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02.10.2018, 09:00
Star-studded Brest aim for main round qualification
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Women’s EHF Champions League countdown: Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA). With some of the biggest signings of the summer, Brest Bretagne have high hopes for the new season and beyond
 

Star-studded Brest aim for main round qualification

Six defeats in as many matches was the record for Brest Bretagne Handball’s first campaign in the Champions League last season. But now, the club has bigger dreams. Big-name summer signings and more experience could help the French side qualify for the Champions League Main Round for the first time ever in 2018/19.

Three questions before the new season:
How much of a difference will the summer arrivals make?


If Brest already had a name on the European circuit, they are on the verge of building themselves a much bigger one. They managed to seduce one of Europe’s best left handers, Ana Gros, and convinced her to make the trip from Metz to Brittany.

But Gros is not the only big name Brest signed this summer, as Swedish centre back Isabelle Gullden joined as well. With her Champions League experience, highlighted by a win with Bucuresti in 2016, she’s the kind of player to help the club take another step forward.

But not only did Brest manage to sign two of the best players on the continent: they also kept Allison Pineau under contract, as well as Spanish all-round player Marta Mangue – thereby building an extremely impressive back court.

How can coach Laurent Bezeau make all these stars click together?

That is the main question. The French coach has to rethink everything, since he changed two-thirds of his back court. But Brest have started the French league in a fine manner, with impressive offensive displays, suggesting that the team is ready already.

The Champions League will nevertheless offer a chance to improve collective cohesion further, as well as improve the whole club structure: “It is a factor of progress. To be part of the big teams, it is mandatory to be in Champions League every year. The organisation of each game moves the club forward. Everything must be anticipated and thanks to that, we progress in all domains. For us, this experience is essential,” says club manager Jean-Luc Le Gall.

Can Brest qualify for the main round in 2018/19?

After failing to win any games last season, Brest want to progress. “We want to do better than last year, qualify for the main round, and then maybe do our best to reach the quarter-finals. The outcome will depend a lot on our home games,” says team captain Allison Pineau.

To earn one of the three tickets for the next phase, Brest will have to secure points at home first – and against teams with a lot more experience in the competition. “We have never beaten Rostov, in four games; Sävehof have big Champions League experience; and we have a lot of respect for Kobenhavn, a young club just like us,” says Le Gall.

Under the spotlight: Ana Gros

After four and a half seasons wearing Metz’s jersey, the Slovenian right back decided to move to French league rivals Brest, which was not an easy choice. At 27, Gros is giving herself all the opportunities to make it to the FINAL4.

Brest can only be happy about signing the sixth top scorer of the last edition of the competition. If Gros adapts quickly, it will very much be a win-win situation.

Self-esteem

In Brest, there is a nice mix of humility and ambition. Any club that signs Ana Gros and Isabelle Gullden in the same summer cannot hide the fact that they dream of something, yet the staff are aware that the process might take some time – and that a few Champions League campaigns might be necessary before the rocket is ready to launch.

“Before that, we need to take part in the Champions League and therefore, it is necessary to beat teams in France which have the Champions League level. It is, in any case, a growth accelerator,” says club manager Le Gall.

Fun fact

Since no club from Spain or Portugal has qualified for this season’s Women’s EHF Champions League, Brest is officially the most western club in the competition in 2018/19. And their fans, who call themselves ‘fans from the end of the world’ (‘Les Supporters du Bout du Monde’ in French), have never worn their name so well.

What the numbers say

Before returning to the main stage five seasons ago, Brest suffered bankruptcy, just after winning the French league in 2012. All the players who formed the team back then left and some have since come back (Cleopatre Darleaux), but only one stayed during the so-called ‘dark years’: Maud Eva Copy, the left wing born and raised in the city, decided to stay faithful to her one and only club.

Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA)

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2018/19:
French runners-up

Newcomers: Isabelle Gullden (CSM Bucuresti), Ana Gros (Metz Handball), Constance Mauny (Chambray), Pauletta Foppa (Fleury Loiret)

Left the club: Astride N’Gouan (Metz Handball), Louise Sand (Fleury Loiret), Sophie Herbrecht (Altkirch), Lindsay Burlet (Besancon)

Coach: Laurent Bezeau (since 2013)

Team captain: Allison Pineau

Women’s EHF Champions League record:
Participations (including 2018/19 season): 2
Group matches (1): 2017/18

Other EC records:
EHF Cup
Quarter-finalists (2): 2016/17, 2017/18


TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg
 
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