French Coupe de la Ligue (Semi-Finals)

[b]Montpellier 31 – 27 Chambery[/b]

The battle between the top two teams in France saw Montpellier continue it’s dominance over Chambery, despite missing several key players due to injury. Not playing for Montpellier were 3 international stars, Joel Abati, Cedric Burdet and Michel Guigou. As a result they rotated players through the right backcourt spot and converted circle runner David Juricek into a left wing. Disjointed on offense at times they were still amiably led by the steady hand of Heykel Megannem who had several assists to go along with his game high 12 goals. On defense they were also effective in keeping French International star Daniel Narcisse in check for most of the match. I say in check, because Narcisse is simply too good of a player to shut down fully.

In terms of the flow of the game, the first half was rather uneven with both sides having more unforced errors than one normally would expect from the crème de la crème of French Handball. Montpellier, however, was more consistent and built up a 16-13 halftime lead. In the second half the game appeared to be over as Montpellier extended their 16-13 halftime lead to 23-16. At this point in the match, however, Chambery rose to the challenge with excellent goalie work by Michael Robin and 20 year old David Barrachet and Narcisse providing a 1-2 punch on offense to pull within one goal, 26-25, with 9 minutes left. At this point, Montpellier and Mladen Bojinovic, showed why they are the class of French Handball. At two key junctures with Montpellier down a man, Bojinovic somehow found the back of the net and forced a penalty shot to kill any hopes of a Chambery victory.

French Handzone article with several photos:

[b]Istres 31 – 30 Paris[/b]

The “Junior Varsity” match between the 9th and 10th place teams in the French league was an entertaining see-saw match that saw Istres win on a last second shot. In the first half Istres pulled away from Paris for a comfortable 17-12 lead at the break. At the start of the 2nd half, though, Paris came out on fire and only took 7 minutes to tie the score at 18. Paris and Istres traded leads back and forth for a few minutes until Paris went on a 4-0 run to take a 27-23 lead with 13 minutes left and then “bam”, Istres scored 4 and a row to tie it at 27 with 8:30 left. Then, you guessed it- Paris scored to take a 30-27 lead with 4:30 to go. And you know where this is headed…. Istres scored 4 goals in a row, including the last 3 by Kamel Alouini. Alouini, a Tunisian international, who is just 20 years old, was easily the “man of the match” scoring 9 goals in 10 attempts.

Istres will have their work cut out for them tomorrow, as Montpellier will be heavily favored to win their 6th straight Coupe de la Ligue. The big news for them is that this semi-final victory all but guarantees them a slot in the EHF Cup. The winner of the Coupe de la Ligue is awarded this slot, but as Montpellier is all but destined for 1st place in the French league regular season, they will play in the more prestigious Champions League.

French Handzone article with several photos:

[b]Solo Commentary: [/b] I’ve been watching sports on TV for almost 40 years and I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself or out loud, “That guy is an idiot and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Well, having sat at on the other side of the mic for a change, let’s just say I’m a little more sympathetic to grammatical and tactical mistakes. Not to mention the challenge of solo commentary. Talking to yourself for 60 minutes is a unique challenge all its own.

[b]Attendance (as in the lack of): [/b]As the lone American amongst the French Press corps I fielded several questions concerning Handball in the U.S. and inevitably the conversation turned to the low attendance. I haven’t seen official figures, but it’s obvious that the numbers are well below expectations. The controversy as far as the French are concerned is that it’s a long way to travel to play in a sparsely populated arena. I’ll have more to say on this topic at a later date, but right now all I can say is that there are a lot of people that missed two great matches.