Clash of the goalkeeping “oldies”Article
«Go back

FACE-TO-FACE: There is so much the two seasoned veterans Slawomir Szmal and Thierry Omeyer have in common, but there are also things where they are so different. Only one of them will reach the VELUX EHF Champions League final on Sunday.

Clash of the goalkeeping “oldies”

There might be a lot of newcomers at the upcoming VELUX EHF FINAL4 edition, especially in the Paris Saint-Germain squad, but two very well-known faces will be on the court, facing each other, on Saturday in the semi-final between Kielce and PSG.

Slawomir Szmal from the Polish side will enjoy his fourth participation while Thierry Omeyer will be on the LANXESS arena court also for the fourth time, but the first time for the French club he joined in 2015.

"Of course it feels different for me, since the three times I played the FINAL4, I came with THW Kiel. It's even more different since it's the first time ever a French team has made it to Cologne," Omeyer says, while Szmal reveals how he prepares before facing, among others, the current Champions League top scorer Mikkel Hansen.

"Of course, it’s a game of a much higher significance, so first of all we need to focus on our mind. We need to calm down our nerves."

Both teams' road has been long and difficult

Both agree that it has been a long and difficult road to arrive at this point of the competition. Despite finishing second in their Group B behind FC Barcelona, Kielce showed no mercy to Meshkov Brest and survived a thriller with Flensburg in the knockout phases.

PSG topped Group A, ahead of Flensburg-Handewitt, Veszprem and Kiel.

"Being in Cologne along with two teams who were in the group with us shows how hard it is to get here.

“Even more so, when you take in consideration the fact that none of the previous titleholders in Cologne have been able to retain their titles," Omeyer says, knowing how demanding the task is after winning twice in the LANXESS arena, in 2010 and 2012.

For the first time, Kielce will not be meeting with FC Barcelona in Cologne, the team that knocked them out twice in the semi-final stage. Should they see it as a good sign? Szmal, who made his debut at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 already in 2011 with Rhein-Neckar Löwen, refuses to discuss.

"Once a footballer said something like this: ‘Chances are always 50:50, you will either do it or not.’ But seriously, it’s about the tactic and proper use of each player. Who will do it better, will take the win."

Poker for Omeyer, motorcycles for Szmal

The two goalkeeping pillars of their teams might share the same handball passion, but off the court they are very different.

While Omeyer likes the comfort of his living room for a good poker contest so he can get into his opponents' heads, just like on the court, Szmal tries to avoid this kind of amusement.

"I am weak at bluffing, so I would not find myself in this game," said the Pole who prefers to ride motorcycles and scuba diving instead.

"These two disciplines have got totally different emotions. Diving gives me opportunity to calm, to be in silence, it’s very important for me that I can focus only on myself then. What I like in motorcycling is that you need to have your eyes around your head, you don’t focus only on yourself but also on other people on the road."

Mirror reflection of each other

Personality-wise, the two are mirroring each other. Omeyer is as calm when he's not playing as he is exuberant on the court and you could say the exactly same thing about Szmal.

Talking slowly, thinking deeply before answering the questions he has asked, "Kasa" is also involved in charity actions and handball schools.

Each one has been elected IHF Player of the Year once (Omeyer 2008, Szmal 2009) and no wonder they paid a lot of respect to each other before their Saturday’s encounter.

"He is a goalkeeper with a tremendous experience, able to change the course of a game with his saves. We've played a lot against each other, be it with the national teams or when Slawo played with Rhein-Neckar Löwen,” Omeyer commented his countepart.

“He's got good techniques and it is hard to find any weak points in his arsenal," he added.

Szmal returns the compliment to the French goalkeeper, who will turn 40 in six months.

"He's one of the most decorated goalkeepers in the history of handball. One who, thanks to his charisma and hard work, achieved a lot in this position," concludes the Polish national team captain.

"He has achieved a lot so far. As I heard, he wants to play the world championships in France next year, that’s a tough challenge ahead of him, so it’s hard to say if his best moments are already behind or ahead of him."

Sego's involvement in doubts

While Omeyer has virtually claimed the number one position in the Paris goal after he joined the club two years ago, Szmal has been sharing the spot in the starting line-up with Marin Sego this season quite evenly.

The Croatian goalkeeper got injured last Sunday in the Polish Cup final against his former club Orlen Wisla Plock and the club was forced to call Krzysztof Markowski from their reserve team to join the Tuesday's training. According to the club website Sego felt much better on Tuesday but it remains questionable in what extent coach Talant Dujshebaev will be able to use him in Cologne.

"Each of us was preparing a plan for this tournament," admitted Szmal, who strongly believes that his teammate will be ready to fully participate in the last two matches of the season.

TEXT: Magda Pluszewska, Kevin Domas / br