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20.08.2018, 12:00
Finalists Nantes aim high again
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VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: HBC Nantes (FRA). Last year's runners-up are ambitious again going into only their third season in Europe's top flight
 

Finalists Nantes aim high again

HBC Nantes have an excellent track record in the VELUX EHF Champions League. They reached the Last 16 as debutants two years ago, and they made it to the final last year, beating clubs like Barcelona, Vardar and PSG along the way.

So, where do they go from here?

Three questions ahead of the new season:

- Can Nantes make it all the way to the final again?


The mantra goes, ‘once you’ve done it, you can do it again.’ In sports, though, things are a bit more complicated than that. Nantes surprised everyone last season so their opponents have now been warned. But the team have barely changed this summer as retired Dominik Klein has been replaced by Valero Rivera on the left wing.

Still, everybody in the club wants to remain humble, at least before the competition has started.

“The objective for us is to be successful during the group phase and reach the best possible spot,” team captain Rock Feliho says. “We know it will be a real challenge because the group is a tough one and this is a very hard competition. But after the season we had, we want to go as far as possible.”

- Are Paris SG the big favourites in Group B?

Looking at the rosters, Paris Saint-Germain look like the team to beat. But Nantes are the only club across Europe with a positive record against PSG, and they beat team at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 last season. Also, SG Flensburg-Handewitt and MOL-Pick Szeged are among the contenders for the top spot and a direct ticket to the quarter-finals.

However, club president Gaël Pelletier can see a dark horse among the other teams.

“We will play against teams which are currently playing good, such as Skjern Håndbold. We will also play against Motor Zaporozhye, which is the only team who won against us at home in Nantes in the Champions League.”

- Will a change of their playing arena stop Nantes’ momentum?

This summer Nantes have changed their home base, again. Three years after moving from the Palais des Sports de Beaulieu to La Trocardière, they are now returning.

“It is all a bit dusty but we will find our feet again pretty quickly,” coach Thierry Anti said on the first day of preparation. As their ‘new’ arena has a bigger capacity, Nantes want to move up to another level.

Under the spotlight: Nicolas Tournat

He was the revelation on the line player position last season, but the 24-year-old Nicolas Tournat still has room to improve in the new season. He made his international debut for France at the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia and four months later played his first VELUX EHF FINAL4 with Nantes. He impressed with eight goals in the semi-final against PSG but could quite match that performance in the final against Montpellier the following day.

Self-esteem

Despite their participation at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, club president Pelletier will not take anything for granted when it comes to the new season. “Of course, once you have been there, you want to get back every season,” he says. “But our goal will be to reach the Last 16, and to get the most points and the best ranking possible. Each season is unique and special, and we will take each game one by one.”

Fun fact

Four left backs and three right backs, an indication of the depth of Nantes’ squad for this season. With nine players able to play in the back court, they have more than any other in Europe, except for Meshkov Brest - though the Belarussian team are playing in four competitions at the same time.

What the numbers say

Three - that’s the number of Spanish players wearing the Nantes’ jersey this season. And add co-trainer Alberto Entrerrios as well. Nantes had one more Spaniard in their squad in 2012 but Spanish handball remains popular with Le ‘H’.

HBC Nantes (FRA)

Qualification for VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: third place in France

Newcomers: Valero Rivera (FC Barcelona), Florian Delecroix (Cesson-Rennes, loan return), Lucien Auffret (first professional contract)

Left the club: Senjamin Buric (PPD Zagreb), Jerko Matulic (Azoty Pulawy), Dominik Klein (retired), Guillaume Saurina (retired)

Coach: Thierry Anti (since 2009)

Team captain: Rock Feliho

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 3
Final (1): 2017/18
Last 16 (1): 2016/17

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Final: 2012/13, 2015/16; Quarter-final: 2013/14

French league:
-

French cup:
1 title (2017)

French league cup:
1 title (2015)


TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
 
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