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18.11.2015, 09:32
Nothing comes easy - not even for France
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EHF EURO INSIGHTS: The Golden League has shown that France is not unbeatable, but Kevin Domas argues that the team will look much different come the EHF EURO 2016
 

Nothing comes easy - not even for France

France head coach Claude Onesta had warned everyone ahead of the Golden League at the beginning of November. For him it was a true test and he said in advance, he would allow for defeat.

And after France conceded defeats to Denmark, Norway and Iceland, it is fair to ask whether Onesta looked into a crystal ball or just felt something unexpected to happen. No matter the answer, some excuses are obvious.

The Karabatic brothers, Luka and Nikola, Kevynn Nyokas and Valentin Porte were injured, while Luc Abalo was rested midway through the competition with an aching back. Furthemore Xavier Barachet and Timothey N’Guessan didn’t finish the last game on Sunday. The tournament hence became a true training for France, on how to deal with the absence of major players.

Young promises

To make up for all the injured Claude Onesta chose to nominate players who had never worn the national jersey before. Olivier Nyokas, Nicolas Tournat, Benoit Kounkoud and Baptiste Bonnefond suddenly found themselves on court and what they showed was very different from one to the other.

But let us be honest, you can hardly ask a 20-year-old newcomer to score ten goals in his first international, can you? Adding to these four, three other players had played less than four internationals for France. And while Nicolas Claire didn’t get much playing time, Ludovic Fabregas once again proved his coach right.

At only 19, he still has a lot to learn, but he is a real alternative in central defence to the Karabatic brothers while Adrien di Panda, the left-handed right back from Saint-Raphaël, turned out to be very useful; being able to play on both the wing and the back court position.

Some of the ‘young wolves’ will probably not be on the squad come the EHF EURO in January, when all key players are back, while some can already start packing.

Thierry Omeyer and Daniel Narcisse proved that they were still hungry for success and ended up being the best two French players at the Golden League. The PSG goalkeeper managed to shut down his goal whenever he was between the posts, while Narcisse played for nearly the entire sixty minutes in all three games. The centre-back is never better than when he is in charge of the game, and the absence of Nikola Karabatic forces him to step into the limelight.

Jérôme Fernandez’ case remains open

Jérôme Fernandez is the player with the most goals scored for France as well as the most games played.

Claude Onesta said at the beginning of 2015 that with players like Mathieu Grébille and Timothey N’Guessan around, it would be considered a criminal offence to keep Fernandez, a 38-year-old, in the squad. But still, the man was not offended and answered the call when Onesta asked him to come to Norway.

His role? To educate the young players, to show them the way around the national team, to be the experienced one. And he is very good at that. For sure, he can’t play 60 minutes every two days anymore, but he can have an impact over a short period and it would be no surprise to see him in Poland in January, for one last ride.

Which newbies will make it?

There will be, for sure, some new faces in the French team at the EHF EURO next January, just like Valentin Porte made a very successful debut in Denmark two years ago.

Timothey N’guessan will likely play his first international competition, and no one would be too surprised, if Ludovic Fabregas made it either. Luka Karabatic and Cédric Sorhaindo are shoo-ins on the lineplayer position, but at 19, the Montpellier player shows so much promise since the beginning of the season, that he deserves a spot.

Di Panda might as well go to Poland. In the absence of Kevynn Nyokas, he looks like the obvious second choice behind Xavier Barachet. He can defend, he can play on the wing, he can shoot from long-range, nothing is missing in his arsenal.

Hence despite losing three games in a row at the Golden League, something that had not happened for over ten years, there is not much to worry about.

It was confirmed in Norway that without some of its key players, France is not the same team. But would Denmark be as good without Mikkel Hansen and Anders Eggert? Would Croatia be as good without Domagoj Duvnjak and Ivan Cupic? Probably not.

With all its forces back on track in time for the EHF EURO, the titleholders will fight to win another championship and will for sure be among the top favourites. The Golden League was just a reminder that nothing comes easy.


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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