Records count for nothing in Dunkerque's arenaArticle
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NEWS REPORT: Anticipation is building ahead of the all-French clash in the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 and both sides are taking nothing for granted despite their familiarity with each other

Records count for nothing in Dunkerque's arena

The reaction of Bruno Martini, manager of Paris Saint Germain Handball, as he learnt the news that his club would face Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral in the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, was one of clear disappointment: "This is the worst draw we could get.”

Considering that PSG managed to avoid German side Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Orlen Wisla Plock from Poland, such a statement might raise a few eyebrows, but goalkeeper Patrice Annonay backed up his team manager: “Dunkerque have been like our black cat in the past few years. We've never had much success against them, and their playing style doesn't suit us too much either.

“They play hard on defence, very often push the boundaries and they know very well how to push us into territories we're not comfortable in.”

Dunkerque already making history

With the fourth best defensive record in the group phase, Dunkerque have been relying heavily on that part of their game to earn their Last 16 ticket, a first in the club's history.

Centre back Bastien Lamon thinks that the pressure will not be on his teammate’s shoulders when the first leg takes place on Saturday afternoon.

“I'm sure the PSG players will have more pressure on their shoulders than we will,” Lamon explains.

“Nobody thought we would reach the knockout phase, we'll try to push them as hard as possible to see what they've got.

“Qualification would be next to impossible without a home win. And given they haven't won on our soil for quite some time. It's now been two and a half years since PSG last won a domestic game in Dunkerque, and if you remember that Vive Targi Kielce lost here last season as well, it shows you how hard it can be.”

“At home, we feel nearly untouchable with our fans pushing behind us,” says over-enthusiastic line player Benjamin Afgour, who recently returned to action from a back injury. “It gives you extra strength and records don't matter anymore when you're facing us in our arena.”

Eight Champions League titles to none

Records at this level are something PSG’s players have in abundance. Eight EHF Champions League titles spread across the various players and a further twelve participations to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 tells quite an impressive tale.

Compare this to the fact that not one of Dunkerque's players have reached Cologne and that the club's most successful European campaign lead to a defeat in the EHF Cup Final back in 2012.

But as Igor Vori reveals: “When you're on the court, these numbers don't mean much. You're not going to impress anyone with it, and even more, your opponents want to beat you just to prove they're better than you,” something that Dunkerque will aim to do over the next two weekends.

“Why not create another surprise?” asks Baptiste Butto, one of the heroes of the crucial victory against Kadetten Schaffhausen in Round 10.

“I'm delighted this qualification was awarded to a group that's been together for quite a long time. The squad deserves it, but now that we're facing PSG, something in the back of our head tells us that more is possible.”

The 28-year-old left wing even allows himself a joke: “Over the last two seasons, we've beaten PSG three times while they've only won once, that makes us favourites, right?”

If you look at things that way, surprises might very well happen.

Since PSG began competing in the 1996/97 season, Dunkerque have won 18 times, PSG 21 times and there has been just one draw over the 40 confrontations.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor