PREVIEW: The mighty handball nation takes its first steps on sand at the upcoming Beach Handball EURO in Croatia
France enter international beach handball stage
After building their teams from scratch last summer, France prepare to enter the Beach Handball EURO 2017 in Croatia in just over a week and the men’s and women’s coaches still feel like they have a lot to learn from the best beach handball teams in the continent.
To date there has been only one occasion on which a French team participated at a EURO event. In 2002, a men's team played at the EURO but eventually won only one of their six matches. For the French women the 2017 tournament marks their debut.
“We will discover a lot in this competition,” said Eric Quintin, one of the key figures in France who convinced the French Handball Federation two years ago to become involved in beach handball.
“We still have a lot of work to do regarding the organisation of competitions, as well as developing players, coaches and referees, but even without experience, we hope to perform well in order to show the best side of French handball,” he concluded.
After playing a few tournaments last summer, both French national teams are now ready to take on the might of Europe with coaches Valérie Nicolas (women) and Mickaël Illes (men) recruiting many professional indoor handball players to join them, using a completely different approach from other European nations who have chosen existing beach players to join their team.
However, Nicolas, the former 2003 IHF Women’s World Championship winner with France, is confident this EURO will give her enough information on which things she will have to work on in the coming months.
“The girls are really looking forward to it,” she said. “We want to prepare as best as we can so we can, after the Euro, evaluate how behind we are compared to the leading nations.
“This is very much a learning competition for us and we'll use it to build an improvement programme for the next two years.”
Among the names handball fans might recognise are Armelle Attingré, a former French national team goalkeeper, as well as Maud Eva-Copy or Manon Le Bihan, who played in the EHF Cup this season with Brest.
Out of the 14 players Nicolas has selected for the preparation, only 10 will make the journey to Croatia where France will have to finish in the best four teams of Preliminary Group B which includes, Norway, who won silver at the last edition and are one of the favourites.
The same can be said about the male French team who will face Croatia in its group – a tough ask as triple title-holders, hosts of the competition and current IHF World Championship holders.
“We are not favourites, but that doesn't mean we're not flying to Croatia to try our best,” said Illes, who has chosen 14 players, all of them except one who are professional and have little to no experience of beach handball.
“Rubbing shoulders with the best in Europe is a very good way to progress,” he continued. “When choosing the names, we mainly focused on physical abilities. This team is a mix between some young players who, I think, can be the future of beach-handball and some older players who'll adapt quickly.”
His team includes four players who have already played in the Men’s EHF Champions League and their nation will be hoping that experience can translate from indoors to outdoors as they continue their steep learning curve on sand in Croatia.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / amc
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