"Cologne is either a dream or a nightmare"
Qualifying for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for the third time in a row has not satisfied any Paris Saint-German player. They dream of more.
They came within touching distance of the trophy last year, until Ivan Cupic last-second winner gave Vardar the title. A moment the PSG players have been trying to erase from their memory.
“At that time it hurt like hell,” right back Nédim Rémili says. “Now we haven't forgotten about it but time has played its role. We learned from our mistakes and we are ready to have another go.”
"It took time for us to learn how to play with each other"
At age 22, Rémili will travel to Cologne for the second time. And he is pretty confident that his team are better than last season.
“There were a lot of new players last season, me included. So it took time for us to learn how to play with each other,” he says. “Meanwhile the squad has been pretty much the same for the last two years, and I guess you can feel it when you see us play in the Champions League.”
PSG indeed have had an impressive campaign in Europe’s major club competition. They suffered only two defeats since the start of the season in September, finished top of their group, and had two convincing wins over 2016 champions Kielce in the quarter-finals.
“For sure we have been playing good this season. But the FINAL4 is something completely different,” Rémili says. “Two games over two days, in a foreign country, against the best teams in Europe.”
In the LANXESS arena, PSG will meet Nantes in the first semi-final on Saturday, 26 May at 15:15 hrs (live on ehfTV.com).
Nantes are the only team in Europe to have beaten Paris seven times over the last six years, so Rémili expects nothing but a tough fight.
“We are kind of used to it against them,” he says. “Maybe we will have some kind of favourites’ status to bear, but I'm not too sure about that.”
With 65 goals, Rémili has become a key player for PSG
For Rémili, going to the FINAL4 last season was a dream come true. But after his debut as newbie to Cologne a year ago, things look a bit different for him this time. With 65 goals so far this campaign, he has become a key player for PSG in the VELUX EHF Champions League - though he is crediting his teammates for it.
“One day it is me, another day it is someone else,” he says. “I am just focusing on doing what I have to do and to make the most of my teammates’ work. And the ball is given to me in good conditions so I can’t fail to put it in the net.”
His excitement about revisiting Cologne couldn’t be bigger, and is even affecting his daily life, he admits : “Usually, I get up at 12 and live quite an easy life. But at the moment, I'm so hyped up that I wake up a lot earlier. I am really ready to go at it.”
While PSG might be regarded the favourites to lift the trophy, the LANXESS arena has seen many surprising results in recent years, not least last year when newcomers Vardar came out on top.
“I don't believe in any curse, of any kind,” Rémili says. “If you are the best team on the court over the weekend, you will win, no matter what. But I discovered one thing last season: the FINAL4 either ends in a dream or in a nightmare. There's no middle ground.”
TEXT: Kevin Domas / ew