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27.10.2015, 09:49
15 minutes without conceding a goal
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FEATURE: French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer is the first player to feature in our "Heroes of the final" series, as he talks about France's victory at the EHF EURO 2006 in Switzerland
 

15 minutes without conceding a goal

The EHF EURO 2006 in Switzerland was another milestone in the successful history of the French national team.

Following the World Championship 2005 many key players had retired which made it necessary for others to assume the leader's role.

"Jackson Richardson, Greg Anquetil and Guéric Kervadec all retired in 2005. Players that had been there for quite a long time, like Jérôme Fernandez, Didier Dinart and I had to take on new responsibilities," recalls goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer.

As the trio turned into leaders, they were decisive for France in the team's quest for its first continental title, but it didn't come that easy.

A first defeat

In the group phase France first beat Slovakia quite easily, but they immediately lost the second game 26:29 to Spain - but according to Omeyer the team learned from its mistakes.

"Even though we lost that game, we gradually improved in the competition. What was important against Spain is that, even though we lost, we were able to narrow the gap by the end of the game.

"The last group phase game was against Germany, and it was almost take it or leave it. We win or we go home."

They won - and after beating defending champions Germany 27:25, France moved to the main round where they faced Poland, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Physical superiority

The longer the competition was going on, the more impressive France became, especially physically. In the main round they took three easy victories, including the impressive 31:21 against Poland and the 30:20 against Ukraine.

"Physically we were able to crush our opponents as the game was going on. We had such an impact defensively, that it was very hard for them to find solutions, to find open shots, and the opponents were tired came the end of the game," says Omeyer, who was 28 back then.

Time for revenge

In the semi-final Croatia were the opponents - just about a year before, in the semi-final of the World Championship 2005 Croatia had won 35:32. This time around it was a whole different story.

"Croatia had been ahead of everyone else in the previous competitions, we knew how hard it would be, but of course we were extremely motivated to reach our first EURO final," says Omeyer - and he did everything in his power to help his team, conceding a mere 23 goals in France's 29:23 win.

"I think this game was the turning point in the history between France and Croatia. Before this match, they used to win, but after that day it was never the same again."

Unbeatable in the final

However, before climbing the top of the podium, there was one team left to beat: Spain, who had beaten France during the first phase of the competition.

"Meeting a team twice is not something surprising and having played against Spain before, we were able to employ tactics to contain them," says Omeyer.

But even more impressive became the fifteen minutes during the second half-time when France didn't allow Spain to score a single goal. "You don't realise this when you're on the court, you have to stay focused until the end of game and not let everything go too soon."

With Omeyer stopping 18 shots and Nikola Karabatic scoring eleven times, France won the first European Championship of its history, the first of another to until 2014 to come.

"In some ways, this win was the founding act of the French national team as you now know it," concludes Thierry Omeyer, who will take part in his ninth European Championship next January in Poland.

"A lot of the players that were on the court in 2006 are still around now, and it feels a little bit like the beginning of an adventure that's still going on these days."


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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