Markussen: We need to score more goalsArticle
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Atletico Madrid's tall Danish shooter is confident of reaching Cologne for the first time in his career.

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Markussen: We need to score more goals

23-year-old Nicolaj Markussen is one of the biggest talents in Danish and European handball. The 2.11 metre tall shooter changed from Nordsjaelland in Denmark to Atletico Madrid in Spain at the start of this season, and in January he became EHF EURO champion in Belgrade.

Despite a 23:26 defeat in the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter final at RK Cimos Koper, Markussen is still hopeful of qualifying for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne for the first time in his career. He spoke to about what they need to change in the re-match next Saturday in Madrid. Atletico Madrid was the favourite in Koper, but lost the first leg by three goals. What were the reasons for this defeat?
Nicolaj Markussen: Cimos goalkeeper Gorazd Skof played exceptionally well, and we had a lot of problems which we hope to be able to solve before next Saturday. Personally, it was my first match back after one month out with injury. We had problems in attack and scored too few goals, especially with Skof being in such good form. Did you expect Koper to be so strong?
Nicolaj Markussen: We knew before that they have a great team, especially after they eliminated Vive Targi Kielce in the Last 16. Koper have a tough team with young, talented and hungry players. What do you need to change before the re-match on Saturday, if you are to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne?
Nicolaj Markussen: Firstly we need to score more goals, as usually we score more than the 23 we scored at Koper. Secondly we hope that our injured players will return. On Wednesday we will have a tough league match and I hope that by then we have more options on the field. And I believe that we can play much better than we did in the first leg. How confident are the team that they can turn things around at Madrid?
Nicolaj Markussen: I am full of confidence and belief in my team, as I know what we are able to do. We can raise our level of performing and we can reach one of our major goals, to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4. So I hope that we will beat Koper by more than three goals. You are playing your first season outside Denmark. Was it hard to cope with all the new circumstances?
Nicolaj Markussen: It was a really big change for me, but the team accepted me and adapted quickly and it helps that I'm learning Spanish too. I am satisfied with the way we played this season - with the one exception being our home defeat against Barcelona in the league. So now we have to win at Palau to become Spanish champions. What differences are there between playing in Madrid compared to Denmark?
Nicolaj Markussen: We only have two top teams in the Spanish league, the rest are generally on a lower level so we do not have to give 100 per cent in those games to get the points. This was completely different in Denmark, where you needed to give everything in every match. But the most important difference is playing in the VELUX EHF Champions for the first time in my career. You have to adapt to the situation that you have two matches – on domestic and international turf – nearly every week. This is a complete new experience for me. Are you satisfied with your first month in Spain?
Nicolaj Markussen: It is alright, yes. I am fitting in well with the team, I have adapted well, I know there is still room for improvement but it always takes time to fit with a new playing system. The first season is to learn and to settle down, then in the second and third season I will improve and I will be much better. You have never played a VELUX EHF FINAL4 before – what did your team mates tell you about the atmosphere in Cologne?
Nicolaj Markussen: We did not talk so much about this subject, but of course it is a dream of every player to be part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. And we can make this dream come true by eliminating Koper. I hope I can be part of this great experience. Your Danish national team mates from AG Copenhagen have beaten Barcelona by six goals in the first leg. Did you expect this result – and do you believe they can make their way to Cologne?
Nicolaj Markussen: I knew that they could win, but I did not expect a six-goal difference. They played an exceptional defence with a great goalkeeper in Kasper Hvidt. Kobenhavn now have a very good starting point, but it is really tough to play at Barcelona. But of course AGK have the chance to go to Cologne.

TEXT: Björn Pazen