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20.05.2018, 17:40
"We only feel happiness, no pressure"
«Go back »Print Version


INTERVIEW: Vardar's outgoing coach, Raul Gonzalez, does not think about defending the title or setting a record at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, only about semi-final opponents Montpellier
 

"We only feel happiness, no pressure"

Two international matches are left before Raul Gonzalez sees his era HC Vardar come to an end as he moves to Paris Saint-Germain next season.

A year after leading Vardar to their sensational triumph at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, Gonzalez and his team are back the LANXESS arena - but nothing has changed, the coach tells ehfCL.com.

Even the fact that many players will also leave the club does not shift the focus away from the semi-final against Montpellier on Saturday, 26 May at 18:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com).

ehfCL.com: The mission is just about to start – how is the atmosphere in your team? Are all players fit?

Raul Gonzalez: From Monday we will only have Cologne in our minds. All players are fit so far, and of course everybody is looking forward to this new challenge and adventure. The FINAL4 is the most important event of the whole year. Since the start of the season, we trained hard to be part of it. In every training session we worked to go all the way again. Now we have made it and we will prepare for and focus on Montpellier. That is all that counts until the semi-final on Saturday.

ehfCL.com: You and Vardar were pretty lucky to book the ticket to Cologne as you were nearly eliminated by Kiel in the quarter-finals.

Raul Gonzalez: Yes, this was a really tough match. Kiel were so close, indeed. After we won the first leg in Kiel, everybody was sure - maybe too sure - that we made it to Cologne. Kiel have many top players and Kiel know how to cope with situations like this due to their experience. But in the end we made it, even though we lost at home. We were so, so happy to have the chance to play in Cologne again.

ehfCL.com: In 2017 Vardar arrived as debutants and underdogs at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, now you are back as defending champions. What is different compared to last year?

Raul Gonzalez: Nothing! It is all about Montpellier, Montpellier and Montpellier. We do not feel, and should not feel like we are the big favourites because we won the trophy last year. We do not think about anything else than our first opponent.

ehfCL.com: But has the pressure grown? Do you have to deliver?

Raul Gonzalez: The only time we felt that the pressure had grown was in the last 15 minutes of the second quarter-final against Kiel. Then we were under pressure, not now. Being in Cologne is the biggest achievement in club handball. You work your whole life to get there. From now on it is pure joy for everybody. So many big players and big clubs never made it among the four best teams. So it is an honour to be back again and we only feel happiness, no pressure.

ehfCL.com: No thoughts at all – for example that Vardar can become the first team to defend the title in Cologne?

Raul Gonzalez: We think about 2017 – this was an amazing moment, an amazing weekend for us. Nobody thought that Vardar could win, but we grabbed our chance. Now we are back and we have the chance again. But we do not talk on what might happen. We know what can happen. To know what to expect around the matches is an important experience, but only in this case, it makes things easier. You cannot win a match easier, knowing the full schedule. As I said: Everything is about Montpellier.

ehfCL.com: You can make up for the unlucky final defeat of Vardar’s women’s team at the FINAL4 in Budapest, losing against Györ after extra time?

Raul Gonzalez: To have two teams, male and female, being part of FINAL4 tournaments proves that Vardar is a great handball brand, a highly successful club. This is important for the club, for the people in Skopje and Macedonia. But we are two different teams, though we wear the same jersey. We crossed the fingers for the women’s team, but now we have to think only about us.

ehfCL.com: However, you could follow the path of Györ coach Ambros Martin: being Spanish, leaving the club on a high, and becoming the first to defend a title under the FINAL4 format.

Raul Gonzalez: Haha, this is a typical media question. OK, I can say something about Spanish coaches: 10 years ago, none of them were working outside of Spain. Now Spanish coaches are all over Europe, and they all do brilliant jobs. It is great for Spanish handball and our handball school that we are successful. And of course, it looks good, when two Spanish coaches win the Champions League.

ehfCL.com: 27 May will mark a turning point in your career as it will be your last match as Vardar coach before you taking over at PSG. Also, several players are leaving the club. That must have an impact on the FINAL4?

Raul Gonzalez: We really do not talk about what will come after the end of the season. Everybody knows where he will play the next season, either in Skopje or somewhere else. The future is set for everybody, but we are here in the present – the most important tournament you can be part of. We have a semi-final and then another match in a great arena and a great atmosphere. This is what we are talking about. When the final whistle is blown in Cologne, you can talk about the future, not before.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew
 
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