Entrerrios: We beat Kiel, Kielce and Veszprém. Why not Barça?
For the first time as head coach, Alberto Entrerrios will sit on the bench in LANXESS arena during the EHF FINAL4. With Nantes, he grabbed a ticket for the event — the second in the history of the club — at the end of a mesmerising season which saw the French side defeat three powerhouses in European handball: THW Kiel, Kielce and Veszprém.
“We are very satisfied with that. Beating Veszprém is one of the moments that, as a coach, you are really proud of, when it shows that hard work pays off,” says the former left back. “I remember that — and that’s a rare moment in a coach life — we took the time to enjoy it. Usually, two hours after a game ends, you’re already focusing on the next one, but we did not this time.”
We thought ‘why not?’ before Kielce and before Veszprém, so of course that’s what’s in our heads right now.
Although Nantes were never among the favourites, their presence at the EHF FINAL4 in 2018 granted them outsiders status that they proved to be very comfortable with. “Le H” struggled against the likes of Celje and Zaporozhye this season in the EHF Champions League, while delivering strong performances against the favourites. But it never really struck Alberto Entrerrios that his team could actually make it to Cologne again.
“The first time I thought that maybe there was a chance was when we eliminated Kielce. When you qualify in Poland after losing at home, you have to think: why not? Cologne is just two games away, even if we had to face Veszprém in the quarter-finals,” explains the Spanish coach. “We thought ‘why not?’ before Kielce and before Veszprém, so of course that’s what’s in our heads right now.”
2018 was a huge success, with a place in the final for Nantes, where they lost to Montpellier. Back then, Entrerrios was assistant coach to Thierry Anti. He was the best witness to see what had to be done ahead of the event and the recipe this time will more or less be the same.
“In 2018, we managed to get the players to focus on the court, on what was important, and to make them forget a little bit that, well, it’s the [EHF] FINAL4, you know. It is easier when you are the underdog in such a tournament because there are fewer expectations on your shoulders. If we manage to be as lucid this time as in 2018, we will have a chance.”
Even though, in Barça, Nantes drew one of the toughest opponents possible for their semi-final, the French side might still have a chance to progress, as their results in the group phase show. In Spain, they were defeated by only one goal, proving that everything is possible over the course of a match.
For Entrerrios, the semi-final will also be a special game because his younger brother Raul, who will stop his career after the Tokyo Olympics, will play his second last game for Barça against Nantes in Cologne.
“I know about it, but it does not affect the way I prepare the game. One has to put that into perspective. No matter if Raul wins this Champions League or not, he has had an amazing career already, and this will not change anything about it. But I hope that, if Nantes don’t win the Champions League, my brother will with Barça, of course,” Alberto smiles.