Dunkerque ready to belong in EuropeArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 6: Dunkerque Handball Grand Littoral shocked many with their league win last season and hope to do the same on the continent

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Dunkerque ready to belong in Europe

It was one of the biggest sensations of the European club handball season, when it was not the world selection of PSG but Dunkerque Handball Grand Littoral who took the French league title.

For the first time, the club were top of the league – and now the team of coach Patrick Cazal is aiming high in the VELUX EHF Champions League after an unsatisfying debut in the previous season, clearly missing out on the knock-out stage.

Dunkerque manager Régis Giunta hopes for an improvement on the international stage: “We confirmed our progress by becoming French champions ahead of Paris Saint Germain, the big favourite, and record champions Montpellier.

“But we have not been able to deploy the same energy in the Champions League. We were rookies and the fact that 95 percent of the team never played this competition before added difficulty to the fact that the draw put us in the hardest group.

“With last season’s experience and quite a good draw, we expect to qualify  for the Last 16.”, Giunta says, adding: “Regarding our opponents, Kielce seem to be out of reach, as it will be very difficult to beat them again after last year.

“Szeged seem to have the team to finish on the second position, so we will be in competition with Aalborg, Schaffhausen and the last team from qualifications to gain one of the last two tickets to the last 16. That’s at least the logic on paper.”

Cazal’s successful team has not changed that much, two newcomers arrived, three players left. However, two of them, who made it to Germany, are hard to replace - French international Guillaume Joli, now playing with Ivano Balic at Wetzlar, and Norwegian shooter Espen Lie Hansen, who transferred to Magdeburg.

Additionally the French champions were hit hard by injuries during the preparation, with team captain Mohamed Mokrani, Pierre Soudry, Romain Guillard, newcomer Pawel Paczkowski and Nicolas Nieto missing most of the test stage.

Despite the difficulties, team captain Mokrani is confident for the upcoming Champions League season.

“Last year was our first participation in the Champions League and it was a journey of discovery for the club.

“At the level we are, we can be ambitious. The minimum goal is to achieve the Last 16. When we look back to the results of last season, we can only do better as we finished last in our group.

“We know Kielce because we played them last year but their game has certainly evolved as well as Szeged, winner of the EHF Cup. Both sides are big teams. If we want to proceed to the Last 16, we need to be very efficient in all home matches, but also try to win away once or twice,” admits Mokrani.

Three questions to coach Patrick Cazal:

What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the VELUX EHF Champions League - regarding your objectives and group opponents?

Patrick Cazal: After our first Champions League participation in club history, which helped us discover the necessary requirements of the competition, this year we have the big ambition to achieve the Last 16. In our group, we will face Kielce again, the team that seems to stand out from the rest. But then, there will be a lot of 50:50 matches.

What does the participation in the VELUX EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Patrick Cazal: It is extraordinary. We really want to place ourselves in the short list of the best handball clubs in the world, which is confirmed by an annual qualification for the Champions League. We are very proud to be part of the elite and compete with the best athletes of our sport.

Which teams are your personal favourites to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and to win the title this season – and why?

Patrick Cazal: It remains the same: Barcelona, Kiel, Veszprem and Paris. The first three mentioned have the experience, are almost always champions or proceed to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 every year. Regarding Paris, I think they can cause a sensation.

Dunkerque Handball Grand Littoral (FRA)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: French champions

Newcomers: Zarko Pejovic (Tatran Presov), Pawel Paczkowski (Wisla Plock)

Left the club: Guillaume Joli (Wetzlar), Espen Lie Hansen (Magdeburg), Erwan Siakam (Créteil)

Coach: Patrick Cazal (since 2011, before, since 2008, assistant)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 3
Group Phase (1): 2013/14
Qualification (1): 2011/12

Other EC records:

Finalist 2011/12
Quarter-finalist: 2006/07, 2007/07, 2009/10

Challenge Cup
Finalist 2003/04

Quarter-finalist 1998/99, 1999/2000

French league champion: 2014
French Cup winner: 2010/11
French League Cup winner: 2013
French Champions Trophy: 2012

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor