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24.03.2017, 13:02◄ last page     


BLOG: To win against PSG over two legs "Le H" will have to have their heart in the oven, but their head in the fridge, ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain insists before the Match of the Week in the first leg of the Last 16
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Le H, je l'aime

This week MOTW takes us to the beautiful city of Nantes, an idyllic location on the banks of the Loire, overlooked by the Château des Ducs de Bretagne. They are vying for a place in the last eight and in their way stands the mighty PSG.
 
Before I truly begin, please excuse the pun in the title and the terrible paraphrasing of Renaud's classic, but I just could not help myself.
 
What do we know about HBC Nantes. Not much, I would wager. Probably we remember that in 2013 and 2016 they hosted the EHF Cup Finals, but that is probably the extent of our knowledge.

To be honest, unless you are a fan of the teams in Group C and D of the Champions League, you probably don't really have a clue what's going on there. The reasoning is simple. If you win the group and win the play-off, then your reward is to play the team that finishes second in either Group A or B.
 
Some reward eh? It's the equivalent of being a cast member in La La Land. You're up there, on the stage, but Moonlight is actually going to win.

This has been the view of many (myself included) to wit I claimed that I would do the next hangout naked should any team from C and D progress beyond the L16 stage.
 
"It's unbelieveable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing your whole life" Mickey Mantle
 
I may have cause to eat my words because Nantes, once the seat of the Dukes of Brittany is now a shining beacon in the world of Champions League handball. Unfortunately for me, perhaps, PSG are about to visit their bogey team.

A bogey team is the team that just about always causes you problems. They have a knack of making you play their game and not your own and the inevitable outcome is a loss. I have had the distinct pleasure (and discomfort) of watching Nantes dismantle Paris in the French League this year.
 
I'm nervous for the viewers of the hangout and have started my press-ups regimen in anticipation of a "Full-Monty".

Jokes aside, this is a sports-mad city, with teams from football, basketball, volleyball and handball (both men and women in basket, hand and volley) all competing in the top league in France. It may surprise you to know that twenty years ago this handball club was playing in the 5th division of French handball. There is no doubt that in 2009, they made one of the best decisions in their history by signing Thierry Anti. His ability to coach players to a higher level, to spot talent, to encourage players (particularly Spanish players) to be part of the project has gone a long way to get them to where they are today.
 
"Le H" as they are affectionately known is putting the pressure on PSG. The win in the league earlier this season was played in front of a record 11,000 fans and believe me when I tell you, they destroyed Paris in the XXL arena. This week, the more confined "Trocardière" will welcome the boys from the capital, but it will be no less intimidating.

You know my penchant for supporting the underdog, but this goes further. Deep in my veins is a Celt dying to get out. Nantes (Naoned in Breton) is historically and culturally linked with Brittany and forgive me for labouring the point, but to all intents and purposes for this weekend, they will have to call on all their Celtic fervour to beat PSG.

They have experienced their Gergovia and will be keen that over two legs against the might of Paris, that this is not their Alesia.
 
"When one has taken root, one puts out branches" Jules Verne

 
Handball has taken root in this beautiful city and Anti is a huge part of that. The philosophy of the man to nurture young talent along with the ability to convince stars of handball to play here cannot be underestimated. The branches are beginning to bud, but perhaps the full bloom will not be seen for a few more seasons.

It may surprise you to know that one of the great science fiction writers of all time was born in Nantes. He believed in the possibility of space travel. His book "From the Earth to the Moon" was a classic, but at the time was considered beyond reality. As we all know now, it has become a reality and therefore why should the fans and players not imagine a possible victory over two legs against their mighty neighbours. Much like Verne's fiction, it's not beyond the realms of possibility.
 
But the avalanche is coming and PSG clad in white will not be underestimating Nantes again. They boast one of the top rosters in the world and apart from a slip on the opening day away to Kiel, they have been incredible to watch. Of course they lost away to FCB as well, but dismantled them in Paris.

This is the Champions league. PSG have invested heavily to win it. This is not the French league. The media and the worldwide attention are on a whole other level and the referees will have a CL view of the game. So to all intents and purposes, although both teams are French, this match takes on an international significance. And this can be the difference between history and another season of what might have been. The boys in purple had better harken to the words
 
"Avalanche, veux-tu m'emporter dans ta chute?" Baudelaire.
(Avalanche, will you sweep me along in your fall?)

 
One of the great romantic poets of France had a darker, more pessimistic outlook on life. Nantes had better key into his more romantic notions and discount the pessimism. In other words, they had better cut out the noise from outside that says they have no chance.
 
A friend of mine was a colour psychologist and he once told me that purple was the colour of romance and love. You have got to love what this club has achieved. Édith may have had "La Vie en Rose", but what chance "La vie en Violet"?
 
To win over two legs "Le H" will have to have their heart in the oven, but their head in the fridge.


TEXT: ehfTV commentator Tom O' Brannagain

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