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03.12.2015, 13:06
The day that Valentin Porte’s star rose to Herning's sky
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HEROES OF THE FINAL : Having been injured at the start of the EHF EURO 2014, Valentin Porte came back with a bang midway through the tournament and literally exploded in the final
 

The day that Valentin Porte’s star rose to Herning's sky

A few of days out of the Men’s EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark a lot of handball fans were sceptical about France’s chances to make it to the top again.

The team did not look strong enough to attempt another shot at gold: Xavier Barachet was injured, Didier Dinart had just retired and Thierry Omeyer was fighting against time as he recovered from a severe elbow injury.

To replace them head coach Claude Onesta had chosen seven new faces, the majority of them literally unknown.

"It felt kind of normal for the people to ask questions," recalls Valentin Porte, the young right back who had already taken part in the World Championship 2013.

"Mathieu Grébille, Igor Anic, Luka Karabatic, myself, we weren't familiar faces. But I think that's what made it even better, to be able to pull this off without the same people again.”

Struggling during the preparation

For most of 2013, however, gold in Denmark looked like a far-fetched dream for France.

"It was hard, we were struggling to find our rhythm," explains Porte. "We didn't look like the French team that everybody knew, and we definitely didn't land in Denmark with confidence on our side.”

And things were even worse for Valentin Porte, who then played on the right back after having played on the wing for many years. He got injured at the beginning of January and missed France’s preliminary round victories against Russia (35:28), Poland (28:27) and Serbia (31:28).

However, despite three wins there was nothing to get overly excited about.

New players shine

"We only slowly found our rhythm during the first phase of the competition. At that point, the main thing was to win, to gain confidence and to prove that everyone deserved to be there," Porte remembers.

Luka Karabatic had been introduced as the new chief of the defence, while Kevynn Nyokas produced some great performance on the right back in attack – and came the main round France accelerated even faster.

Thierry Omeyer was back between the posts, while Valentin Porte was feeling better and eventually had his comeback as well.

It was hard for me to play my first games during the competition. I certainly remained quiet for the first games, I just tried to fit in the project and not do anything too stupid," he says.

And anything too stupid he certainly did not do. The left-hander was decisive in the win against Belarus (39:30) with five goals to his name. But this was nothing compared to what was coming later.

"Complete nonsense"

"When I think about it, the semi-final against Spain is complete nonsense and the final of this EURO against Denmark is even more so," says Valentin Porte in disbelief.

For the first time he had been handed some major responsibilities and even under pressure he took everyone by surprise. No one saw him coming, at the very last he himself.

"I was just in the zone, as some say it. I didn't ask myself any questions. I dived head-first into the games, and everything went according to plan. Even when I look at the games again these days, it feels crazy," he says.

After Spain had led by two goals at half-time in the semi-final, France turned the game around and won by three (30:27 (12:14)).

Valentin Porte and Luc Abalo were decisive in this game, scoring its last three goals 15 overall.

The final came around and things got even more intense as France not only faced Denmark but almost 15,000 fans who cheered for the hosts.

But to everyone's surprise Mikkel Hansen and his teammates were down by ten goals after only twenty minutes and literally never saw the light of day again.

"It certainly didn't feel too easy, but for a final, this kind of scenario was surprising," says Porte who scored nine goals during the game.

"We made it easy for ourselves, we knew exactly what their plan was, and we had to silent this crowd who would help them in case the game would have been tight."

By scoring 41 goals France set a new record for the most goals scored in a major tournament's final, and it was for the majority of players of this generation the first major title.

"France's strength has always been to renew itself constantly. And winning in Denmark proved that you can change players and still be able to win major titles," concludes Porte.


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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