No easy ride to the quarter-finals for French trio
There were mixed feelings among the French teams as they learned their EHF Cup Group Phase fate last week.
In Nantes, Thierry Anti, the team's coach was clearly unhappy about meeting Pick Szeged, Tatran Presov and IFK Kristianstad.
"This is clearly the worst we could have had.
"Playing against two teams used to the Champions League, Szeged and Presov, and one of the best Swedish teams at the moment, let's be honest, this is the most difficult group we could have had," he said.
On the other hand, Nantes' Rock Feliho thinks that their opponents are not very happy to meet them either, with Nantes having reached the EHF Cup Finals last season.
"This will be the most disputed group. All teams have their chances to reach the quarter-finals, and I think that Presov, Szeged and Kristianstad are aware how hard it is to come and play in Nantes. We beat Magdeburg here last year, so we're capable of doing good things," said the confident left back.
The mood was equally unhappy in Chambéry, who will be competing against Berlin, Constanta and Hlohovec for the qualification.
"We'll be facing Berlin, for me the favourite and who will do everything to finish first in this group," stated Mario Cavalli, the coach of the team.
"Constanta is a team used to Champions League games and winning there is very tough, a lot of teams can agree on that. I don't know much about Hlohovec, but Slovakian teams are always dangerous," admitted Cavalli.
After eliminating Austrian side Alpla Hard by only one goal on aggregate, the French team will have to play better if they expect to qualify.
Finally, Montpellier, who were in pot 1, will only have one goal in this group phase, according to coach Patrice Canayer.
"We'll have to avoid finishing as the worst second of all groups, because it will surely mean being eliminated. Everybody's saying we have to finish first with such opponents, and thinking this way is the wrong one.
Skjern are a very very good handball team, with a couple of international players. Playing in Lisbon is always tough, our fellow countrymen Nantes can confirm that. And playing against Zomimak can be very tricky, in a very small hall with a typical boiling crowd,” said the 52-year-old.
No slipping up at home
All of the French participants agreed on one thing, taking points at home will be crucial to reach the quarter-finals. Rock Feliho knows that his team will have to win their home games to have a chance:.
"We can't let points slip away in home games. Our fans were a great part of our journey last season, so they'll have to be equally decisive this year," said Feliho and his coach agrees.
"In a group where I think everybody will score points, winning at home will be crucial. I trust our fans to back us up," said Anti.
In Chambéry, Mario Cavalli, recalls that the club forged its European reputation on home victories.
"In the past, we've beaten top teams like Barcelona, Kielce and Rhein-Neckar at home, and we'll need to repeat such performances in order to have a chance to go through. Win at home and then hope for some surprise victories away from home.
Jure Dolenec, the new Slovenian right back at Montpellier, tells of how Montpellier was seen as a hard away game when he played in Velenje, and he's now happy to be on the other side of the fence.
"I know that Montpellier, in Europe, is known as one of the hardest places to win in. Three victories in three matches in this group phase would be a huge step towards qualification,” concluded the 25-year-old.
All three teams will have plenty of time to get to know their opponents better before meeting them, with the opening round of games on the 8/9 February 2014.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor