Nielsen ready to step into the spotlightArticle
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FEATURE: After an injury to fellow line player Luka Karabatic in PSG’s first-leg quarter-final against Kielce, Jesper Nielsen has more responsibility in the return clash
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Nielsen ready to step into the spotlight

For Paris Saint-Germain, last Saturday was a perfect handball day. A six-goal win away in Kielce placed them in the perfect position to claim their ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 when they play the return leg at home. Only one cloud could be seen on the horizon, but it was a big, stormy one – suffering a bone fracture in the finger, line player Luka Karabatic was forced to return to the dressing room and then take a ride in an ambulance.

“When I realised that it was serious, I thought ‘that can't be possible,’ because Luka is very important in our system on both sides of the court. And obviously, that means that we’re weaker without him,” says Swedish line player Jesper Nielsen.

Catching the opportunity to step into the spotlight, the Swede scored four goals last weekend. But the news that Luka Karabatic will be out for several weeks means Nielsen will have to manage the position almost on his own.

“A little bit more pressure on my shoulders”

“I won't shy away from responsibilities, this is what I signed here for two years ago. Of course, it adds a little bit more pressure on my shoulders, but to play in these kinds of games is a really nice feeling,” he says.

Fans may have noticed that, since the beginning of the season, Daniel Narcisse and Nikola Karabatic have also been helping with line player duties, but Nielsen does not teach them any tricks: “They’ve been around for longer than me and they’re good and intelligent enough to help...I just hope I'll still get to play!” smiles the Swede.

On Saturday, PSG meet Kielce for the return leg at home. After winning 34:28 in Poland, you might think that Paris are almost sure of a place in Cologne, but the PSG players are well aware that things could go awry very quickly if they are not careful.

“To convince ourselves we’re not qualified yet, we just have to look at the second half of the first leg. We were ahead by 12 at half-time. At the end of the game, half our advantage had disappeared. It means that Kielce took six goals back in 30 minutes. So, they can definitely do the same in 60,” says the 28-year-old.

More trophies to be won

Though Paris have not lost a home game since the beginning of the season, they do not take anything for granted – especially since they are very hungry to return to Cologne.

“The result last season was a huge disappointment. We didn’t play as well as we know we could have and we want to get back there to prove we’re better. But before, we have to beat Kielce,” says Nielsen.

For the Swedish giant, the end of this season is quite special, as he will go back to Germany over the summer to join Rhein-Neckar Löwen. The experience was, he says, “really great. When I had the possibility to join here, one of the biggest clubs in the world, I couldn’t say no. But, you always want to play more, and Luka’s been very, very good over the last two seasons. I’m happy to have taken the opportunity, I won some trophies and there are some more to be won.”

Nielsen does not want to feel too emotional about leaving Paris, but hopes to leave on a high:

“We’re professional, we have to leave emotions aside. To me, the fact that I’m leaving doesn’t change anything. I don’t play harder and I don’t train differently,” he concludes.

This weekend will be Nielsen’s last home Champions League game before he leaves Paris, but now is not the time for tears – it is time to take full responsibility and earn the ticket to Cologne.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg