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09.01.2016, 12:00
Injury-hit France go for back to back EHF EURO glory
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EHF EURO COUNTDOWN #11: France have won the EHF EURO in 2006, 2010 and 2014 – but in the tournaments in between something always did not go their way. A look at the team reveals now that this something should change at Poland 2016
 

Injury-hit France go for back to back EHF EURO glory

Being the defending champions, France logically appears among the top favourites for the EHF EURO 2016 in Poland.

But a look in the history books reveals that they have never won the competition in Olympic years.

In 2012 in Serbia, Claude Onesta's men finished only eleventh, their worst ranking in the 21st century.

Hence the question is: Can they overcome the curse despite many injured players?

The team’s strength

France have always been able to make up for their injured players. In Qatar at the World Championship 2015, Luc Abalo and Xavier Barachet were injured and the squad still topped the podium with gold in the end.

The same happened in Denmark at the EHF EURO 2014, when Jérôme Fernandez and Xavier Barachet did not travel with the team.

This time around Jérôme Fernandez, Kevynn Nyokas, Mathieu Grébille, Timothey N'Guessan and William Accambray will not be with the team, with a big question mark still hovering over Xavier Barachet’s state of fitness – but no one seems to be really worried. Claude Onesta always has found solutions in the past.

Furthermore, the core of the team is made up of players who always rise to the occasion. The likes of Thierry Omeyer, Nikola Karabatic and Michaël Guigou are still on top of their game and are still hungry for success. And their opponents know it.

The team’s weakness

But just like in 2012, head coach Claude Onesta wants to introduce new players to the international level during this EHF EURO.

Timothey N'Guessan just had a taste of it in 2014, while this should be a first for Adrien Di Panda and Ludovic Fabregas.

In the middle of a very busy season, they will surely have a role to play and the question is there how good they will play it. Can they handle the pressure in tight games? Can they repeat good performances every two days?

These are questions which will only be answered after the competition. And if they don't live up to the expectation, can Daniel Narcisse and the other older players do the job on their own? They do it at their clubs, that's for sure, but a EHF EURO is a completely different matter.

The team’s star

Of course, everyone says that Nikola Karabatic is the strongest ace France have up their sleeves.

He has changed the face of his new team, Paris Saint-Germain, within just six months of his arrival and he has never failed to help France climb the highest mountains.

At 31, he is still as hungry for success as he has ever been. In 2015 he won the World Championship and the VELUX EHF Champions League and he wants 2016 to be even more successful by adding a third Olympic gold medal to his name.

But the first step for this, and he knows it, is to win the EHF EURO for the fourth time and defend the title, which is something only Sweden managed to do to date.

The hidden gem

In 2014 at the EHF EURO the handball world discovered Valentin Porte, a newcomer able to score nine goals in his first international final. Could Ludovic Fabregas be this tournament’s discovery?

At only 19 years of age, the Montpellier line player is regarded as one of the biggest handball prospects in France right now.

He was first introduced to the international level at the beginning of 2015, and at the time no one could believe he would make it to the EHF EURO.

But at Montpellier and alongside Luka Karabatic and Cédric Sorhaindo in defence in the national team, he has stepped up to a whole new level.

For sure, he still lacks experience and it could be difficult for him depending on the opponents, but he has shown in the VELUX EHF Champions League that he is not afraid of anyone.

The outlook

France have every weapon needed in their arsenal to win gold in Poland. But so have many teams, such as Denmark, Spain, and, of course, Poland with the support of their incredible fans.

And one of the other main things at stake at the EHF EURO, a qualification for the Olympics in Rio, is something France have already in their pocket. Still, can they make a difference and finally win two EHF EURO in a row? I do believe they can...


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts
 
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