking the lead for the first time since the beginning when they went 19:18 up in the 39th minute.
Hosts down and out
The hosts were now facing an uphill struggle against the team desperate to avenge final defeats in Cologne for the past two years and it was hard to see Montpellier recovering.
The few times they were finding open shot solutions, Alilovic prevented them from scoring and even Jure Dolenec, Montpellier's best scorer with nine goals, could not find the solution.
Icelandic superstar Aron Palmarsson was finding it easy to reach the net and his nine strikes were the top score in the game and a large part of the eventual 30:25 win, 56:48 on aggregate as his Veszprem side became the ‘final four final team’.
“We played the best first half we could have imagined,” said Montpellier's right back Valentin Porte after the game. “But we couldn't find the keys to their physical presence in the second half, and even when we did, their goalkeeper was stopping our shots. We're disappointed but I guess this result is logical.”
Palmarsson hinted that the half-time experience for his side showed their mental strength and will be key in Germany in June.
“We told ourselves in the locker room that we shouldn't panic at half-time,” he said. “Even though they were qualified we came out and just tried to better our defence and to play quick so we could score easy goals.
“We are delighted to be back in Cologne.”
TEXT: Kevin Domas/amc