Battle between the posts for a Last 16 spotArticle
«Go back

FACE TO FACE: Goalkeepers Vincent Gérard and Nikola Portner will be in the spotlight when Dunkerque and Schaffhausen compete for qualification

Battle between the posts for a Last 16 spot

Progression to the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 is at stake in Dunkerque on Saturday, in the game between the home side and Switzerland’s Kadetten Schaffhausen.

Both sides will guarantee qualification with a win, a draw would see Kadetten through, while a draw or loss for Dunkerque could see them also qualify depending on Aalborg’s result on Sunday.

The collision of two strong defences with two of the best up and coming goalkeepers on the continent will be a feature of the match.

However, neither keeper sees this as a “game within the game”.

“Before a battle of the goalkeepers, this will be a match between two tough defences,” says Dunkerque’s Vincent Gérard.

“In the first leg, their defence completely outplayed our attack, they managed to score some fast break goals, and we were lucky to lose the game by only two goals,” adds the 28-year-old, who played his first season in Europe's top flight with Montpellier in 2006.

Gérard’s analysis is shared by talented Swiss goalkeeper Nikola Portner: "We definitely showed we were ready that day. We were tough on defence and it allowed us to play quickly in attack.”

Positive pressure

Ahead of Saturday’s Group D showdown, Gérard is careful to avoid giving too much credit to his opposite number, perhaps to prevent boosting his confidence: “For sure, Nikola has got a lot of talent, and he has got the capacity to be an even better goalkeeper than he is now.

“But I still think his defence played a bigger role in the first game. Let's hope we manage to get past him this time.”

If both goalkeepers are thinking about shying away from the spotlight in this encounter, the two of them can sure of one thing, pressure will be everywhere in what is effectively a knockout match.

“The fact that it's a win or go home situation puts more pressure on our shoulders,” says Portner. "You can't allow yourself to have an off moment, or that might cost you qualification.”

Gérard on the other hand is focusing on “positive pressure, the one that drives to do things you might not usually do. For sure we would have liked to be qualified earlier, but things are the way they are. We've won games with a lot at stake in the past and for sure, I feel like we'll be able to do it again.”

History is waiting

Pressure or not, there is a chance for both clubs to create a highlight in their respective histories.

Kadetten Schaffhausen have not reached the Last 16 since 2012, while Dunkerque have never made it at all, finishing bottom of their group last season. Both sides can claim appearances in the EHF Cup Final as their biggest European achievement to date.

“There is indeed a chance to make history here and it would be quite a reward for this squad that's been working together for a long time,” concedes the French international.

“That was the aim, at the start of the season, and not qualifying would leave a bitter taste in our mouths.”

Portner, who will join Montpellier in the summer of 2016, points out that playing this game in a hostile territory would make qualification even more special.

“Pressure is here and history is waiting for us," he explains. "We know that the people of Dunkerque will be out in force to support their team.

“Le Stade des Flandres (Dunkerque's arena) will be full and it will be a great atmosphere to play in, but that won't make things any easier for us.”

The Swiss international also takes delight in the fact that “two weeks ago, everybody had already crossed us from their lists. But then we beat Szeged and we're back in the game. This win gave us a lot of confidence; let's hope we can use it on Saturday.”

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor