Saint-Raphaël want to wipe out bad memories
Three French teams have made it to the final of the Men's EHF Cup since the 2011/12 season - Dunkerque, Nantes (twice) and Montpellier - but none of them lifted the trophy.
Saint-Raphaël Var Handball and their coach Joël Da Silva have qualified for the competition's finals tournament for the second time in a row. At the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals 2018 this upcoming weekend (19/20 May) they would very much like to break the spell - if there is such a thing.
“I don’t think so,” Da Silva says. “Nantes, Montpellier and Dunkerque may have never won the EHF Cup, but I think it is just an indication for the level of the competition. Every year, the finals consist of teams that deserve a spot in the Champions League.”
"Going back to the finals was a great motivation all season long"
Last season, Da Silva and Saint-Raphaël reached the finals tournament in Göppingen but lost to Füchse Berlin in the semi-final and ultimately ended in fourth.
“We were all frustrated by the way we played in Göppingen. We didn't play like we know we could have, especially in the semi-final,” Da Silva says. “Going back to the finals and showing what we are able to has been one of the great motivations all season long. From the first qualifying rounds to the quarter-finals, it has been in our heads.”
The motivation led to an excellent record for this season. Saint-Raphaël’s only loss in the group phase - at home against Berlin - saw them finishing second in Group B. Still, they turned their quarter-final against Spanish side Granollers into an easy affair.
“The experience was important, definitely,” Da Silva says. “We were able to carry on playing in the first leg, even though we were ahead by 10. In the end, the 14-goal advantage we had was very important. We didn't panic in the second leg even though Granollers were pushing. There was a sense of maturity among my players this day.”
Same opponents, different hopes
At the finals tournament, the three German opponents are the same as last year, but the French coach hopes that things will go a little bit different this time.
“We are not the favourites. That is for sure. But over the years, and thanks to our wins against established European powerhouses such as Berlin, Silkeborg or Melsungen, other clubs are taking us seriously,” the 47-year-old coach says.
Saint-Raphaël will open the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals 2018 against hosts SC Magdeburg on Saturday, 19 May at 14:15 hrs (live on ehfTV.com), while Frisch Auf Göppingen meet Füchse Berlin at 17:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com) for the second semi-final.
While Da Silva knows that playing against the hosts will be a tough task to handle, he also thinks Saint-Raphaël could make things go their way.
“Magdeburg will be playing at home and everybody expects them to reach the final,” he says. “We won't have anything to lose in this game. They can be in trouble if they face a physical team, so hopefully we can compete on that level.”
Going out on a high
For three Saint-Raphaël players the EHF Cup Finals will be their last major tournament: Aurélien Abily, Geoffroy Krantz and Wissem Hmam will end their playing career at the end of the season.
Da Silva believes it might add additional motivation for his players.
“I think these finals will be one of the highlights of their careers, and that they will want to go out on a high,” he says. “We don't talk about these things right now, but I'm sure it's a positive thing for them. And also for their teammates, to help them winning a title.”