Pechmalbec: “We cannot be unfocused for just one second”
Coming out of the shadow of his predecessors, Dragan Pechmalbec has stepped into the spotlight as HBC Nantes’ line player this season.
Pechmalbec was mainly used in defence while Nicolas Tournat took care of the offensive duties. But since Tournat moved to Lomza Vive Kielce in the offseason of 2020, the 25-year-old Pechmalbec has developed into an all-round player, scoring 46 goals for Nantes in the EHF Championms League so far this season.
“I was the quality third choice – and I could understand why,” Pechmalbec said. “Nico and (Senjamin) Buric were doing a great job. Sometimes, I didn’t even cross the mid-court line.”
But with the departure of Tournat and Buric, who returned to HC PPD Zagreb in the summer of 2020, Pechmalbec has been given more responsibilities within the team.
“This is more rewarding, for sure, but I have to be careful. It burns much more energy, and I must have some fuel left now that the deciding games are coming,” Pechmalbec said.
One of those deciding games is the Match of the Week in the EHF Champions League: the first leg of the quarter-final against Telekom Veszprém HC on Thursday (live on EHFTV at 20:45 CEST).
Nantes qualified for the club’s third EHF Champions League quarter-final by defeating Tournat’s Kielce in the play-offs: a 25:24 home defeat was wiped out with a resounding 34:31 win in Poland.
We try to find the right balance between excitement and being very focused. But once you have been to Cologne, you want to go there again, and we will do everything to achieve that.
Pechmalbec joined Nantes when he was 16 and, over the years, he has experienced everything with the club. His first trophy, but also an EHF FINAL4 participation – in 2018, when Nantes’ outstanding Champions League campaign only ended in the final against another French side, Montpellier HB.
With the quarter-final against Veszprém coming up, is Pechmalbec satisfied with his team’s European season?
“Yes and no. Yes, because we managed to keep up with some of the biggest clubs in Europe, like Kiel or Barcelona,” he said. “But I also think we lost some points along the way against teams we should have been superior to, like Celje or Zaporozhye,”
With Veszprém among the top teams of Europe, what chances does Pechmalbec see for Nantes to book their second ticket to Cologne, after 2018?
“We will have to play on the same level as we did against Kielce, perhaps even better,” he said. “We will not be able to be unfocused for just one second over the 120 minutes or they will take advantage of it.”
As for the first leg on Thursday, Pechmalbec is hoping that Nantes will get a result that allows them “to travel to Veszprém with something left to play for. Unlike against Barcelona in 2019, when we shot ourselves in the foot at home in the first leg,” he said, referring to the 32:25 defeat to the Spanish champions two years ago.
While Nantes will be without their injured leader Rock Feliho, the team was gradually building up the excitement towards Thursday and was expected to show their motivation when they enter the court at ‘La H Arena’ minutes before throw-off.
And Pechmalbec will not be the last one to shout in the tunnel coming out of the dressing rooms.
“We try to find the right balance between excitement and being very focused,” the line player said. “But once you have been to Cologne, you want to go there again, and we will do everything to achieve that.”