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BLOG: The third MOTW of the new season takes Tom to an unknown territory as the French newcomers from Dunkirk play host to KIF Kolding Kobenhavn.

First blood

Our next port of call, if you’ll excuse the pun, for this week’s MOTW is Dunkirk in France. Dunkirk will be forever remembered for the amazing withdrawal of hundreds of thousands of men in the summer of 1940 aboard all manner and means of seafaring craft.

It’s a little known fact that, since the age of seven, I have been collecting soldiers and military vehicles, and I have a passionate interest in war history. So this visit is a pilgrimage of sorts for me to the site of one of its most interesting events.

But let’s not forget the reason we are going. The team of “US Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral” is, this season, taking its first steps into the big time. We might be forgiven for thinking that this is some new team, but they have a long and rich tradition. My mentor in Irish handball remembers going to watch a match in this very town against PSG some 20 years ago.

It is an amazing season in the VELUX EHF Champions League, not least because there are so many new teams.The team with the longest name is not the biggest team in the competition.

The Grand Littoral in their name, which, Google tells me, is a huge shopping centre, is in fact the district in which Dunkirk is located.

The team itself may not be shopping in the XXL section of the stores as they are giving away 4 cm on average across the team to the bigger Danes.

KIF Kolding Kobenhavn themselves, have a rich history, and the fact that the now defunct AG Kobenhavn gave them so many players gives them a Champions League edge.

There is no doubt that we will recognise so many of the Kolding players. Boldsen, Hvidt, Jorgensen and Hundstrup (all AG) to name but a few and throw in the classy Boesen and Spellerberg along with Laen and Kim Andersson and you start to look at this team in a whole new light.

By contrast you will perhaps recognise one player from Dunkirk. The right wing, Guillaume Joli who once plied his trade at Chambery in the CL.

The rest are relative unknowns outside the confines of Dunkirk. But this team is desperate to play in the CL.

The old saying, “Sometimes if you want to know for sure whether the iron is hot, the only way to find out is to touch it”, comes to mind. This team is grasping the iron of the CL, but at present are finding out that it is very hot.

Two defeats, one on home court, both to Polish teams have perhaps given them the taste of top level handball, but nothing will prepare them for the great Danes.

This team is powerful, full of proven CL players, with former winners and with a defence that is as aggressive as AG were in their heyday. The phoenix from the flames that brought together two clubs is searing hot and they will be a match for any of the so called top teams in the competition.

It is this “hot iron” that Dunkirk must grasp and they must show their mettle if they are to have any chance of winning. The crowd is passionate, yes, but it is not the red-hot atmosphere of Veszprem, Kielce or Metalurg.

Yet they do have some great players and the sum of the parts is far greater than the individual. Lamon in the centre is a cultured player and the right side axis of Joli and Soudry is quite effective. Gerard is a very good goalkeeper and Mokrani is a wonderful captain.

It is also the debut on MOTW for the two “Pocket Rockets”. Soudry (Dunkirk) and Karlsson (Kolding), standing 183 cm and 180 cm respectively, both play in the back court and belie their stature with some incredible speed and breakthrough shots. I always have a soft spot for the underdog and these two players have probably had to prove many a doubter wrong, that they could play in the back division. Keep a close eye on both.

The evacuation of Dunkirk gave rise to the famous “This was their finest hour” speeches by Winston Churchill. Everyone knows it; “We shall fight them on the .....” Etc. The only place he didn’t mention was the six metre line and this is the area on both ends of the court where the French will have to fight to stand any chance of consolidating a place in this seasons group phase.

Oh, by the way, Dunkirk also has a player called Rambo, but if I had to call this one, I’d say it’ll be “First Blood” to Kolding.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator