present in the Final Four, Montpellier remains a convincing European
The residents of Montpellier will face heavy favorites Füchse Berlin from Germany for a place in the final on Saturday.
Already two-time Champions League winners, Montpellier Handball (MHB) are aiming for a third continental trophy this weekend at the European League Final Four (C2) in Flensburg (Germany). But the Hérault club will first have to get rid of Füchse Berlin on Saturday 27 May (15:30), in the semifinals.
“The capital of handball is not Paris, it’s here!”, laughs Bruno, pointing to Montpellier on the large map of Europe pinned to the wall of the local Blue Fox – the famous supporters of the MHB – recalling all the club’s expeditions to the Old Continent for almost 30 years. If PSG now have all the cards in hand to win the tenth French championship this season, the ninth in a row, Montpellier remain the national record holder, with 14 crowns. Ditto on the European scene.
At a time when the Parisians are still hunting for their first Champions League (which they will try to win at the Final Four in Cologne on 17 and 18 June), the Montpelliers can boast that they already have two vintages on display, 2003 and 2018 Each time, Michaël Guigou was on the pitch and Patrice Canayer on the bench. Since then, the emblematic captain of Montpellier’s second European title has hanged up. But the coach, who arrived at Hérault in 1994, is still at the helm, determined to reopen the trophy room, a key which MHB seems to have lost nearly five years ago.
Final Four and Cup Final
It must be said that at the national level, PSG, which passed under the Qatari flag in 2012, has been leaving only crumbs to the competition for a decade now (only one title abandoned at Dunkirk in 2014, and a few cups and trophies for champions here and there).
Long leader of the league this season and winner of the Parisian ogre in the cup, MHB seems resigned after the slap Coubertin received at the end of April in the Starligue (38-23). Now he’s aiming for second place, which would allow him to return to the Champions League next season. “Of course the planets are a little less aligned in the league than they were a few weeks ago”concedes, with three matches to go, Valentin Porte, captain of the MHB for almost five years.
However, the end of the 2022-2023 financial year remains breathtaking for Montpellier, with two trophies to conquer: the Coupe de France (final on June 10 in Paris against Nantes) and this European League (C2). This trophy, the MHB has never won despite a final in 2014, lost against the Hungarian club Szeged. Héraultais’ only failure so far in a decisive match for a European title. This is to say if Valentin Porte and his companions are determined to bring home this new cup: “We want to reward ourselves and wrap up this anniversary season for the club. [le MHB fondé en 1982 vient de fêter ses 40 ans] in the best possible way by winning at least one trophy. And since that of the European League is one of the few not yet to appear in the showcase of the MHB, the opportunity is good”. confides the captain of Montpellier.
Hugo Descat is on his way
But the competition will be tough, starting with Füchse Berlin, opponents in the semifinals, led by Dane Mathias Gidsel, MVP of the last World Cup. The current third in the Bundesliga, behind Kiel and Magdeburg, is undoubtedly the favorite for this Final Four, with the added support of many fans.
If MHB reach the final, they could meet another German club, Göppingen, who opposed Granollers in the other half on Sunday. Surprise guests, the Spanish side, second in the league behind the untouchable and invincible Barça, have the great merit of having eliminated the hosts of this final four, Flensburg, in the quarter-finals. A victory that deprives the Bundesliga of a third representative in the semi-finals, which would undoubtedly have complicated the task of Montpellier, deprived of Diego Simonet (ripped in his calf) but reinforced by international full-back Hugo Descat, who returned to the group just four months after the knee surgery. There is still no certainty about his participation but his presence, even sporadic, could be very useful, especially for shooting at the seven-metre jets.
However, the role of outsiders is not to displease the Héraultais and is clearly reminiscent of…2018. A few days before being crowned European champion for the second time in the club’s history, Valentin Porte and his team-mates at the time (including Barcelona’s Fábregas and Richardson) had let slip a title of French champion who nonetheless resisted arms to them in Saint-Raphaël. Few observers and bookmakers then imagined them triumphant in Cologne.
That season the road to Montpellier had already passed through Flensburg, in the quarter-finals. “We drew there and won well in the second leg. Great memories! We’re not superstitious but still. I hope we’ll be in the same hotel”laughs Valentin Porte. In Flensburg, the outsider from Montpellier intends to reconnect with his glorious European past.