Gardent reaching for the Holy GrailArticle
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VELUX EHF Champions League countdown, part 15: Paris Saint-Germain Handball's rapid rise to the top of European club handball set to continue this season

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Gardent reaching for the Holy Grail

The star-studded Paris team made a massive impact in last season’s VELUX EHF Champions League, the club’s first appearance since 2005/06, before bowing out in the quarter-finals against Veszprem.

Two former World Handball Players of the Year, Mikkel Hansen and Daniel Narcisse, were part of the PSG team already in the previous season and now a third one has arrived from Montpellier: goalkeeper and four-time EHF Champions League winner Thierry Omeyer.

The two-time Olympic and three-time world and EHF EURO champion replaces Jose Miguel Sierra, who, like Antonio Garcia, left for EHF Cup winner Pick Szeged.

Additionally two more French national team players, Xavier Barachet and William Accambray, have arrived to strengthen the back court.

With these arrivals, the team of coach Philippe Gardent is ready to go all the way in every competition and atone for raising only the one trophy, the French Cup, last season.

PSG sensationally missed out on the French league title last season, finishing second behind Dunkerque. However, after an intense preparation, including one week in the Qatari capital Doha, PSG are aiming high again in the league and with the goal to make it to Cologne in May 2015.

The road to Cologne is already looking like a long and troublesome one in the group phase, as PSG were drawn together with THW Kiel (former club of Narcisse and Omeyer), Metalurg, Zagreb, La Rioja and Meshkov Brest.

“Once again we will face very prestigious opponents in the VELUX EHF Champions League. THW Kiel appears to be the declared favourite of our group, so we know that we have ten hard battles ahead.

“Our team will try to improve and go as far as possible in the competition. We do have a lot of potential but, as a newcomer, we also appreciate the difficulty to reach the top of this amazing competition,” admits manager Bruno Martini.

For team captain Daniel Narcisse says: “VELUX EHF FINAL4 remains our dream destination after being stopped right in front of the door last year.

“The road to Cologne is very difficult because we have additionally high goals in the French championship. Managing all of those games makes it hard, but obviously we want to go as far as possible.

“The quarter-finals might already be something like a Champions League final, as it had occurred to us last season when we faced Veszprem. This is why the road to the FINAL4 is obviously very difficult. Despite this, we still hope to do better than last year.”

Three questions to coach Philippe Gardent:

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

Philippe Gardent: The objectives are those of a club which wants to be ambitious. We are trying to participate at the FINAL4, and though we are a young club, we can have this legitimate ambition. Last year we made it to the quarter-finals, so we hope to do at least the same again, though we know that proceeding from the quarter-finals to the FINAL4 is difficult.

We compete in an even group, although we know that Kiel are favourites due to the experience they have. Metalurg did a very good job in the previous season and Zagreb have a young but ambitious team. As all those teams are equal, little things will decide which teams make it to the knock-out stage.

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

Philippe Gardent: To be part of the Champions League must be the ambition of any player, any club and any coach. We have great fortune to compete with the best teams in the world in mostly beautiful locations with great facilities. The Champions League is the Holy Grail for any player.

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

Philippe Gardent: We hope to be part of the FINAL4 and I expect teams like Barcelona, Veszprem and Kiel to be part of the final quartet. To make it to Cologne has become increasingly difficult because over the years the number of potential participants has increased with the likes of Kielce or Szeged.

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)

Qualification for the 2014/2015 VELUX EHF Champions League season: French runners-up

Newcomers: William Accambray (Montpellier), Thierry Omeyer (Montpellier), Xavier Barachet (St. Raphael)

Left the club: Antonio Garcia (Szeged), Jose Manuel Sierra (Szeged), Ibrahima Diaw (Bucharest), Asgeir Orn Hallgrimsson (Nimes)

Coach: Philippe Gardent (since June 2012)

VELUX EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2014/2015 season): 4
Quarter-final (1): 2013/14
Last 16 (1): 2005/06
Group Phase (1): 1996/97

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Quarter-finalist: 2006/07
Last 16: 2003/04

French league champion: 2012/13
French Cup winner: 2006/2007, 2013/2014

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor