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12.11.2015, 14:00
From mental challenge to magic moments
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HEROES OF THE FINAL: Right wing Luc Abalo looks back at France’s victory at the EHF EURO 2010 in Austria
 

From mental challenge to magic moments

Four years after winning the EHF EURO for the first time in 2006, France topped the podium again four years later in Austria.

The team back then was on a true winning streak, as it had bagged Olympic gold 2008 and the World Championship title 2009 along the way.

"I think all the players were playing on a great individual level in their clubs," remembers right wing Luc Abalo.

“We were all playing in great clubs, THW Kiel, Ciudad Real and so on, and we were all on a winning dynamic that only helped when we joined in the national team. We were all used to playing high-level handball, and that can only help you in those big occasions.”

But even though most of the players were on the top of their form, France nearly got thrown out of the window in the already in the tournament’s group phase.

A mental challenge

Draws against Hungary and Spain and one last-second win against Czech Republic saw France only just advancing to the main round.

And if you need an explanation on why that was, well, Luc Abalo does not have one: "There are things in sport that you can't foresee, things that even years after, we can't explain.

“I don’t have an explanation for this bad start, but what I know is that it didn't put us down."

France played badly and things were not looking great. But in the main round, all of a sudden, all the guys were focused again.

"I think this EURO was, mentally speaking, a real challenge" recalls Luc Abalo, who was 25 at the time.

"Some of the other teams would have been destroyed, but we weren’t. We were playing badly in the group phase, and the harder we tried, the worst we played.

“But we talked, we stuck together, and we stepped up our level when it was needed” – in fact, as soon as the main round began.

Germany were the first obstacle, and France calmly cleared it, winning by two goals, before easing past Slovenia and Poland. As if nothing happened, the ticket for the semi-final was in their hands.

Individual strengths coming together

And Iceland didn't stand a chance in this semi-final. They were beaten 36:28.

Remembering this game, Luc Abalo, who was later voted into the tournament’s All-star team says that "this is the kind of game in which nothing can happen to you.

“In attack, everything we wanted to do succeeded. Everything we aimed for, all our individual strengths came together and pushed us to the win.

“It took us a lot of courage, a lot of mental fighting, to get through the bad start of the competition, but then in the semi-final, it was all pure fun.”

In the final there was no chance for Croatia either to stop France. The 25:21 win against Croatia, who had lost to Denmark two years before, was in Abalo’s memory "one of the easiest finals” he played.

“We arrived in the arena and knew that not much could happen to us. We had been so close to going back home a week before that, at this point, we could only win.”

And this is what they did, with Abalo, the magic right wing, who also became player of the match, adding four goals.

“A final is a lot of about mental strength. If you feel strong, you play well, you defend a little harder, you shoot a little better, and all these 'little things' added up and made the difference.”


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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