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28.08.2013, 17:29
Dunkerque relishing their maiden voyage
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 4: Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral (FRA)
 

Dunkerque relishing their maiden voyage

It was one of the narrowest margins of qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League anywhere in Europe last season: at the final whistle Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral turned the final league match in France against St. Raphael around to win 26:25, after they were down by 11:17 at the break.

This victory meant that Dunkerque finished second in France below PSG Handball, but one point ahead of MAHB Montpellier – and qualified for the Group Phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League directly, leaving the Montpellier with the task of facing a wild card play-off against Polish side Wisla Plock.

If Montpellier get through, both French teams would be in the same group together with Kiel, Kielce, Kolding and the winner of the qualification tournament 4, a result that Dunkerque’s manager Régis Giunta is hoping for.

“USDK achieved qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League at the end of an extraordinary and intense season by reaching the second place ahead of Montpellier and Chambery, two of the big teams in the Champions League for years.

“We now hope that our friends from Montpellier, from whom we took the Champions League place, will qualify against Plock and then join us in Group B,” says Giunta.

Brand new experience

The Dunkerque squad, coached by former French international Patrick Cazal, has remained nearly the same compared to last season, with only Sébastien Bosquet leaving the club – so the goals are set high: qualifying for the European Cup competitions again and reaching the Last 16 in the VELUX EHF Champions League, even though they are debutants in the competition, after failing in qualification back in 2011.

One major setback for the team is the injury to left back Erwan Siakam (broken radius), who recently underwent surgery and is set to miss three months while recovering.

“In this context and as a majority of our players don’t know the Champions League, USDK comes to learn and improve, but the goal is to proceed to the knock-out stage – this would be a real achievement.

“Our team doesn’t have any star, as the star is the team, our best weapons are belief and team spirit,” explains Giunta.

“Group B is in our opinion one of the strongest despite the withdrawal of Atletico Madrid.

“Kiel have already won this competition three times and will be one of the favourites again. Kielce are even stronger with Aguinagalde, the current best line player in the world. Kolding Kobenhavn are also a top level  team whose players are used to play Champions League,” admits the manager.

Team captain Mohamed Mokrani is relishing the chance to test himself against the best players in the world.

“Playing in the most prestigious competition is something exceptional for a handball player. It is the first time the club has achieved it. We really want to do our best and we aim to qualify for the last 16, it is a nice goal for the club.

“We are very respectful of the big teams we are going to meet but we will fight as much as possible with our qualities.

“We want to be efficient especially at home. It will be a difficult group and it is a pity for Madrid’s withdrawal but we can’t wait to travel all over Europe meeting those big teams,” says the Algerian international.

Manager Giunta is already looking further ahead, when the newly built arena will fit for 10,000 spectators.

“This first participation in the Champions League also validates the work of a whole club which will enter the new arena in 2015/16.

“This venue must enable us to gather the necessary financial means for regular Champions League participation.

“Meanwhile, we are particularly glad to be enabled to show the best of handball to the people of Dunkerque but also to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais & Picardie handball fans and to our Belgian friends who come and support us massively,” concludes Giunta.

Three questions to coach Patrick Cazal:

What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League -  concerning your objectives and your group opponents?


Patrick Cazal: Our goal is to reach fourth place in our group to proceed to the last 16.  Of course it will be our first Champions League experience, moreover in a group in which two teams regularly take part in the Champions League and reached Cologne in the previous season. We want to represent our town in the best way possible - and playing in the Last16 would be a nice present.

What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Patrick Cazal: The Champions League is the most beautiful competition. It will be the first participation for the club after more than 50 years of existence. This competition is reserved for the biggest teams so we are of course very proud to be part of it.  This will enable us to assess our level against of the best teams in the world.

What teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and for winning the title this season – and why?

Patrick Cazal: I think that in our group, two teams will go very far and are potential candidates for the victory: Kiel and Kielce. They have great individuals but also have the must-win mentality with a lot of experience and a lot of top players.

In my opinion Barcelona will reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and maybe Paris, even though the team has not got a lot of experience at this level, but with the recruitments they have brought in, they could reach Cologne. Paris are the best equipped French team of the competition.



Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral (FRA)

Qualification for the 2013/2014 VELUX EHF Champions League season: runners-up in France

Coach: Patrick Cazal (since 2011, before, since 2008, assistant)

Newcomers (including former club): Romain Guillard (Tremblay en France Handball), Théophile Causse (Dunkerque youth team)

Left the club (including new club): Sébastien Bosquet (Tremblay en France Handball)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2013/2014 season): 2
Qualification (1): 2011/12

Other EC records:

EHF Cup

Finallist 2011/12
Quarter-finallist: 2006/07, 2007/07, 2009/10

Challenge Cup
Finallist 2003/04

City-Cup
Quarter-finallist 1998/99, 1999/2000

French champion: -  
French Cup winner: 2010/11
French League Cup: 2012
French Champions Trophy: 2012

Photo credit : CEDJANS / Carré rond


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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