INTERVIEW – Grace Zaadi is well aware that Metz Handball will have to tighten their defense compared to the first match against Team Esbjerg, if they expect to have a chance in Denmark and secure first place in Group 1 of the main round, in the DELO EHF Champions League.
Still, she is impressed how her team has dealt with the many injuries and some tough opposition, so far this season.
By Peter Bruun
“We cannot allow Esbjerg to score another 31 goals, if we want to have a chance to win.”
Grace Zaadi has no second thoughts, when stregspiller.com asks her what will decide the top match in Group 1 of the Women´s DELO EHF Champions League, on Sunday afternoon, between Team Esbjerg and Metz Handball.
“We will need to tighten our defense compared to the first match, we played against them,” she says, referring to the 31:31 draw at “Les Arenes” in Metz, on February 9th.
After the match in Denmark, Metz may still rank first or second in Group 1, yet it won’t jeopardize the team’s quarter-final participation anymore. In the end, it will all depend on the result against Esbjerg and the outcome between Rostov-Don and FTC.
Metz hold their fate in their own hands. A victory in Esbjerg and Metz win the group – plain and simple. In this case, they’ll play against the fourth ranked club in Group 2, in the quarter-final. It also means that they’ll enjoy home court advantage in the second leg of the knock-out round.
“Finishing at home would mean a lot to us. We almost always play good handball, when we play in Metz. Having the second leg match at “Les Arenes” would be a tremendous advantage to reach the FINAL4,” says Grace Zaadi.
Impressive team effort
“In fact, I am quite impressed that we still occupy first place in our main round group and that we will determine our destiny, in the last match.
“We have been struggling a lot with injuries this season and on top of it, we have been in the toughest bracket of the competition, in my opinion.
“Now, that we got so far in the competition, it’s all about taking a top spot, so that we will have home court advantage in the second leg of the quarter-final,” says the 26-year-old experienced playmaker.
In theory, Metz could end up in a French derby against league rival, Brest Bretagne. Thus far, the team from the north west of France had an extremely successful run this season, as demonstrated in their recent, narrow defeat (28:29) at home against Györ. It was the only loss of Brest in the 19/2020 edition of the DELO EHF Champions League.
The prospect does not bother Zaadi at all.
“I know Brest very well, of course, but I do not care much who we’ll meet. As long as we finish at home, I am confident that we can win and return to the FINAL4.
“Reaching the FINAL4 together with Metz would mean the world to me,” says Zaadi, who was been European- and World champion with France, but until now she has not been able to win the DELO EHF Champions League. In 2019, Metz made it to the FINAL4, in Budapest for the very first time in club history and finished fourth.
Trying something new
She does not hide that returning to Budapest together with Metz, is rooted in the fact that she will leave the club after this season. After nine years in Metz, she will head to Russia and join Rostov-Don.
“I want to emphasize that I am not leaving Metz because I am unhappy or dissatisfied, in any way.
“I love to be in Metz and play for the club, but I have been here since I was 17 years old, and I arrived at the conclusion that it was the right time for me to try something new.
“At this point, I want to explore another way of playing and seeing handball, another culture and another language.
“In this respect, I am sure, I have made the right decision, but first, I want to go back to the FINAL4 with Metz, and hopefully achieve something better than what we did last year, once we are there!”
Expecting a completely different match
Before the trip to Hungary a strong Danish team from Esbjerg will have to be dealt with.
In the first main round clash between the two teams, one month ago, Esbjerg almost led throughout the entire 60 minutes at “Les Arenes” – an achievement in itself as most teams walk away empty handed – but Metz caught up in the dying moments of the game and secured a 31:31 draw.
“I admit, in this particular match, we were lucky.
“Esbjerg were the better team most of the time and we certainly had our problems. But, we never gave up and even though we did not play particularly well, we got one point.
“It turned out to be crucial as it maintained our chances to win the group,” says Grace Zaadi before the trip to Denmark.
Despite the trouble in the earlier bout against Esbjerg, she is optimistic.
“I expect a totally different match, as I am sure we learned from our mistakes in the first game and this will have an impact.
“Still, I expect very tough opposition and a hard fight.
“Esbjerg have a lot of good players and they have impressed me a great deal, this season.
“For us, it will be very important to defend much better compared to the first match.
“As I said, we cannot allow Esbjerg to score 31 goals once again, if we want to win this game,” ends Grace Zaadi.