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24.05.2017, 10:10
Luc Abalo seeks first FINAL4 success
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FEATURE: On his fifth visit to Cologne, PSG right wing Luc Abalo hopes to finally lift the coveted trophy at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.
 

Luc Abalo seeks first FINAL4 success

He might not be the most outspoken player, but on court Luc Abalo lets his performances do the talking. It is no surprise then that the French right wing has made it to Cologne for a fifth time, the second time in a row with Paris SG.

Abalo won the EHF Champions League with Ciudad Real in 2008/09, the last season before the new format was introduced. But he has yet to leave the VELUX EHF FINAL4 with a trophy.

Last season PSG lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners Kielce. Abalo thinks that his team have made a huge leap forward since, and that they have a better chance now to reach their ultimate goal.

"This time we have more collective experience"

“Last season I said that we were nobodies because we didn't have won anything before, we had never played Cologne before. This time we have more collective experience,” Abalo says. “We proved once again in the quarter-final against Szeged that we have built something which allows us not to panic. We have had hard times this season, maybe more than in the past, but we have almost always come out victorious.”

You just had to look at his face after the return game against Szeged. Despite being virtually eliminated at some point, he insists nobody in the PSG camp ever felt threatened.

“Maybe younger players would have lost their minds, but we didn’t,” Abalo says. “We remain calm in every situation. And it happened against Szeged, but also in Flensburg or in Veszprém this season. You can feel in these moments that we have matured.”

If the two wins over Veszprém were one of the highlights for PSG this season, the French side will need another one in the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in the first weekend of June. Does beating the Hungarian side give PSG a mental advantage? The 32-year-old doesn’t think so.

"We have to win when it counts the most"

“We can't rely on those two wins, we also have to win when it counts the most. And Veszprém have got players who know which are the most important games,” Abalo says. “Players like László Nagy, they have never played bad in Cologne, and that's for a reason. You might even say that, collectively speaking, they have more experience than we have.”

But experience does not necessarily make the difference. Many teams in the past have lifted the trophy on their first trip to the Lanxess Arena.

“The FINAL4 is always something special,” Abalo says. “You might have very strong teams who are a little bit tired at the end of a long season, so they're not as good as they're meant to be. And some others, which you might call underdogs, are at full speed come the end of May.”

After four previous visits to Cologne without triumphing (with Ciudad Real in 2010 and 2011, Atlético Madrid in 2012, and Paris SG in 2016), Abalo is hoping that this year might be different.

Paris have had time to prepare, already being crowned champions in France and not having to play any cup finals like they did last year. Their stars are at the top of their form and many regard them and FC Barcelona as favourites to reach the final.

"A favourite status doesn't mean anything"

“I've been going to Cologne for too long to know that a favourite status doesn't mean anything. Look at our quarter-final against Szeged, or Veszprém's against Montpellier,” Abalo looks back. “All you could read in the press was: Paris and Veszprém are favourites. And we were both in bad positions at some point.”

Abalo insists on the fact that he and his teammates can't arrive in Germany thinking that the job has already been done.

“Because I'd like to win there, you know. At least once!”


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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