FEATURE: EHF EURO 2014 champions feeling confident as they look to add another title to their impressive collection at the World Championship in Qatar
France aware of obstacles on the path to world glory
Two years after losing their World Championship crown to Spain, the French are fully focused on taking it back in Qatar.
Fourteen of the sixteen players which will start the competition in Doha were already part of the roster in Spain in 2013. One of the key players will be missing though, right wing Luc Abalo.
“We sure will miss him, because he's a player able to change the course of a game by himself,” said coach Claude Onesta, after the final test match against Austria on Monday night, which they won 30:28.
“But his substitute, Guillaume Joli, showed some bright things during the preparation campaign, and he's been in the business for long enough to know exactly what he needs to do.”
Even more, Onesta sees this absence as a good sign for his team. “The only time we didn't have any injured players, we had our worst competition in ages, at EURO 2012. Sometimes, important injuries are useful to focus the other players even more.”
Narcisse to wait for his chance
Aside from Luc Abalo, Daniel Narcisse might be missing the first few games of the tournament. Down with a calf injury, he has not set a foot on the court in the last ten days, but is in the squad for Qatar. “We've got a team strong enough to allow certain players to rest,” says the Paris Saint-Germain centre back.
“Not taking part in the World Championships would be a very big personal disappointment, but I can't force my way there if I can't help the team.”
With Nikola Karabatic, William Accambray, Jérôme Fernandez and Mathieu Grébille, the French team looks strong enough to survive a few days without its emblematic player. The plan is to put Narcisse on the plane to Doha and not to use him for the first couple of matches, before gradually putting him back on the court.
In fact, the main issue that France will be dealing with is on the bench. The team's co-trainer, Sylvain Nouet, has decided to focus on his job with the federation and leave the national team organisation.
Didier Dinart will gradually take a more important place but there will be no major change in the team, as Claude Onesta explains: "I think that I will have to deal a bit more with what's happening on the court, while Sylvain was taking care of it until now.
“Didier still has a fresh eye on the group, and he's always looking for ways to improve our game, especially defensively. Whereas before, he was only focused on our defensive style, he'll now analyse our opponents and give us leads on how to attack their defence.”
Danger of complacency
Even though France looks like firm favourites once again, the addition of Iceland into their preliminary round group changes a lot of things, as captain Jérome Fernandez confirms. "We're now facing the two finalists of the last two Olympic competitions in our group,” the 39-year-old admits.
“Sure, they're teams we can dominate, but these are games that we can't take lightly.”
With one game every two days, the schedule might seem to fit better with older players like Fernandez and Thierry Omeyer, but the goalkeeper knows where the danger lies for his team.
“Sure, when you play games against opponents you're meant to beat, then you've got a day off and then you've got another game, there is the possibility that you might lose your rhythm a little bit, and then you might be tempted to take your foot off the gas a little but,” he says, before what might be his last World Championships.
“This is where the danger lies. Having Iceland added to our group is a good thing for us, because games like those don't require any extra concentration."
If you ask Claude Onesta about teams that bother France in this campaign, he says: "there are too many to name. The usual ones are, of course, Sweden, Spain, Denmark. The Germans will have to prove that they deserved their wild card ticket, so they'll be extra motivated. Slovenia will be there as well, and Qatar have had time to build up a team that looks impressive. They might be the surprise guest this year," concludes coach Onesta.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor
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