Norwegian-flavoured Issy Paris challenge HolstebroArticle
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FEATURE: With three Norwegians players among its ranks, Issy Paris Hand will battle against Team Tvis Holstebro for a Cup Winners' Cup Final spot.
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Norwegian-flavoured Issy Paris challenge Holstebro

One year after facing each other in the EHF Cup quarter-finals, Issy Paris Hand and Team Tvis Holstebro will face each other again on Sunday in the Cup Winners' Cup semi-final.

Last time, the Danes made it through in the most unusual way. They won by thirteen goals at home (40:27) before losing by twelve in Paris (20:32).

But when Pablo Morel, the French coach of Issy Paris, looks back on this matches, he doesn't think it reveals the true side of either team.

"It would be reductive to sum up our oppositions to the scores. Both teams completely failed one of the two games and the most experienced one won," he explains, adding that his team lacked the big occasion's experience that the Danish squad might have had: "We didn't quite know how to handle the two encounters, how not to explode in the first game."

But with players like world champions Pernille Wibe and Stine Oftedal, alongside regular French national team members Coralie Lassource and Armelle Attingré, he hopes his team has now made some progress.

"We've had three tough rounds in the Cup Winners' Cup already, against Buxtehuder SV, √ČRD HC and HC Podravka Vegeta," he recalls. "We either won away or closely lost, so I guess we have learnt how valuable each ball is in this close confrontations. The double header against Holstebro will tell us how much progress we have made," Morel concludes.

A fourth Norwegian will arrive next summer

But if Issy Paris have taken such a leap in the past few years, you can not ignore the impact the three Norwegian players have had on.

Centre back Stine Oftedal and line player Pernille Wibe joined the club in 2013, coming from Stabaek Handball and Larvik, while Stine's little sister, the left-handed Hanna, joined one year later. The first two regularly wear the Norwegian national team's jersey, while it is only a matter of time before Hanna joins as well.

And since the experience is proving to be a successful one, another Norwegian will join them in the French capital next summer: Silje Solberg, who happens to be playing in Holstebro at the moment.

The 25-year-old goalkeeper, who was elected best goalkeeper at the EHF EURO 2014, signed a contract for the next two seasons in Paris. Even though Pablo Morel does not agree when you tell him he specifically looks for Scandinavian players to better his team, he admits that "the Scandinavians have got a work ethic that we really appreciate here.

"They are, I believe, really happy to enjoy a city like Paris while being able to play at a high level. We don't choose players for where they're from, but for what they can bring to us. The fact that we will have four Norwegians, one Swedish and one Dutch girl here next season has more to do with coincidence than anything else."

Coincidence still might be a big word, since players from all over Scandinavia have landed in France in the last couple of years. "It's always about the first to come, I guess, and when the girls I know see how happy we are to be here, they're keener on moving to France," Stine Oftedal says.

The hope to remain a European top club

And it very much seems like a win-win situation, since Issy Paris have now settled to be one of the big French contenders in Europe.

"We would very much like to stay in the top 8 of a European competition in the next few years," agrees Pablo Morel. "Maybe even reach the Champions League if we manage to. In the last five years, we have reached a European cup final twice and we reached the semi-finals twice as well. This is a level we want to maintain."

But for sure, Holstebro and their three Swedes just want the same thing. "We don't have any ambition in terms of goals," concedes Pablo Morel and goes on: "We just want to keep in touch with them, be able to qualify in the second leg. If we end up level or almost level, we'll be happy already."

TEXT: Kevin Domas / es