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28.02.2019, 09:50
Xenia Smits’ big dream is not far away
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INTERVIEW: The German left back from Metz Handball, the surprise pack of the current Women’s EHF Champions League season, talks about the ambitions and the keys to the team’s success
 

Xenia Smits’ big dream is not far away

Two rounds prior to the end of the main round of the Women’s EHF Champions League, Metz Handball are on top of the ranking in Group 1. They are two points ahead of Rostov-Don, one of the tournament favourites which Metz have beaten twice.

Before the all-French duel with Brest, and Metz’s former top shooter Ana Gros, on Sunday at 15:00 CET (live on ehfTV.com), Metz back court and defence ace Xenia Smits talks to ehfCL.com about the chances, the dreams and the challenges ahead.

With 42 goals, the 24-year-old Smits is her team’s second-best scorer in the Champions League so far. The Belgian-born player, who gained German citizenship in 2014, is in her fourth season with Metz.

ehfCL.com: Metz have won all four main round matches so far. Did you expect your side to be so strong?

Xenia Smits: Indeed, we play a sensational main round so far, but it is not over yet. I had not expected this series of success, mainly our impressive away win at Rostov last weekend. We know that currently we can beat almost all teams on home ground, but we could not predict a result like this against one of the best teams of the world.

ehfCL.com: Is remaining on top of the group your major goal now, in order to face an easier opponent in the quarter-final?

Xenia Smits: Of course, we want to finish on top. Therefore we still need some points. But I have not checked the other group, which teams we potentially could face - as we do not have in our hands against who we will play. But it is the quarter-final of the Champions League, and at a stage like this, there are no more easy opponents.

ehfCL.com: What makes Metz so strong this season?

Xenia Smits: The team did not change that much before this season and even in the years before. Every player knows which role to play and which tasks to take over. In my opinion, it is this team spirit and the way we prepare for matches which make us so strong. We are tactically well organised and every training session mainly includes the preparation for the upcoming match.

ehfCL.com: However, the team did change as top scorer Ana Gros left to Brest, your next opponent…

Xenia Smits: Yes, but we found great solutions to compensate this loss. Everybody takes a bit more responsibility. We spread the burden on more shoulders. One important point is that we always use the full rotation of 14 players in the league and 16 players in the Champions League. All players have their function, not only nine or 10. This is what raises our quality in the Champions League.

ehfCL.com: What is your specific role in this ‘team puzzle’?

Xenia Smits: It is mostly in the defence being part of our middle block. When it comes to attack, others take over. I can play on the right and the left back position. It is like in the German national team: I try to help my team as much as I can, regardless the position my coach wants me to play.

ehfCL.com: Is coach Emmanuel Mayonnade the mastermind behind the success?

Xenia Smits: One of our major advantages is our preparation in terms of physical strength and tactics. And he exactly knows, how we have to prepare and how he has to talk to us that we fulfil our roles. Therefore, he is crucial for our success.

ehfCL.com: In recent years the French women’s league has got stronger and stronger. Is this a problem for Metz as you are challenged more often, or do those matches make you stronger for the Champions League?

Xenia Smits: Both. We learnt that you have to be on 100 percent in every league match, in order not to stumble. It is the self-conception of our club that without being successful in our league you cannot be part of the Champions League. Many top stars are playing in France now and in the upcoming years the level will definitely not decrease. But those experiences to stand strong in any match, gives us the power and the confidence for the Champions League. It really helps us.

ehfCL.com: With Metz being in a flow, have you already checked your appointments for 12/13 May?

Xenia Smits: Haha, you mean the weekend of the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest? As a professional handball player, you never have any appointments from September to June. You get your schedule, that’s all. So there is no need to cancel any appointments for this weekend!

ehfCL.com: So players in Metz are allowed or even supposed to dream about the EHF FINAL4?

Xenia Smits: We are allowed to dream, but I do not know if those dreams help us to make it there. But having our latest results and the current table in mind, the big dream is not so far away.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew
 
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