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01.12.2014, 10:23
For France it is time to turn things around
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FEATURE: Following a series of disappointing results at EHF EURO level, head coach and players alike are ready to show the team’s real strength
 

For France it is time to turn things around

After having finished ninth at the EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia, France are looking to improve and return to the European top when the EHF EURO 2014 comes around in just about a week.

For head coach Alain Portes, who took over the team in June 2013, it will be the first EHF EURO event in his career.

"I've talked to the players who played at European Championships before," he says.

"It's obviously the most difficult of competitions, with all these top teams. At a EURO you don't have any game where you can rest for a bit."

France were drawn to a tough group together with Slovakia, Montenegro and Serbia, and Portes knows that his players have to be ready right from the start.

"Our first game (against Slovakia on 8 December), which on paper is maybe the easiest one, can really set the tone for our competition," he warns.

"If we play well and we win, confidence and a sense of positivity will settle in. But if we lose, keeping in mind that we will face Serbia and Montenegro afterwards, we would put ourselves in a very dangerous situation."

Besides Portes there is also a young player, for whom the EHF EURO 2014 will be a first.

To cover for other injured players on the right wing position, Portes has called Marie Prouvensier, who cannot hide her excitement.

"I'm more excited than scared to be honest," says the 20-year-old, who plays club handball in Dijon.

"I don't know what place the coach wants me to take, maybe I'll just be in the stands. Not knowing what to expect from this competitions actually takes away a lot of pressure."

With only one Challenge Cup participation under her belt to date the national team meeting already felt like a big step for Prouvensier.

"Compared to how you train with your club, it's much more intensive here," she says with a laugh.

Pineau is hungry to play

The right wing isn't the only position where Portes misses some of his usual stalwarts.

Goalkeeper Cleopatre Darleux, who now plays for Nice, very likely will not be participating, while the other first-choice goalkeeper Amadine Leynaud is just coming back from injury.

Allison Pineau, however, will be 100 per cent fit for the competition, and she is really looking forward to it.

"I've been injured for such a long time that being back on the court is something very positive already," says the centre back.

"When you train every day without playing a game, it makes the impatience grow. I'm really hungry to play in a competition that we have had difficulties with for a couple of seasons."

Difficulties is actually an understatement when you talk about the relationship between France and the EHF EURO.

The women’s national team has not reached the semi-finals since 2006. "If we don't gain a medal at the EURO this time, we'll have to seriously analyse why," says Portes.

"We might produce good results in competitions like the Golden Leagues, but everybody just remembers the big competitions, and that's where we lack good performances at the moment. It's time to turn things around."

"If it's not broken, don't fix it"

Besides the aforementioned problematic positions, Portes chose to stick with a group of players that has been together for quite some time – "If it's not broken, don't fix it," he says.

15 of the twenty players who joined the final preparation phase were already on the list at the World Championship 2013.

Siraba Dembele on the left wing, Amandine Leynaud in goal, Nina Kanto on the line, Camille Ayglon on as right back – these are the players that have been in a squad for quite some time now, but have not lost any of their motivation.

"We've never won anything together," Kanto explains. "Every season, we get a little bit older, and that makes us even hungrier to win something.

"We still all feel in our prime, and with the help of talented young players, we really want to achieve something in this tournament."


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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