EHF Cup countdown, part 12: HBC Nantes (FRA)
On a wild card to Berlin
The past season HBC Nantes wrote history: Already in their second participation in a European Cup competition, the French club made it to the EHF Cup Finals qualifying as the event's hosts straight from the group phase.
At the Finals they were close to lifting the trophy, but eventually were beaten by Rhein Neckar Löwen.
Now the club, that contracts three Spanish world champions (Jorge Maqueda, Alberto Entrerrios, Valero Rivera jun.), will try to continue on this winners’ track.
Their first domestic title and the quarter-finals of the EHF Cup are the main goals of the club, which celebrated its 60th anniversary by winning the match against powerhouse PSG Handball on 12 December, attended by the new French record audience for indoor competitions of 9,346 spectators.
After earning a wild card for this season's EHF Cup, Nantes eliminated Partizan Belgrade and Elverum on their way to the group phase, becoming the third French team among the last 16 clubs of this competition.
Now the 2013 finalists will face big names with Szeged and Presov - additionally they will play against Kristianstad in the group phase.
But despite these top opponents, club president Gaël Pelletier is confident that his team can go all the way.
"I wish I’ll go to Berlin (host city of the 2014 EHF Cup Finals) with the club, and not only as a spectator. The draw gave us kind of a ‘group of death’ this season and each game will be very difficult against three well-playing teams.
"I hope we’ll qualify for the quarter-finals but every competitor wants this, too. Anyway, there will be nice games and challenges to face in our arena."
Team captain Alberto Entrerrios even compares the group phase opponents with the Europe's premier club handball competition: "We have a very tough group, with teams accustomed to the Champions League, with a lot of experienced players playing or used to play for their national teams.
"We’ll have to play our best handball and deploy our solidarity and fighting spirit to come up with a qualification for the quarter-finals. We’ll also need the support of our great fans at home matches, because together with them we can reach our goals."
Three questions to coach Thierry Anti:
What are your expectations for the group phase of the EHF Cup - concerning your objectives and your group opponents?
Thierry Anti: Our objective is to qualify for the quarter-finals, which means being among the seven best teams of the group phase as Berlin will certainly be part of their EHF Cup Finals. It will be very hard to qualify, as our group opponents are three very strong teams.
What does the participation in the group phase of the EHF Cup mean to you and your club?
Thierry Anti: It is really important for us to participate in the group phase, because we have to ensure the sustainability of the club in European Cup competitions. It’s only the beginning of the HBC Nantes history in the EHF Cup.
Moreover we’ve been granted a wild card to compete in the EHF Cup this season, so we have to prove that we are worth this invitation; and playing on European level each year is the best way to improve. The EHF Cup becomes nicer and stronger year after year and it will keep up this way, so we’re very happy to be part of it.
What teams are your personal favourites to reach the EHF Cup Finals?
Thierry Anti: My favourites are mainly Berlin and Szeged, otherwise there are a lot of strong teams which used to play in the Champions League, so the teams who will qualify to the EHF Cup Finals will be very, very strong.
HBC NANTES (FRA)
The road to the Group Phase:
Round 2: HBC Nantes – RK Partizan 22:15, 28:24, Round 3: HBC Nantes – Elverum Handball Herrer 28:21, 24:23
Newcomers: Jordan Camarero (first professional contract), Nicolas Claire (Paris-SG Handball), Javier Garcia Rubio (BM Aragon), Gorazd Skof (US Créteil), Aymen Toumi (Etoile Sportive du Sahel)
Left the club: Frédéric Dole (retired), Borja Vidal Fernandez Fernandez (Al Qiyadah Handball/QAT), Paul Mourioux (USAM Nîmes), Andy Pijulet (Angers-Noyant), Arnaud Siffert (Montpellier AHB), Michele Skatar (Carpi)
Coach: Thierry Anti (since April 2009)
Biggest successes in EHF European Cup competitions:
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
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