Nikola Karabatic: "They remain very exciting games to play"
Ahead of the first leg of Paris Saint-Germain's EHF Champions League quarter-final tie with THW Kiel, Nikola Karabatic provides his thoughts on making another appearance in the quarter-finals after missing out last season through injury. The PSG centre back also discusses his team's prospects of reaching the EHF FINAL4 Men in Cologne.
It is springtime all around Europe. There are flowers in the trees, the birds and the bees, but it is also the time of year when major handball clubs add trophies to their records. And two clubs have already started reaping the fruits of their labour.
On 6 May, Paris Saint-Germain won their eighth consecutive national title, while THW Kiel won the German Cup a couple of weeks ago. For the second straight season, these two European powerhouses will meet in the EHF Champions League quarter-finals.
“Of course, when you are playing at top level handball, you appreciate every trophy, but the Champions League remains the Holy Grail among all of them,” smiled Nikola Karabatic.
The French centre back, who turned 38 last month, has played in more than a few of these quarter-finals across his career. But only once did he have to watch the quarter-finals from the stands. And that was last May when, after suffering an ACL, he had to stay off-court, watching his teammates eliminate Kiel on their way to Cologne.
"I’m so happy that I will be on the court this time, and not just supporting my team from afar. Last season, it was really special as the return leg was the first time we were able to have fans in the arena for months. So this game was very emotional, on so many levels," he smiled again, before adding: "I’m really, really looking forward to playing these games."
You might think that after winning the Champions League three times, and playing countless quarter-finals over his career, Nikola Karabatic's enthusiasm ahead of these two games would have diminished. Or that facing THW Kiel for a spot at the EHF FINAL4 might have turned into — whisper it — just another game.
"Far from it!" beamed Nikola Karabatic. He added: "The enthusiasm is still intact, so is the motivation. They remain very exciting games to play, no matter if it's the first or the 30th time. For sure, the pressure will be different and, growing up, you realise that not qualifying is not the end of the world. But I still don’t take those things for granted, especially after not being able to play in the quarter-finals last spring."
And while PSG qualified for the EHF FINAL4 last season, in Nikola Karabatic’s eyes, his former club might be the slight favourites this time. The reason: THW will be hosting the second leg of the confrontation next week.
"My experience tells me it is an advantage. I’ve seen or experienced so many crazy turnarounds in those games that having the return leg at home, in front of your fans, it gives you a bit of an advantage," said Karabatic.
They remain very exciting games to play, no matter if it's the first or the 30th time. For sure, the pressure will be different and, growing up, you realise that not qualifying is not the end of the world. But I still don’t take those things for granted, especially after not being able to play in the quarter-finals last spring
As Paris Saint-Germain are facing a massive turnover of players in the summer, with stalwarts like Vincent Gerard, Nedim Remili and Benoit Kounkoud leaving the club, this season will be the last chance for this squad to win the Champions League. Will it provide extra motivation when the players enter the court on Wednesday?
"Maybe for them, as they will want to leave Paris on top. But for me, this will not change anything. I’ll focus on the first game, then on the second, and fingers crossed, we can book our ticket to Cologne again," added Karabatic.