Saint-Raphael aim for third consecutive finalsArticle
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MEN’S EHF CUP COUNTDOWN #15: The past three seasons have seen Saint-Raphael one step closer to the EHF Cup title each time. Coach Da Silva believes his refreshed side has the quality to make its mark again
»2018-19 Men's News

Saint-Raphael aim for third consecutive finals

French side Saint-Raphael have reached the EHF Cup Finals twice over the last two seasons. After qualifying for the semi-final for the first time in 2016/17, they jumped over one more hurdle last year, only to be beaten in the final by Füchse Berlin.

Now that some experienced players have left the club, the team will have to write another story – but the goal is nevertheless to repeat the success of the last two seasons. 

A new cycle

After last season, three players that had been with the club for years decided to stop their careers. Left back Aurelien Abily, defender Wissem Hmam and centre back Geoffroy Krantz had known everything with the club. Now, coach Joel Da Silva has had to replace them with younger players. 

“This is almost like a new cycle to us. Players that had been in the backroom for a long time have stepped up and have more responsibilities in the team. I think they are ready now,” said the French coach.

So far in 2018/19, Saint-Raphael have recorded mixed results in the French league. In European cup competitions, last year’s finalists had a scare against Israeli side Maccabi Srugo Rishon LeZion, but managed to qualify for the group phase.

This season is the fourth time in a row that Saint-Raphael have reached the group phase of the EHF Cup.

Experience: key for a long European season

Most of the Saint-Raphael squad have become routinely part of the European circuit. Seven players were already wearing the club’s colours in 2015/16, when they reached the group phase of the EHF Cup for the first time. Some of them are now even regulars in their respective national teams, which was not the case for Adrien Dipanda and Raphael Caucheteux when they arrived at Saint-Raphael. 

This international experience has helped Saint-Raphael. “There was a sense of excitement back then, and we sometimes couldn’t quite contain it. Now, things are different. We see the EHF Cup differently and our opponents see us in a different way too,” said Da Silva, now in his fifth year coaching the team.

Saint-Raphael have now gained the respect of the other participants and can even be ranked among the favourites, alongside Füchse Berlin and, of course, THW Kiel. Da Silva expects that their opponents will behave differently now: “We are one of the teams to beat. It can have positive effects, but it can also be a little bit hard to handle because our opponents will usually play their best handball in order to beat us. But that’s fine, we’ve shown in the past we were able to cope with that.”

“Our toughest group ever”

In order to reach the EHF Cup Finals for the third time in a row, Saint-Raphael will have to overcome “the toughest group we’ve ever been placed in,” according to Da Silva. Title holders Füchse Berlin, Champions League regulars Naturhouse La Rioja and Hungarian side Balatonfüredi are all finals candidates and two of them will have to wave their ambitions goodbye by the end of March. “This is also very exciting to be able to compare with some of the best teams in the continent. But I know that we’ve got enough quality to make it through,” said Da Silva.

His team played against Berlin three times in the last season alone, and managed to win once, in Max-Schmeling Halle. The first game in the German capital will be a good indication as to what Saint-Raphael can hope for. “At the same point last year, we beat them. If we repeat this again, I’ll consider us on the right track. But we know that we’ll have to fight for every point in each game of this group,” concludes Da Silva.

Saint-Raphael Var Handball (FRA)

Qualification for the EHF Cup Group Phase 2018/19: Round 3: 63:59 aggregate win against Maccabi Srugo Rishon LeZion (ISR)

Newcomers: Jeremy Toto (US Créteil), Vadim Gayduchenko (Dinamo Bucuresti)

Left the club: Aurelien Abily, Geoffroy Krantz, Wissem Hmam (retirements), Artsem Karalek (Kielce)

Coach: Joel Da Silva (since 2014)

Team captain: Adrien Dipanda

Opponents in the group matches: Füchse Berlin, Naturhouse La Rioja and Balatonfüredi KSE

EHF Cup record:
Finalists (1): 2017/18
Semi-finalists (1): 2016/17
Quarter-finalists (3): 2010/11, 2011/12, 2015/16

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg