Will Fenix rise to the occasion?
After a six-year absence from EHF competitions, Fenix Toulouse Handball are back in action. They will fancy their chances too in group A and have their sights firmly locked on the knockout rounds.
Let us continue our countdown to the throw-off of the EHF European League Men Group Phase.
- had to work hard in qualification against Romanian side Turda to book a spot in the group phase
- since 2015 have been led by world champion and ex-PSG coach Philippe Gardent
- four new players put pen to paper over the summer, while Ferran Sole left
- right wing Pierrick Chelle is captain of the side
The burning question - Who will fill the gap left by Ferran Sole?
A big loss for Fenix is of course their top scorer from last season, Ferran Sole.
With Sole now wearing the colours of league rivals PSG, Edouard Kempf has made his way from Paris to Toulouse to attempt to fill the shoes of the Spaniard.
Kempf along with team captain Pierrick Chelle now make up the right-wing pairing. Chelle is clear about what his side wants to achieve this season:
“My main motivation is to reach the knockout stages and to help the club get to the next level.
“I think group A is really tough with a lot of historic clubs and it is a new experience for us so we will give it our all to win.”
Interestingly, Chelle sees the first EHF European League trophy going to a French team:
“My favourite is Montpellier because the club has experience in winning such competitions.
“I know German clubs are also very strong but for us the most important thing is to win the first game at home in order to give us some good momentum and maybe after that, anything is possible.”
Kempf and Chelle on the wing and the likes Ayoub Abdi at right back will be vital in creating this momentum as they form the threat axis from the right-hand side of the court.
Goal machine - Nemanja Ilic
The Serbian international was a big part of Fenix making it to group A of the European League. Ilic finished as his side’s top scorer in qualification, collecting 17 goals over the two legs.
He has been with Toulouse since 2013, although he did go out on loan to Barça in 2019, covering for the injured Casper Mortensen. If Fenix win a penalty, he is their man to step up.
Promising talent - Ayoub Abdi
Abdi picked up a nomination for best right back of the Lidl Starligue last season after his impressive outing, picking up 71 goals throughout the season.
The 23-year-old Algerian international is a reliable goalscorer, rarely netting fewer than four or five goals per match. He indeed proved key in qualification netting 10 over the two legs. Watch this space.
The creator - Luc Steins
The Dutch international is the engine of his team and a real joy to watch. His silky-smooth passing skills and lightening quick speed makes him a nightmare for any defense.
We often think of the modern backcourt full of two-meter tall players, but Steins, at 173 cm tall, bucks this trend - often using his size to exploit gaps in the defense. Just don’t take your eyes off him as his vision for passes from ‘nothing situations’ is not to be missed.
A night to remember
We go way, way back to the to 1998/99 for Fenix Toulouse Handball’s last magical night in Europe.
The team coached by Claude Onesta, had talented young players in its ranks: Jerome Fernandez, Christophe Kempe, and Stephane Plantin – were some of the names that helped the side win the Coupe de France in 1998.
In Europe the following year, the side were up against RK Vardar Vatrostalna Skopje (now RK Vardar 1961) in EHF Cup Winners’ Cup Quarter-final; they lost the first leg 26:19 in North Macedonia after a disappointing performance.
However, it was the return leg that will always live on as a bitter-sweet memory for Fenix fans.
On 7 September 1999, the Palais des Sports was packed to the rafters with over 5,000 plus vociferous fans for the return leg.
Hunting the seven-goal deficit the chase was on. By half-time they had pulled back two goals as they led 14:12.
However, the experienced Vardar side were able to weather the storm and the pressure from the packed Palais des Sports.
Sporting Toulouse 31, won the game 27:24 but were missing the four goals needed to progress to the semi-finals. But it is a game that still lives on in the memories of fans as one of their big nights in Europe.
Arrivals and departures
Arrivals: Edouard Kempf (PSG Handball), Luka Sokolic (Pontault-Combault), Goncalo Martins Vieira (Sporting), Uros Borzas (Tatabanya)
Left the club: Jordan Bonilauri (-), Arnau Garcia Barcelo (Benfica), Markus Olsson (Kristianstad), Ferran Sole Sala (PSG Handball)
Qualification Round 2: 2014/15
Cup Winners’ Cup:
French cup titles (1): 1997/98