By Kevin Domas
INTERVIEW Fred Bougeant knows a thing or two about the Women’s DELO EHF FINAL4. He was the first French coach to ever qualify a team for the event. Last season he did so with Russia’s top club, Rostov-Don. Although, he decided to return to France, last summer, to coach Nantes as well as the national team of Senegal, he still keeps an eye on what’s going on across “Handball Europe”, and especially the upcoming FINAL4, in Budapest on May 11-12.
“Everybody sees Györ as the huge favorite, but I disagree,” he begins the interview, before explaining why. To him, the Hungarian back-to-back champion may not win in the end.
“I reckon they play less physical than they did in previous seasons. You can tell that Ambros Martin (Györ’s former coach ed.), left his imprint on the team. During his time they were physically tough. Especially in defense, I don’t see them as good as last year. Today, they rely too much on Amandine Leynaud.”
“Home court advantage”…sort of
A surprising opinion and certainly not one heard before. Still, according to Bougeant, having “home court advantage” of sorts, works in Györ’s favor.
“Emotions will be running high and that’s a real factor at the FINAL4. Having your own fans supporting you is hugely important. They (Györ ed.) are almost playing at home. And they’ve got players, like the Norwegian internationals, Leynaud or Nycke Groot, who know how to play those games. That’s crucial as well,” he says.
Maybe he still feels for his former club, but to Fred Bougeant, Rostov may well be the team which could upset Györ, should they qualify for the final match. He describes how the Russian side handled the event last year.
“We knew it would be very tough to win, so we went there with the idea of gaining experience. That’s the major reason why I provided court time to everybody in the game for third place – every player should know how it feels playing at the FINAL4,” he recalls.
In Bougeant’s opinion, no team that qualified for the 2019 FINAL4 is flawless, including Rostov-Don.
“Rostov look confident”
“They don’t have as many options as they had last season, but they have the experience. Now, Ambros has been there almost an entire season and the team has worked very hard. That’s Ambros’ trademark – he develops physically strong teams. Today, they look confident.”
Some of Rostov’s players were key actors when Russia won gold at the 2016 Olympics and silver at the 2018 EHF EURO. Anna Vyakhireva, Anna Sen and Polina Kuznetsova have seen some high-level handball as of late. “And, they don’t make the same mistakes twice,” adds Bougeant.
On the other hand, the French coach sees Metz Handball as a potential winner, in Budapest. The French side failed twice in the quarter-finals before qualifying this season.
Metz – a team with no substitutes
“It feels like a journey is coming to an end as they’ve been after it for so long,” he says, before analyzing the strengths of the French champion.
“Collectively, they’re the most impressive side of the four squads. They appear to be much stronger even without Ana Gros and that was not a given on the outset. Niombla is playing an interesting role, and they’ve many promising young players on the bench. This team has no substitutes – all players can be in the starting lineup. That’s a big plus.”
How will the French club handle the pressure that comes along with a FINAL4 appearance? Competing in two games in two days in one of Europe’s biggest arenas and the prospect of lifting the Champions League trophy can have an impact on even the best players.
“This is something you learn. Individually almost all of them have played this kind of game more recently. Niombla played the FINAL4 twice already and most of the others were on the court in the final match of the EHF EURO. But, collectively it’s a different matter,” says Bougeant.
Vipers – not a serious contender
The former Rostov coach had a lot to say about three teams that will be present in Budapest, but not too much about Vipers Kristiansand. If the tone of his voice is anything to go by, the Norwegian champion hasn’t left an impression on him and they don’t look like a serious contender.
“They’re a good team, don’t get me wrong. They’ve the experience, but some of the players are on the verge of getting old,” concludes Bougeant.
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