FEATURE: The young right wing hopes Saint-Raphaël can qualify for the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals for a third straight year when they face Porto in the quarter-final
Vigneron: “EHF Cup is very close to our hearts”
Arthur Vigneron has seen the whole story. When the 24-year-old right wing started playing for Saint-Raphaël Var Handball, the club had just joined the European scene through their first appearances in the Men’s EHF Cup.
As he grew up, he became a part of the A team, which got better and better results until reaching the finals tournament in the last two seasons.
“For me, it felt like a start but it was also the club building something new,” Vigneron says. “I remember, when I was younger, watching my soon-to-be teammates playing those European battles and feeling like they were special games. It’s nice to be a part of it now.”
Showing a different face in Europe
Since the start of the 2018/19 season the EHF Cup has been something special for Saint-Raphaël. While the team has performed only modestly in the domestic competitions - they are currently ranked eighth in the French league - they have shown a different face in Europe.
Saint-Raphaël finished second of Group A, behind title-holders Füchse Berlin. So far, their season has been more or less what they expected it to be.
“I think we’ve been doing pretty well. Of course we would have liked to finish first, something we’ve never achieved before. But if you look at the remaining teams in the competition, it doesn’t make much difference if you finish first or second,” Vigneron says.
"We just need to be patient"
The left-hander is one of the young players which coach Joël Da Silva added to his squad in recent years to replace stalwarts like Aurélien Abily and Geoffroy Krantz, who retired last summer.
The team’s results have been going up and down since the beginning of the season, also because those youngsters still lack experience.
“Building a new team takes time,” Vigneron says. “We’ve delivered some very good performances, but we lack stability. And that’s the sign of a young team. There’s a lot of quality among us, we just need to be patient and I’m sure things will fall into place.”
Meeting an even more powerful opponent
Next up for Vigneron and Saint-Raphaël is trying to qualify for the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals once again, after the team also played at the 2017 (finishing fourth) and 2018 (runners-up) editions. In the quarter-final, they will have to get past FC Porto Sofarma, one of the two teams that won all six group phase matches.
“It’s not going to be simple. We take them very seriously, maybe even more so since we saw how Portugal beat France in the EHF EURO 2020 Qualifiers. A lot of those players are also playing for Porto,” Vigneron warns ahead of the first leg in France on Saturday at 20:00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
After beating MT Melsungen and Fraikin BM. Granollers in the quarter-finals the last two seasons, Saint-Raphaël will probably meet an even more powerful opponent with FC Porto this time.
“It doesn’t change anything, and I’m quite confident their style of play will suit us better than German teams, for instance,” Vigneron says.
Extra faith and motivation
With not much to win left in domestic competitions, Saint-Raphaël must give it all in the EHF Cup in order to finish the season on a high note. It’s a competition they have fallen in love with.
“We won’t let go, because this EHF Cup is very close to our hearts,” Vigneron says. “You could feel during this difficult season that every one of us showed extra faith and motivation to qualify for the finals again.”
TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew
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