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17.09.2014, 08:00
Karabatic: "The tides are turning quite fast in international handball"
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INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: The French international and FC Barcelona left back talks about his first year in Spain, his ambitions for the next season and reasons why winning titles has never been harder than this season
 

Karabatic: "The tides are turning quite fast in international handball"

Nikola Karabatic is one of the last decade's most successful handball players. The 30-year-old French international and 2007 World Handball Player of the Year has won no less than two Olympic Games (2008, 2012), two World Championships (2009, 2011) and three EHF EUROs (2006, 2010, 2014).

On the club level his list of trophies is even longer. He won the EHF Champions League in 2003 and 2007 and accumulated numerous national championships and domestic cup titles in France, Germany and Spain.

With his current club, Spanish champions FC Barcelona which he joined in 2013, he won the IHF Super Globe in Doha last week, where he revealed to eurohandball.com that adding more trophies to his tally has never been harder.

eurohandball.com: How would you describe your first season at FC Barcelona?
Nikola Karabatic: I’m absolutely happy and proud to be part of this team and this club. I arrived in Barcelona to win titles I hadn't won before - and I managed to do so in my first season: the Spanish championship, the Spanish Cup,  and the IHF Super Globe.

I have to say that the team made it very easy for me to become part of it. I really settled fast and easy - and feeling how fast the first season passed by, proves to me that it was the right step to join Barcelona.

eurohandball.com: But despite winning all Spanish competitions and the Super Globe, FC Barcelona did not win the VELUX EHF Champions League.  How did you and your teammates cope with the incredible semi-final defeat against Flensburg after you had been ahead by six goals with only eight minutes left to play?
Nikola Karabatic: To be honest, everybody had to cope with this defeat on his own. Right after the VELUX EHF FINAL4, we all left for our national teams and then everybody went on summer holidays.

Now we are back all together, but we only look ahead and not behind on what has happened in the past. We are aiming for great goals again, and thankfully we have the chance to face Flensburg twice again very early in the group phase of the Champions League.

eurohandball.com: So winning the VELUX EHF Champions League is again the main goal for you on the club level?
Nikola Karabatic: This is the most important and the most prestigious title you can win and hence we aim for it every year. But this season it will be harder than ever to make it to the final tournament.

Some years ago it was clear before the start of the season that Kiel, Barcelona and Madrid would make it there, the only open questions was, who'd be the fourth team to qualify. This season the clubs' quality has increased tremendously and so has the number of clubs that have  chances and  ambitions to make it to Cologne.

It’s not only Kiel and Barcelona anymore, the group of high potentials includes Veszprem, Vardar Skopje, Kielce, Paris, Flensburg. To have so many contenders for the title will make up for an exciting and thrilling season, the competition will be much more interesting as the level of performance is higher than ever.

eurohandball.com: Apart from the VELUX EHF Champions League the main competition in the upcoming season will be the World Championship in Qatar. You’ve just been to Doha for the IHF Super Globe. What are your impressions?
Nikola Karabatic (smiles): At first I hope that in January the temperatures are a little bit lower than now. Qatar deserves to organise this championship. They invest a lot in sport, in handball and in the infrastructure. And they even invest outside their country to develop handball and sport through being the sponsor of  Paris St. Germain or the sports channel beInSport, which is also located in Paris.

My biggest hope for the organisers is that they manage to have full arenas throughout the entire World Championship and that they can activate fans from all over the world - then we will see a perfect tournament.

eurohandball.com: France are the reigning EHF EURO and Olympic champions, but they failed to defend their World Championship title when they lost to Croatia in the quarter-final of the World Championship 2013. Can France make it to the top again in January?
Nikola Karabatic: Indeed, it’s our clear goal to win the gold in Qatar, as it has been our target for years to be on top of all competitions. From 2008 to 2012 we took nearly all titles at Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships.

In January 2012, when we played a really weak European Championship in Serbia, a lot of people said: ‘The Golden Generation is dead, it’s over for France.’ Seven months later we won gold at the London Olympic Games.

In January 2013, when we lost the World Championship Quarter-final, these people again declared the French team as dead. So it was interesting so see all the reactions after had played an extraordinary European Championship in January which including clashing  Denmark in an extraordinary final. As you see, the tides are turning quite fast in international handball. We will prepare thoroughly for Qatar 2015 and hope to go all the way.

eurohandball.com: But you don’t have to become world champions to qualify directly for the  World Championship 2017, as France is the already qualified as host and organiser.
Nikola Karabatic (smiles again): This is true, but: At first it is the dream of every player to become world champion, even if you had been it before. And second: Qatar 2015 is the first qualification event for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. And if we take the trophy in Doha we have already booked the ticket to Rio - is there any greater motivation?

eurohandball.com: The roster of the French team has changed over the past two years. Was it hard to integrate all those young players in your fully rehearsed squad?
Nikola Karabatic: Definitely not! We have five, six youngster who are part of our team now like my brother Luka or Valentin Portes, who already have key roles in our team. Of course, it was not an easy task, but thanks to our former teammate Didier Dinart, who now is our defence coach, they were integrated perfectly in the way we defend.

And in attack we do what the French team always does: The experienced player discuss and implement the tactics and teach it to the young ones. Our success at the European Championship proved that this system is working.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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