Steep learning curve for EHF CL debutantArticle
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Toulon seek the double over Randers and aim to advance to the Cup Winners` Cup.

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Steep learning curve for EHF CL debutant

24-year-old Siraba Dembele is one of the key players of the French Champion Toulon. Along with her team she has a good chance of reaching the Cup Winners` Cup, as all Toulon need is a home draw against their Danish counterpart Randers. For you and Toulon it’s the first time in the queen’s class. What do you think of the EHF Champions League experience so far?

Siraba Dembele: Indeed, this is our first year in the biggest European club tournament. At the beginning of the season, we estimated our level compared to that of the other teams and we concluded that we were in a very tough group.

Certainly it’s the best way to learn, to do things you’ve never done before, and to prepare for games in a different way. This increases your level as player and as a team, and so far, it’s been a big pleasure for us. Despite being a CL debutant, you’ve already collected two points by beating Randers in an away duel. Was that victory a very special moment in your career?

Siraba Dembele: (Smile) It was our first-ever EHF Champions League victory, and against such a high calibre team in women’s handball. We won away in an amazing match. I’ll never forget this event! Last weekend you lost by 12 goals against the world-class Larvik. Was it a tough game?

Siraba Dembele: Larvik are a fantastic team, but it’s never easy to lose a match by such a huge margin. But now all focus must be on Sunday’s crucial game against Randers! This match in the last round will be a decisive one, as it will decide the Cup Winners` Cup spot. What tactics will you employ to beat the Danes?

Siraba Dembele: The most important thing is that we forget about the first game in Denmark. We’re not allowed to prepare for this game thinking that it’ll be easy, and a walk-over, just because we defeated them once.

We need to keep in mind that we had a bad start in Denmark. We need to repeat the good parts and focus mainly on our own game.

I think that the players of Randers are really upset about that loss and now they want to avenge their home failure.

They lost by 18 goals against Larvik and I’m sure that they wish to erase this memory by playing a much better game against us.

For us, a victory would give a great opportunity to continue our adventure in a European Cup, and obviously, we’d like to win in front of our spectators in Toulon. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Toulon in your opinion?

Siraba Dembele: It’s our debut in the EHF Champions League, so we’re not used to playing at such high level from week to week, and I think we’re also a bit naive in certain situations.

On the other hand, some of our players do tend to surprise with some good performances, even if it’s not enough to beat stronger teams like Larvik or Oltchim. How do you see your chances of defending the title in the French Championship?

Siraba Dembele: It's really difficult this season because all of the other teams in the French league want to beat us.

We’ve changed position, as we’re not outsiders anymore. We’re the title holder, and we need to perform in the EHF Champions League as well.

We have games twice a week, and it’s hard to compete on both levels. We have a different schedule and we need to prepare for every game in a different way compared to last season. Is third place, and a spot in the CWC a realistic objective for Toulon this season, or did you set higher goals before the CL-start?

Siraba Dembele: Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect, but we were aware that it would be a tough group. Despite this, we want to take our chance and try to continue in the Cup Winners` Cup.

Even though we’ve one more game left on Sunday, I can sum up our performance as good and I’m proud of the whole team, as we fought hard in every match.

I’d be very happy if we clinched victory on Sunday and I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win. Which teams are your personal favorites for winning the EHF Champions League?

Siraba Dembele: My absolute favourite is Larvik. For the other semi-final spots, I expect that Győr and Budućnost will be there. I’m not convinced by Viborg’s play this year, so probably Oltchim Vâlcea or Itxako will fill the other place!

The EHF Women's Champions League game of Group C, Toulon Saint Cyr Var Handball (FRA) vs. Randers HK (DEN) on Sunday 21 November 2010 at 18:45 hrs (local time), will be broadcast live on our free-of-charge web stream on

TEXT: Emeline Hénique / Márk "Bégléch" Hegedüs