The French Connection

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FEATURE – Metz Handball and Brest Bretagne Handball are the dominating teams in women´s handball, in France. But will Metz be champions for the fourth year in succession, or can Brest break their dominance – and which team will be more successful in the 2018/19 EHF Champions League?

Stregspiller.com invited the opinions of Cleopatre Darleux (Brest) and Manon Houette (Metz).

By Peter Bruun

While the women´s league in France appears to be stronger than ever, two teams reign supreme.  Metz Handball, the champions of the past three years and Brest Bretagne Handball, the runners-up of the past two seasons.

Both clubs compete in the 2018/19 edition of the EHF Champions League and they both look like potential candidates for the FINAL4, in Budapest.

Stregspiller.com asked a key player, Manon Houette (Metz) and Cleopatre Darleux (Brest) from each team to discuss the Champions League as well as their expectations for the French championship.

Manon Houette returned to France last summer after one-year stint in Germany with Thüringer HC, and she does not hide that she is happy to be back.

”I love the French league – I believe it is one of the best in the world, maybe together with the Danish and the Hungarian league.

“In Metz, I feel very comfortable – it is a very great club with big ambitions in the French- as well as in the Champions League.

“We have been getting better all the time and our objective for this year is to reach the FINAL4 in the Champions League.

“All these intentions make me very happy to be in this team,” she says.

How does she rate the team’s chances to finally reach the FINAL4 after Metz failed to make it past the quarter-finals in the past two years?

“Last year, our first quarter-final in Bucharest was horrible, but our game at home was very good (Metz lost 34:21 away to CSM, but succeeded 27:20 at home after leading by 11 goals, ed.)

“I certainly think we have improved since then and I believe we’ll take the next step this season.

“However, we will have to take it match by match. First, we are meeting Larvik at home this weekend and it will, of course, be crucial for us to get off to a good start in the competition, where every game is important.

After the departure of one of their key players, Slovenian international, Ana Gros, to arch rivals Brest, Metz may have a considerable handicap to deal with. But Manon Houette is convinced that her team has already adapted to “life after Gros”.

“For me, Ana Gros is one of the best players on the right-back position and one of the best shooters from distance. And without her, we’ll need to find another balance in our team.

“We no longer can rely on one single player who scores 10 goals per game, but as long as we have many players who can score four or five goals per match, we are still okay. Actually, we are a more balanced team this way,” she finds.

And Houette certainly does not think that Brest have overtaken Metz, yet.

“I think we still have the best team in Metz, but of course, Brest have signed some interesting new players. Still, they have to learn how to play together.

“Brest will be a strong competitor in the French league and probably show their strengths in the Champions League as well. With regards to the Champions League, I simply hope that the French teams will be among the best,” says the 26-year-old left wing.

Trying to impress Krumbholz 

For Cleopatre Darleux, rivalry extends beyond club level.

The 29-year-old goalkeeper is in direct competition for a spot in the national team with Metz keeper, Laura Glauser, who recently returned to the squad from maternity leave.

While Amandine Leynaud (Györ) seems to be assured of a nomination for the European championship, in France, in December, the second goalkeeper position will be decided between Glauser and Darleux.

Darleux hopes to use the Champions League to convince her national team coach, Olivier Krumholz, to favor her instead of Glauser.

“She (Glauser, ed.) has been in the team since 2013 and she has made a lot of progress during that time and she has been an important part of the national team for the last four years.

“All I can do is try to do my best.

“The fact that we both play in the Champions League also gives me a chance to improve and to gain experience on a high international level.

“However, I choose not to think too much about our rivalry, right now,” says Cleopatre Darleux who prefers to talk about her team´s chances in the Champions League instead.

“I definitely think we have a better squad compared to last year, when we played six games and lost six times.

“It was our first season in the Champions League and it was really difficult for us. Today, I think we have a better team and our group is somewhat easier this season than the one last year, when we met Györ, Midtjylland and Rostov. This season, our group (Rostov-Don, Kobenhavn and Sävehof, ed.) looks a bit more manageable.

Dreaming of the FINAL4

Just like Manon Houette, Cleopatre Darleux is dreaming about a FINAL4 appearance.

“Of course, I would love to play the FINAL4, but for now, I don’t think too much about it.

“First of all, it’s all about moving on from the group phase.

“A team like Metz have much more experience in the Champions League than we do.

“Of course, we got two really good players this season – actually, world class players – so, we definitely have the chance to achieve something in the competition.

The two players she is referring to are Swedish playmaker, Isabelle Gulldén (former CSM Bucuresti) and Slovenian right back, Ana Gros (former Metz).

“First of all, those two bring a lot of experience to our team because of all the matches they have played on international top level. Bella Gulldén has played two or three FINAL4´s in a row – she has an enormous will to win, and she has the ability to make her teammates better.

“Ana Gros has already helped us with our scoring problems. We did not score many goals last season; one of our major problems.

“In the last two years, we were really close with Metz a few times and we beat them in the French Cup. I hope this was the first step to break their dominance, for good.

“No doubt, in 2018/19 it will be a close battle again, as they still have a very talented squad but this season, we have much more quality in our team, as well.

“Last year, we lost too many games against teams from the lower part of the league table. Now, we are much more consistent,” she finds.

And which club will stay in the Champions League longer, and who will win the French championship?

For, Manon Houette, the outcome is clear.

“Metz, of course,” she says to both questions without hesitation.

“Oh, they are so confident in Metz, but maybe, that;s their problem,” responds Cleopatre Darleux.

“I hope they will get far in the Champions League, but not as far as us.

“In the main round (of the Champions League ed.), I am sure we will meet them and in the French league, we’ll be facing Metz on December 29.  Then we will see.”

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