Dunkerque riding on a wave of confidenceArticle
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NEWS REPORT: After a less than impressive opening to the season, the French champions are hitting their stride just in time for a crucial period of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase

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Dunkerque riding on a wave of confidence

After two defeats in their first three French league games, many thought Dunkerque could not handle the pressure of being remaining champions.

In fact, even their coach Patrick Cazal admitted: “We're not playing as if we’re domestic champions,” he said after the second loss, in Toulouse. "Some of my men really need to question themselves, because it seems we've lost our values and our strengths during the summer.”

However, after wins over both Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier last week, it seems that the wheel is turning the right way again.

“Those two games showed how much my boys have been able to stand up during the storm, get back to training and put themselves in contention,” Cazal noted after win against Montpellier.

“These are performances that can't be underestimated, but that need to be confirmed. Playing against big teams, PSG, Montpellier or Kielce in the Champions League, is easy because we're not favourites and we have less pressure on our shoulders.

“The only way to prove to everybody, even ourselves, that the way to continue our healing is to carry on winning.”

On the right track

And there are important games coming up in the next few weeks. The VELUX EHF Champions League is back and with two clashes against Hungarian side Pick Szeged in less than eight days, this might be one of the key phases of the season.

“We know we've still got our fate in our hands,” said Vincent Gérard, “but we can't lose any more time.”

“There are five games that we think we can win in the last six remaining, because bringing a result back from Kielce would take a miracle. But those two matches against Szeged are the first ones we need to really focus on.”

After the loss at home against Kielce (25:28), the frustrated French goalkeeper pointed out that “the team is meant to have more experience, but we don't act that way.”

When you talk to him about it now, he is a little bit more balanced. "In one way, yes, I was upset, but in another, this game showed we were on the right track to recovery.

“We were having good results in the French league, but this defeat, while we could have won the game, kept us on our toes.”

And Dunkerque's players are still on their toes, even a month after the defeat against the Polish club.

Defence becoming a strong point

According to Patrick Cazal, “the team has found its cruising speed. Training is much more consistent now and you can sense the confidence is back.”

“To be honest, we want to surf on this wave of confidence we're on at the moment. It sometimes feels like we're back to last year, when we had tough matches but we always manage to turn things our way at some point.”

Bastien Lamon, the captain, agrees but still struggled to suggest a turning point. "I think that the return of Michael Grocault, our defensive leader helped a lot. We conceded too many goals in the first games of the season while now, it's become our strong point again,” claimed Lamon.

"All good Champions League teams have good defences and if we want to qualify for the knockout stage this season, we'll have to count on that. We're taking Pick Szeged very seriously; winning the EHF Cup by beating both Montpellier and Füchse Berlin in the finals shows their abilities.

“But with a working defence and the confidence we've got at the moment, anything is possible,” concluded Dunkerque’s captain.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor