Hatadou Sako: “Metz and the EHF Champions League are key to where I am now”

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EHF / Kevin Domas

“Last time I checked, I think Katrine Lunde was on top” says Hatadou Sako when she is asked whether she has taken a look at the current EHF Champions League Women statistics for goalkeeper saves. She will then confide that she doesn’t “look too much into it, statistics is definitely not something that I’m focusing too much on.”

The 28-year-old might be interested in knowing that halfway through the  EHF Champions League Women group phase, she is the goalkeeper that has made the most saves and who has the best efficiency percentage in the competition. “As I told you, my leitmotif is always to help the team to perform. If it means playing ten minutes and saving four balls, then so be it, and if it means making 18 saves, like I did last weekend, then amazing!” she smiles.

The French national goalkeeper was indeed one of the stars last weekend, when she halted 18 shots to help grab an important away win in Ljubljana against Krim (28:22). But far from thinking that she was the main asset for her team, Hatadou Sako gave thanks to her teammates first after the game: “As a goalkeeper, when you deliver such a performance, you say thanks to your defence first. They made the job easier for me. But, as an athlete, I think that this is the kind of performance I have to try to deliver at every game.”

Such performances over the last four seasons - she arrived in Metz in 2020 - have been of great help for Sako on the road to the France national team. Once a Senegal national player, she decided to try her luck with France a couple of years ago, holding both nationalities. And the reward arrived pretty soon, as she was first called by French national team coach Olivier Krumbholz at the start of 2023.

“Metz Handball and the EHF Champions League have both been a springboard to the national team, two instrumental things for where I am right now. When I moved to Metz in 2020, I knew that playing the Champions League every week could help me progress even more” she explains, before giving us the reasons why Metz as been key to her progression, “Everyone is really positive and trying to push you to your boundaries, but in a good way. Manu Mayonnade has given me some great advice as well and with all of that combined, I grew up a lot as a handball player.”

The only downside now is that, instead of having a little bit of rest during national team weeks, she now has to travel around the world with France. “It’s not like national team weeks are rest weeks in Metz anyway!” she laughs.

But it seems that, judging from her performance since her first game with France in March, the tight schedule has not had much impact on Sako; “I try to take care of my body the best that I can, but at the end of the day, I love doing what I do on a daily basis. I played the EHF Champions League for the first time at 24, so I consider myself very lucky. You will never hear me complaining about having to play all these exciting games!”

And speaking of exciting games, on Sunday Metz Handball will host Krim Mercator Ljubljana for the second game between the two sides in a week. Though the French side easily took the points in the first leg, Hatadou expects a whole different experience this time, “They surely will have completely different intentions, but I don’t see this game as the return leg of last week’s confrontation. To me, it is just like when we played Ikast then FTC, instead this time it is Krim and then Krim again. Two different games, which means not paying too much attention to what happened last week.”

Photos © nhcfoto.dk, Vipers Kristiansand, cedosa

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