|17.09.2016, 20:50||◄ last page|
VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown – 4 days to go: Paris Saint-Germain (FRA). The French champions finally achieved their primary goal of reaching the VELUX EHF FINAL4, now they want more
PSG aiming higher after getting a taste for Cologne
In 2014 and 2015, they failed at the final hurdle, but in May 2016, Paris Saint-Germain made their first-ever appearance at the VELUX EHF FINAL4, in which they finished third after losing at the semi-final to eventual winners Kielce. Since Montpellier’s triumph in 2003, no French team has made it to the EHF Champions League Final, let alone even won the competition, but PSG hope their time will soon come.
After 90 per cent of the squad was involved with the Olympic Games in Rio - and half of them returned to the French capital with medals, including Danish gold medallists Mikkel Hansen and Henrik Möllgaard, the biggest pre-season challenge was the IHF Super Globe in Doha. At their debut, Paris made it to the final by beating Kielce, but then came up short against Füchse Berlin.
This tournament already proved that Paris’ top transfer was an ace, German Uwe Gensheimer, All-star team member and bronze medallist in Rio, was by far PSG’s best scorer at the Super Globe. Alongside Gensheimer, the PSG signings are mainly international, with Croat Luka Stepancic, Slovenian goalkeeper Gorazd Skof, Dane Jesper Nielsen alongside some native French players, which means the French champions can be counted among the top favourites once again.
After several players departed, including left-handed Sergey Onufriyenko and Croatian line player legend Igor Vori, the new faces will have little time to adapt before they are expected to perform at the highest level. “Due to the Olympic Games our pre-season was quite short, but we hope that the impact is not too harsh,” says manager Bruno Martini.
Everyone within the Paris organization agrees that their Group A is the “hardest and strongest group in the history of the Champions League,” in which PSG must face Veszprem, Kiel, Flensburg and Barcelona. Despite those big names, Paris aims to repeat last season’s success, when they captured first position to skip the Last 16 in a similar group.
“It was a great season, in which we accomplished our mission to make it to Cologne. In having this experience now, we want to go all the way at the FINAL4,” Martini explains the targets, adding: “We all know how difficult it is to get to Cologne, but once you are there anything can happen, as Kielce proved last May.”
In his analysis of the upcoming group phase opponents, Martini praises their past competitors from last season: Flensburg, Kiel and Veszprem. When referring to Barcelona, Martini adds, “All of them (the teams in Group A) are candidates for winning the FINAL4.”
Team captain, Daniel Narcisse, also calls the constellation in the group phase ‘the hardest ever,’ but he mentions, “Like the rest, we aim to fight for the top spot, but in the end, we know that this does not even guarantee a spot at Cologne. We have learnt a lot from last season.”
As mentioned by Martini, “Already, all of our fans are eagerly waiting for the season to start, due to the high-quality opponents arriving for intense games in our arena. It is a great honour for our club to represent French handball in the Champions League.”
Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Qualification for the 2016/17 VELUX EHF Champions League season: French champions
Newcomers: Luka Stepancic (Zagreb), Uwe Gensheimer (Rhein Neckar Löwen), Gorazd Skof (Nantes), Nedim Remili (Créteil), Jesper Nielsen (Berlin), Dylan Garain (Paris Saint-Germain Youth)
Coach: Noka Serdarusic (since 2015)
Opponents in the group phase: Veszprem, Barcelona, Kiel, Bjerrinbro, Plock, Schaffhausen and Flensburg in Group A
TEXT: Björn Pazen / tm