By Kevin Domas
Three days after conceding a draw (26:26) on home court against Paris, in the first leg of the Champions League round of Last 16, HBC Nantes were defeated mid-week in the French league by visiting Nîmes (29-33). Still, there’s room for a sensational performance in the league of champions on Saturday.
There was a sense of disappointment in the air, on Saturday night, when Nantes drew with Paris on their home court. After the league match back in December, when “Le H” slayed the Parisian handball monster, you could feel that players would have liked to do it again, this past Saturday. Sadly, they couldn’t do it. Too many turnovers, too many missed shots will be some of the things that they’ll have to correct before the return leg in Paris.
But they are confident that they can deliver a better performance.
“We’ll have to defend the same way, but be more efficient in attack. In games like these, when one ball possession more or less can make the difference, we can’t allow to waste as many opportunities as we did”, says Thierry Anti.
And his players are pretty confident as well that they can win in Paris. Something that Barcelona, Flensburg, Kiel, Veszprem or Plock haven’t been able to do since the beginning of the 2016/17 Champions League season. Only Montpellier, in the French cup, managed to escape from the capital with a victory in tow.
“We’ve done it in previous seasons, and we’re definitely not scared. This is one game – sixty minutes – and the pressure will be on their shoulders. They’ll play in front of their fans, and if we give them trouble from the get go, who knows what will happen”, says a hopeful line player, Nicolas Tournat.
It was all going pretty well, after all. But then, Nantes lost to Nîmes, surrendering an advantage in the French league, six games before the end of the season. It certainly looks like “Le H” won’t win the trophy this year.
But does the loss affect their chances of qualifying for the next round in the Champions League, on Saturday?
“You’ve got to remember that the Champions League is the main goal for Paris, they’re thinking every day about winning it. Our case is completely different, we’re just enjoying the ride, not actually thinking about where it’ll take us”, said Olivier Nyokas after the first game.
And his teammate, Arnaud Siffert, was still confident after the loss against Nîmes, when talking about the lack of maturity of the team as a whole.
“We didn’t prepare this game the right way and we have to blame ourselves. However, it doesn’t change anything about our plans for Saturday”.
The plan will be to score, as much as possible. Anyone who has seen Paris play this season will know that they are a hell of an offensive machine, especially when Nikola Karabatic is on the court.
If he was missing the last match, he definitely will play his part this weekend.
“It surely will be a game with more goals, and it will fit my guys better. And everybody’s aware that with a 31-31 draw, we’re qualified”, smiled Thierry Anti, who’ll return to his former home. And it sounds like he’s got a plan, as Olivier Nyokas explained:
“Put the foot on the pedal right from the start, make them panic a little bit…so they feel that they can lose. This game will be something different for them. Remember, this is the Champions League. No safety net – you lose, you’re out. And when you’ve got no pressure, just like us, that’s the best position to be in “.