By Sascha Staat
INTERVIEW Xenia Smits is one of the players that stands out in the 2018/19 Champions League season and her nomination as one of five of “Best Defenders” in the league speaks for itself. Her club team benefited as well from her consistent form, as Metz qualified for the DELO Women’s EHF FINAL4 for the very first time in their history. As the tournament in Budapest is less than a week away, the German international looks ahead.
For Metz as well as you it’s the first Champions League FINAL4 – what do you think about this particular format?
XS: It’s about winning it all, it’s all about handball – winning or losing. Playing the games and enjoying the whole thing. You can’t think too much about the schedule because it’s almost impossible.
You must be aware of all the media hype surrounding the FINAL4 and the immense fan interest?
XS: Thus far, I haven’t thought about it. Come Monday, I will have Budapest on my mind, but not before.
But, I guess you have heard about the atmosphere, which has caused non-Hungarian teams quite some problems, in the past. How do you prepare for this?
XS: That’s true – it’s always difficult to play against a Hungarian team in Hungary. But, we will see what happens, as there is a chance that we will face Györ on the second day. For now, I just hope that the fans from Metz will be louder than those from Russia.
Do you have an idea how many supporters from Metz will make the trip to Budapest?
XS: At least 250 to 300. And then there will be some, who already bought a ticket before.
Your team is playing on a high level all season long and many consider you among the favorites to win it all. What’s your take on that?
XS: It’s hard to say as it is our first time at the FINAL4. Obviously, we go there to win it all and we will see if our effort will be enough. If so – great. And, if not then we will probably be satisfied as well… at some later point in time. We don’t put any pressure on ourselves, just because experts, media and fans believe in us. Actually, we try not to listen to it.
What about your coach Emmanuel Mayonnade? His career took off this season as well – how would you describe his work?
XS: He is a very, very hard worker. He lives handball 24 hours a day, seven days a week and he wants to tell us everything he sees, which can be a lot at times. But, he knows when enough is enough. Emmanuel’s training is very intense, but he thinks that the intensity of a game cannot be matched if the training is not equally intense.
In other words, you and your teammates are extremely well prepared?
XS: Yes – indeed. In offense as well as in defense. He emphasizes the work on both ends of the court. For example, I know exactly when I can step out from my center-block position.
So, you owe him quite a bit that you are on the list for “Best Defensive Player” in the 2018/19 Champions League season?
XS: Yes, obviously. But, it’s all about the team. I am thankful to both, the coach, but also my teammates. It gives me a lot of confidence, knowing that in case I lose my 1-on-1, somebody will help me out. It’s always in the back of my mind that I can always trust my teammates.
What are your thoughts about the match against Rostov in the semi-final?
XS: We played them twice already and we succeeded on both occasions. So, my guess is that they will be highly motivated. They are a powerful Russian team and we have to step up our game against them, especially physically.
Any expectations from the other semi-final between Györ and Vipers?
XS: Vipers have a really, really good team, I think. But, I don’t know if they can pull off an upset here (in Budapest ed.) as it is their first FINAL4 as well. I’m curious to see how it will turn out.
DELO Women’s EHF FINAL4 Tickets: https://en.playhandball.hu/ticket