Thierry Omeyer’s name has been a synonym to success for the French team. But Omeyer is gone now and Vincent Gerard is the new number one shot stopper for “Les Experts”. The 31-year old Montpellier player has been superb in the EHF EURO 2018, with 62 saves in six games, with a 38% save percentage, only behind Slovenian Urh Kastelic and Danish goalkeeper Jannick Green, who saved less shots than Gerard between them.
In modern handball, a quick and solid goalkeeper could be the difference between a win and a bad result, therefore Gerard’s magnificent work is one of the cornerstones of the French success, as Didier Dinart’s side is riding a six-game winning streak into the semi-final against Spain.
ehf-euro.com: Vincent, France are the only team who won all their games in the EHF EURO 2018, are you the favourites to win the gold medal?
I do not know, sincerely. All the three remaining teams are very, very good, with proper good players. This is the level where the favourites do not exist and all the games are very difficult. All teams must forget how they got here and focus on the task at hand.
It was a very difficult tournament, do not be fooled by the fact we won six games in a row. I really think that the first win against Norway, which we managed to win by one goal, has instilled a domino effect. That win gave us the strength to believe we can do better and we knew we could go far in the EHF EURO 2018.
ehf-euro.com: Your achievement is more important, as you have many new players in the team. How did you cope with this?
We have many new players, like Dika Mem, who is a top player, very good guy, very tough competitor, a very ambitious player. They all have good qualities, Dika, Nedim Remili, Romain Lagarde or Nicolas Tournat, very good players, who learnt from the best. We are a very good group, we all give 100 per cent every time in our training sessions and this is a huge advantage for us.
“Hard to follow in the footsteps of Omeyer”
ehf-euro.com: The change has been big for you too, as the need to replace Thierry Omeyer was huge. Are you feeling the pressure?
It is very, very hard to follow in the footsteps of a great goalkeeper like Thierry Omeyer. It is the sheer experience that brings calm to the team, and a good goalkeeper mean that the defence can be calmer and more focused, because you know that the shot stopper will probably make a save at least once.
For me, personally, it was a lot of pressure to take the baton from Thierry. I had to be focused on what I had to do. But when you have such a good defence in front of you, I think you go to work in a good mood, you can work properly and I expect it to be like this for the whole tournament.
ehf-euro.com: How much the renowned French defence helped you until now?
The defence was very good until now, stopping the attack of our opponents and this has been the biggest strength of our team. We conceded a lot of goals, but we constantly made them work, therefore our opponents have been getting more and more tired. And it was there to be seen against Sweden, where they cracked under pressure in the last part of the game. This is a hallmark of the French team and we will assure that this will continue in the next two matches.
ehf-euro.com: Yet you have been brilliant, one of the best goalkeepers until now in the EHF EURO…
I sincerely do not watch necessarily the numbers, but I can say that yes, I am confident. I know that the following matches are very difficult and very important, but I am ready. We are all ready for this challenge.
“It does not matter how many games we won, if we fall short”
ehf-euro.com: Spain have been one of your toughest opponents, are you ready for them?
It will be a very difficult game, as you can expect from an EHF EURO semi-final. They are a very experienced bunch and it will be a complicated game, but I hope we will win it and earn the right to play for the gold medal.
ehf-euro.com: France is the only team to win six games and is the only unbeaten team until now. Is there pressure on you?
Yes, it is true that we won all the matches until now and we hope we will continue to do just that. But the objective is to win the gold medal and it does not matter how many games we will win if we fall short. We need to concentrate only on the two games that rest in front of us, it does not matter what we achieved until now.
ehf-euro.com: The rule changes regarding the goalkeepers have altered the game, how did you adapt to them?
It is beautiful to score goals, you really feel that you are helping the team, as the goalkeeper position was only regarded as a defensive one and you truly have the feeling you are helping your team in attack too.
It is true that these rule changes are altering our way to approach the game, we are getting more sprints during the substitutions, therefore we are constantly changing the training schedule. It is a new way to play the game, but we submitted to it voluntarily.