FEATURE: The Icelandic centre back will leave Saint-Raphael Var Handball after this season, but he does not want to bow out before he and his team reach the final stage of the EHF Cup competition in Nantes.
Can Atlason say goodbye with a trophy?
As soon as the EHF Cup Quarter-final draw result was known, Saint-Raphael Var Handball coach Joël Da Silva openly expressed his disapproval of having to play against fellow French team Chambery Savoie Handball.
And he is not the only one who would have liked to play against a foreign team like SC Magdeburg. "It was either one club or the other and I think, handball-wise, none is easier to face," explains Arnor Atlason, the Icelandic centre back.
"But at some point, you've got to choose if you'd rather play against a team that you already face three times a season, or one that you might only face once in your career," Atlason went on. And in fact, in the club's young European career, they have not met many foreign teams.
Saint-Raphael still have many players in its ranks who have had the pleasure of playing European cup finals before. Geoffroy Krantz who won two Cup Winners' Cup trophies as well as one EHF Cup title with VfL Gummersbach and Alexandru Simicu who played last season's EHF Cup Finals with HSV Hamburg and two years ago with HCM Constanta are among them.
But Arnor Atlason, who arrived in France three seasons ago, is perhaps the player who has travelled around the most, including one trip to Cologne to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2012 with AG Kobenhavn.
"It was an amazing experience, that's for sure, and I hope the experience I got from it might help us on our way to Nantes," the 31-year-old explains.
"As individuals, I think we're all grown-ups in the team. We've all got a few seasons behind us. But as a team, we still have to build our history, which might explain why we struggled in the group phase. We needed to learn and I hope we did it fast enough in order to use the lessons now against Chambery."
"Don't expect a ten-goal game"
And indeed, Saint-Raphael nearly went out of the window, only qualifying thanks to a last game away win in Minsk.
But now, everyone agrees on the fact that everything has been reset and that this is a completely new competition. And also that the clash against Chambery will surely be a very tight affair.
"Everytime I've played against them since I arrived in France, I don't think a game ended with more than two goals between us. Of course, the goal for us will be to win on Sunday, but we don't expect to do it with a ten-goal gap," specifies Atlason.
"If we come out with a loss, the odds will be against us. The key will be to be strong defensively, to stop them from shooting inside the 9-metre-line. They've got players like Timothey N'Guessan or Damir Bicanic who you've got to control if you aim to beat Chambéry."
No fun in a short European adventure
Of course, getting a ticket to the EHF Cup Finals in Nantes and indeed, lifting the EHF Cup trophy is every player's goal. But only one team can make it and each have got their own motivations.
"I have already played two finals in the EHF Cup back in the day, once with Kobenhavn and once with SC Magdeburg. These are special games, ones that build you as a player and I know what a pleasure it is to be a part of them," he recalls, also having played an Olympics final in Beijing 2008.
"It's not fun playing an European Cup and stopping in March or April when the real thing begins. One of our main goals this season was to go as far as possible, but I feel like we haven't been all our way yet."
And when he looks back on the beginning of the trip so far, he explains that his team is where it wanted to be, that "losing against Silkeborg wasn't really a surprise. I know them well and even though in France they're not well known, they're a very talented team, very effective on every position. We've learnt a lot from the double confrontations against them."
Last chance to win a trophy with Saint-Raphael
A part of Atlason's extra motivation surely is the fact that he will leave Saint-Raphael at the end of the season to join Aalborg Handball. A true professional and a great player is leaving, but he does not want to do it empty handed. If, on a national level, stopping PSG from getting its hands on every trophy available will be impossible, on a continental level, there is the chance to do something good.
"Of course, all these games are a bit special to me," he concludes. "But not only me, the whole team wants to grab something. The shortest way to a trophy now, in France, is to win the EHF Cup. We're in that position and I'm extra motivated to thank the club with a trophy before leaving."
The first leg of the EHF Cup Quarter-final pairing Saint-Raphael Var Handball vs Chambery Savoie Handball will be broadcasted live on ehfTV on Sunday 24 April, 18.00 hrs local time.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / es, br
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