Record-breaker Jacobsen not getting ahead of himself after perfect startArticle
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INTERVIEW: On Saturday, Rhein-Neckar Löwen coach Nikolaj Jakobsen was part of a world record for the second time in his career. However, the former Danish international reveals that he is still far more focused on winning handball matches

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Record-breaker Jacobsen not getting ahead of himself after perfect start

As Rhein-Neckar Löwen defeated HSV Handball 28:26 in front of 44,189 spectators (a world record for handball) in the Commerzbank-Arena of Frankfurt at the German day of handball on Saturday, it was actually the second time coach Nikolaj Jacobsen was part of a record-breaking event.

The 42-year-old former left wing in the Danish national team and THW Kiel was also part of the previous record, as he was assistant coach at Bjerringbro-Silkeborg, when 36,651 people at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen watched the first leg of the Danish championship finals in 2011 between AG København and Bjerringbro-Silkeborg.

However, records are not what occupy the mind of Jacobsen, who joined last season’s Bundesliga runners-up from Danish club Aalborg Handball in the summer.

He is more focused on maintaining his new team’s fine start in the Bundesliga and doing well in the upcoming VELUX EHF Champions League.

So far, the start to the season has gone as well as one could imagine, with wins in the first four league matches, and he speaks to about his new role and the season ahead. What do you make of your opening months at Rhein-Neckar Löwen?

Nikolaj Jakobsen: I can only be happy with our start. Considering the fact that we have had several changes in the squad and the coaching staff, I think we have done really well.

I think we have played some fine handball already, although we have not been all that consistent, but actually, no teams have been so far and you cannot really expect that at this early point of the season. What do you think your team can achieve in the Bundesliga this season?

Nikolaj Jacobsen:  Our goal for the season is to finish among the four best teams in the league. We consider that aim to be realistic, if we did not, we would not have set this objective. We will see if we can make it even better, but basically, top four is our goal. You have a past career as a player with THW Kiel. Have those years in the Bundesliga helped you in any way before taking over as coach in the Bundesliga?

Nikolaj Jacobsen: Obviously it has been an advantage to me that I spoke the language, knew the mentality, the culture down here and knew what it was all about before I came.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I liked my years in Germany, while I played in Kiel, and I also like being here again. I have not felt that I had to get adjusted to any changes in culture or mentality. On Saturday you were part of a world record attendance for the second time in your life. What are your thoughts on the event?

Nikolaj Jakobsen: First of all, I would like to say that I find that a large an impressive effort was put into making that event a success, from the staff as well as from volunteers, and I have only heard positive reactions about the event.

World record or not – that does not really mean a lot to me. The most important thing to me is the fact that we got the two points and that people had a fine experience. The VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase is lurking. You are used to the Champions League from Bjerringbro-Silkeborg as well as from Aalborg. However, in both cases the Last 16 was the end of the road. Now you are at a club and a league where the chances and expectations go a bit further. How do you feel about that?

Nikolaj Jacobsen: I think it is really difficult to make any forecast on our chances in the Champions League. We are in an extremely tough group, where there are two teams, Veszprem and Vardar, whose budgets we cannot match at all. Then we have Montpellier, who may have lost a few players but still managed to lose by only two goals to Paris recently. Furthermore, we should not forget that the last two teams in our group, Medvedi and Celje, who also have very fine traditions when it comes to the Champions League.

Basically, you have to finish either first or second in your group in order to have a fair chance of reaching the quarter-finals. If you finish third or fourth, you are bound to get a tough tie already in the Last 16. Tough group or not – any German team would probably be dreaming of reaching the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Do you have that dream too?

Nikolaj Jakobsen: I believe every team in this competition has that dream. Of course, we would very much like to reach the FINAL4, but we will need to get a good start in our group and to come out on top of it in order to keep that chance alive.

The FINAL4 is a dream for us, but the way I see it, there are other teams more likely to reach the FINAL4 than we are.

TEXT: Peter Bruun / cor