Ambitious Nantes bolstered by star signings
For just the second time in the club’s history, Nantes have reached the group phase of Europe’s second-tier club competition.
The last time they got this far, in 2017, they progressed to the quarter-finals, where they lost by a single goal to Metzingen, this season’s goal is to emulate that run.
“Playing the EHF European League is already a motivation in itself! As our group is quite homogeneous, it will make all the matches complicated and pressured. It is really motivating to play matches where we know that each victory or defeat will have an impact on the qualification and I think the quarter-finals are within our reach,” says captain Marion Maubon.
The club has taken big steps since their promotion to the top flight in 2013 with increasing professionalism and ambitious signings with the likes of Swedish star Nathalie Hagman and last season’s French league MVP Bruna De Paula joining as well as 2018 EHF Champions League finalist Guillaume Saurina taking over as head coach.
The burning question – will this be the first and last hurrah for this squad?
It feels like this European adventure has barely begun but stories are already flying around, suggesting that a number of the star players are set to leave the club this coming summer.
Not an ideal situation for Guillaume Saurina but all the impetus to go big in his first season as head coach.
International class players such as Bruna De Paula, Nathalie Hagman, Lotte Grigel and Camille Ayglon Saurina will be enough to give any team at this level a headache and there will be added incentive to see how far they can go in the European League if there are indeed changes on the way in 2021.
Journey to the group phase
Nantes could hardly have hoped for a better start to their campaign in qualification round 3. Playing at home in the first leg against SCM Gloria Buzau, a rock solid second half performance shut their opponents’ attack down as they booked a comprehensive 23:16.
At half-time in the second leg, Nantes looked fairly comfortable, trailing 10:7 on the day. The situation changed dramatically, however, as the Romanian side reeled off three goals in as many minutes at the start of the second half to reduce the aggregate lead to a single goal.
The French side managed to regain their composure as Bruna De Paula and Lotte Grigel scored a quick pair of goals each but that was not the end of the drama. A dry spell in the final 10 minutes allowed their hosts to come back within one, once again, before a Deborah Kpodar penalty in the final minute put the game beyond doubt.
Magician – Nathalie Hagman
Nathalie Hagman joined her fifth club in six years last summer with a move to France. The Swedish left-hander has played for top flight sides in recent years, CSM Bucuresti and Odense, but has not found a place to settle – perhaps Nantes could be that place?
In her 11-year international career, Hagman has displayed her ability to shine on the wing and back court. Deadly on the fast break and from the penalty line, Hagman consistently shines in open play as well, delivering brilliant assists and scoring classy goals on the regular.
Star signing – Bruna De Paula
Capturing the signing of Bruna De Paula was a real coup for Nantes, particularly as she had just won the French league’s MVP award for her spectacular performances with Fleury Loiret.
The versatile back court player has become a regular in the Brazilian national team, despite being just 24, and has already accrued plenty of international experience. She is a sight to see when in full flow and is certain to give opposition defences headaches throughout the group phase.
Arrivals and departures
Arrivals: Marion Maubon (Metz Handball), Laurie Carretero-Fontaine (Brest Bretagne Handball), Déborah Kpodar (JDA Dijon Handball), Dyénaba Sylla (JDA Dijon Handball), Bruna De Paula (Fleury Loiret), Nathalie Hagman (Odense), Kaba Gassama (Balonmano Granollers)
Departures: Catherine Gabriel (Paris 92), Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa (CSM Bucuresti), Léa Lignieres (Mérignac Handball), Paule Baudouin (retired)
Quarter-final (1): 2016/17
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