FEATURE: Anticipation is building at FENIX Toulouse as the club approaches its first EHF Cup match on Wednesday.
Toulouse ready for first ever EHF Cup
This Wednesday night, FENIX Toulouse will play their first international club game in over a decade. Their last participation in an international event was the Challenge Cup 2003/04, when the team was eliminated after the first round. This time, the club hopes the outcome will be different.
As the game draws nearer, excitement throughout the club is building. "This is a date we've had marked in our agendas for some time now," Toulouse line player Miha Zvizej explains enthusiastically. "This is the reward we get for our great last season, and we can't wait to open the gift."
Toulouse will meet German team MT Melsungen in the upcoming Qualification Round 2 matches. This year’s EHF Cup marks Melsungen’s first participation in an international club tournament. The unknown competition and unfamiliar opponents make it difficult to predict which team will emerge from the double header victorious.
"Even though we've analysed how Melsungen play, these games are always a little bit about discovery," explains Zvizej. "You don't know how the hall will be, how tough the atmosphere will be to play in or the strengths of the individuals you're going to play against, but that's what makes it exciting as well."
At 26, the Slovenian is one of the most experienced players in Toulouse’s roster, having played in the EHF Champions League with his previous clubs.
"I played Champions League once with Celje, and once with Bjerringbro-Silkeborg. All I can remember is how special these games are. The opponent never lets go, because there is always a second game with the chance to turn things around."
Ice cream on the cake
Toulouse recruited Zvizej three seasons ago for his quality and experience; the same reasons that led the club to sign Cyril Dumoulin last summer. The French national goalkeeper had hoped to keep playing in the European club competion, so the move has been a positive one for all.
"I wanted to keep playing European competitions like I did for so many seasons in Chambery," explains Dumoulin. "It's the ice cream on the cake, the games that gets you extra motivated, because it kind of breaks the routine."
Zvizej and Dumoulin are two players that contribute a great deal to the team, but as Zvizej explains, the team does not lack individual experience.
"We've got Jerome Fernandez, who has won two Champions League titles and one EHF Cup in the past, we've got Nemanja Ilic, who's played the Champions League with Partizan, and we've got Danijel Andjelkovic, who's played in these competitions several times in the past as well. Even if the club has no experience of this level of competition so far, the team has got plenty, and that will help a lot."
With a starting seven including five players with EHF Champions League experience, Toulouse is shining with confidence.
As captain and left back, Jerome Fernandez has a key role in the team. "Yes, this is a great opportunity for the club, but we've got to remain focused and know that we've got a result to bring back from Germany," he says. "It's a 50/50 confrontation and we need to put ourselves in a position that will enable us to qualify at home when we return for the second leg."
With wins against Dunkerque, the defending French champions, and Chambery in the first French league games, Toulouse certainly has the potential to make this adventure last a little longer. "The win against Dunkerque gave us a lot of confidence. It showed the level we are capable of, especially at home. We've got to use this confidence against Melsungen," concludes Zvizej.
Photo: Kevin Domas
TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg
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