Simonet: All about keeping a cool headArticle
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FEATURE: The Argentinan centre back has his sights set on going all the way in his first EHF Cup season

Simonet: All about keeping a cool head

Diego Simonet, Montpellier's Argentinian centre back, is certainly enjoying his first EHF Cup campaign this season and by scoring an average of four goals per game, including a 12-goal haul against Sporting, it is safe to say that this level of competition is not beyond him.

After his team's quarter-final first leg win in Nantes, he has is firmly in his sights to reach Berlin and become the second Argentinian to lift a European Cup trophy, after Eric Gull won the EHF Champions League with Ciudad Real in 2008. Simonet spoke to about his first season in European Cup competition. Diego, what do you think of the EHF Cup so far?

Diego Simonet: I really like it. True, I'd have preferred to play the Champions League, but the EHF Cup suits me well. These kinds of games are really important to develop a young player and I can see that I'm gaining some experience in there. The clubs we're playing against are hungry, hungrier than in usual league games perhaps. I say that because there are not many chances to progress in the competition, so you have to play to the maximum of your capacities. Montpellier has enjoyed nine victories out of nine games in the competition. Does this make you a favourite for the title?

Diego Simonet: No definitely, not. I think Berlin is the favourite, playing the finals at home is such an advantage. I think we're just on the level below, alongside Nantes and Szeged. But surprises are always possible in this competition; we've seen it with Constanta eliminating Chambéry for instance. Favourite is only a word, and you've got to prove yourself on the court every time. Speaking of Nantes, were you disappointed that the draw made you play against each other?

Diego Simonet: I wouldn't say disappointed. It's true we know each other very well, and we've already played against each other four times this season. But on the other side, it can be an advantage. This city is not far from Montpellier, and at this time of the season, when you start to get tired, not travelling too much can be a good thing.

Also, playing in the Beaulieu Arena, in front of such a crowd, is always a good time. Even for a visiting team. You won the first quarter-final and take a one-goal advantage home. What do you think made the difference?

Diego Simonet: Tiny details, like always in these close games. Bringing back Thierry Omeyer at the end was a good thing, and having clutch players like him or Dragan Gajic in your team is always an advantage.

I'd rather play with them than against them. I think that the absence of their defensive leader, Rock Feliho, helped us as well. It was a very hard game, with two tough defences, and I'm sure the return game will be just the same. Speaking of which, you'll be playing at the historic Bougnol Hall, instead of the bigger Arena Montpellier. How much of a difference does it make for you guys?

Diego Simonet: This is a little bit like our den, our nest. I don't think Montpellier has lost a European game there for a number of seasons, even in the Champions League. It goes to show how much of an advantage it is for us.

It is smaller, the fans are closer to us, and you can feel them pushing behind you whenever you're on the court. I've played there as a visitor with Ivry, and really, the fans put so much pressure on you it's hard to play. But it's always done in a nice way, they just support their home team and are usually not that mean to visitors. Do you think you'll be able to keep your advantage in this return leg?

Diego Simonet: At least, I very much hope so. One goal is nothing, and our past games have taught us that. If you're in a bad day, tight game, a one-goal defeat because of a stupid turnover...bam! You're out.

It's almost as if we had had a tie. This one-goal advantage is much more of a psychological thing, because Nantes has yet to beat Montpellier, and this win was just another defeat adding up for them, but to us players, one goal is nothing. What will be the keys to securing the win on Sunday?

Diego Simonet: I think the team that’ll make it to Berlin will be the one capable of keeping their heads cool. I mean, there will be some tension, some stress as well, and if you're able to negotiate these important moments, these important passes and shots, then you'll be able to win. At this level of competition, there won't be a ten-goal difference, no way.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor