A birthday and a quarter-final for Luka KarabaticArticle
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FEATURE: While turning 29 this week and still learning from the stars around him, Luka Karabatic reflects on the strengths of Paris SG ahead of their quarter-final against Szeged.

A birthday and a quarter-final for Luka Karabatic

This week is quite a special one for Luka Karabatic. He will be playing a VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final for the second season in a row on Sunday, four days after celebrating his 29th birthday.

As a present, the Paris Saint-Germain fans led a happy birthday chant when the bearded line player scored his first goal in a domestic league game against Cesson Rennes-Métropole (41:28) on Wednesday.

A Parisian for two years now, you can see how much Karabatic has progressed since he arrived. Maybe he had things to prove then, but now he has become one of the best specialists on the position.

“It is easy to progress when you are playing alongside such good players. Uwe Gensheimer, Mikkel Hansen, Thierry Omeyer, these guys are willing to share their experience with us. I have still got a lot to learn from them,” Karabatic said after Paris eliminated Nantes in the Last 16.

He also underlined the special bond he shares with his brother, Nikola.

“He is definitely an inspiration. We talk a lot on the court, defensively he helps me a lot, but it is not only him. The whole team work in a very coherent and friendly manner and everyone up their game.”

Collective strength

While Paris might sometimes have looked like a one-player team in the past, the collective force is now their main strength.

“If you look at the statistics, at least four or five of us were best scorers this season. The danger comes from everywhere,” Luka Karabatic analyses.

The association between the Karabatic brothers, encouraged by mentor Noka Serdarusic, is now one of the best in Europe, and even Luka feels like he has turned into a different player.

“The coach wants us to be very precise in everything we do. It is very demanding but you can also tell that it works,” he said recently.

Going through a similar development, Nédim Rémili has now become the No. 1 choice for the right back position on the team.

Key element

Luka Karabatic has fully recovered from injuring his right ankle as a French national team player during the IHF World Championships in January. The relentless pace dictated by his Paris teammates does not seem to bother him.

“It is hard to keep up this 110% rhythm all the time,” he has often said, knowing that PSG’s trademark speed is what allows them to win games. It gave them the advantage against the likes of Veszprém, Flensburg, Kiel or Barcelona in the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase, and also against Nantes in the Last 16.

But the younger of the two Karabatic brothers knows that facing MOL-Pick Szeged this weekend might be a completely different affair.

“Collectively, they are very coherent. They have got a lot of solutions. I have played in this arena before but I never won. It is a trap, the atmosphere is very hard to play in when you are the away team,” says Karabatic, comparing the double confrontation with the Hungarian side to the games Paris played against Zagreb last season.

“It is a little bit of the same configuration, with us branded as favourites but playing a very hard away game first,” says Karabatic, before setting his eye on the VELUX EHF FINAL4. “Let's hope it can turn out the same way and that we can make it to Cologne again.”

TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew