Slovenia dreaming of toppling French hosts

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25 January 2017

Head-to-head:

France and Slovenia take to the court on Thursday 26 January in the AccorHotels Arena in Paris at 21:00 (CET) for their semi-final of the 2017 IHF Men’s Handball World Championship. However, it won’t be a first for both sides as they have met a total of nine times in major competitions in the last 15 years, with the win ratio leaning in favour of France. Les Experts boast a record of six wins to Slovenia’s two with the both sides only being inseparable on one occasion (26:26, 2005 WCh).

Most recently, there are three ties of significance. At the 2015 World Championship, the two sides met in the quarter-final with the eventual champions taking a comfortable nine-goal win (32:23); France’s backcourt stalwart, Daniel Narcisse, was top scorer in Doha with six and given his cool head in France’s quarter-final win (33:30) over Sweden, the PSG sharpshooter could be key again. Two test matches in January in the lead up to France 2017 saw France take a close 29:27 win and a more comfortable 33:26 victory.  Right back Jure Dolenec feels: “If we can play again like in Toulouse (first tie), things can turn in our favour. We are going to try some new things come Thursday, and if things are close at the end, who knows?”

Slovenia will play their second semi-final of a World Championship; their first one was in 2013 in Spain (4th place) while for France it is nothing new as this their 11th semi-final in their long handball history. For Slovenian head coach Veselin Vujovic – who was the first ever World Handball Player of the Year in 1988 – his side are a living a dream: “Two or three years ago, my young players wanted to have the autographs from Daniel Narcisse and Nikola Karabatic, and tomorrow, we are going to play against these perfect players.” However, the Montenegrin-born coach take confidence from France’s ties in the run up to the semi-final: “Sweden, and before them Iceland, played fifty very good minutes against them, I think we have our chance too if we play strong and hard in defence, and fast in attack.”

Two players to watch…

Capture d’écran 2017-01-25 à 18.02.28

France – Nikola Karabatic (32): A French handball legend whose career needs no introduction. The PSG backcourt star is three assist away (36 so far) from taking the top spot in this ranking. This combined with his 22 goals so far, acts only as testimony to his reputation as one of the most consistent back court players ever. Even Slovenian Borut Mackovsek hinted at how limited team’s defensive capabilities can feel when facing the two-time World Handball Player of the Year: “we will also have to try and stop Nikola Karabatic as much as we can. I think he has been the best player in the world for at least the last ten years. We will have to play the best game of our lives (to beat them).”

Slovenia – Jure Dolenec (28): Also high on the assist list (averaging three per game) the right back, who plays his club handball in Montpellier, is revelling the opportunity to knock out the hosts in this medal hunt: “I’m not so young, so I will not have many opportunities to win a medal; it’s really a good occasion to win one. I don’t want to finish fourth once again.” French right back and club teammate, Valentin Porte, spoke of how people can sleep on Dolenec’s abilities: “when I was in Toulouse I watched Montpellier play, I thought he was (just) a good player. But now, in Montpellier, I see him on every day; he’s a top player. He has an atypical game because he’s not very tall, his shot isn’t that powerful, and he’s not the fastest, but he exploits 120 per cent of his capabilities – and those are huge!”

Bruno Martini, world champion with France in 1995 and 2001 spoke about his thoughts on the semi-final tie…

“Against Slovenia, France will be in a situation almost identical to that they had against Norway in the Group A, with a young and talented team that has nothing to lose. They will, however, have additional pressure because everyone says they will be world champions, with Germany, Spain and Denmark all eliminated. The support of the crowd will be important – we saw that in Lille. To beat Slovenia, France will have to impose big defensive pressure. It’s what the Spanish did in their group and the Slovenians didn’t like it, they are less comfortable with the physical challenge. A lot can happen, but I’m optimistic that the French team is more used to this kind of event.”