Nikola Karabatic, Big Brother for the Blues

Nikola Karabatic warms up ahead of France's match against Serbia, France's final handball preliminaries for Euro 2022.

Fifteen years have passed between the dean of the French handball team, Nikola Karabatic, and Thibaud Briet, the youngest member of the team. The HBC Nantes left-back was less than 2 years old when the 18-year-old Paris Saint-Germain left-back made his blue-shirt debut in 2002. For two decades, the extraordinary player has set the record for the most beautiful handball in France, tied with specialist goalkeeper Thierry Omer (the nickname given to the Blues from 2008-2017), who retired in 2019: 10 Gold medals, including three Olympic medals, four World Championship medals and three European Championship medals.

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Such players are bound to elicit respect. Especially for the young Blues who are attending their first major international meeting. There are 7 men in the group for Euro 2022 that is coming up against Netherlands in Budapest (Hungary) on Thursday 20 January. Nantes’ 24-year-old Aymeric Minne is one of them. “It was amazing to go through a game like this with Nikola. I saw him on TV when I was very young. He was a simple guy, he didn’t talk much, but he had a special aura. At the beginning, he came to tell me not to worry, he was sure I would play a good game and that motivated me! », The middle half said.

However, playing alongside the legend can be a source of stress. “I try not to think too much because it might hold me back,” Thibaud Briet said he scored his first two goals against Ukraine. The Nantes left-back won’t soon forget their first meeting: “VSIt was at Nantes-Paris Saint-Germain two years ago and I had a ball in my stomach and I missed the game completely. »

For winger Dylan Nahi (22), who spent four years with Nikola Karabatic at Paris Saint-Germain before joining Polish club Kielce, this is the “It’s a pleasure to evolve with him”. “I have a lot of respect for him, he’s a model”, He insisted. “When he came back from injury, he told us he didn’t want to take someone else’s place. He worked hard to come back, harder than anyone else. That speaks volumes about his humility.” Finished pivot Nicolas Tournat (27).

If, in October 2020, since his cruciate ligament rupture, Nikola Karabatic’s fear of opposing defenses had diminished a little and was less decisive, the three-time world’s best player (2007 2014, 2014 and 2016) remains an important cog for the Blues. “His presence brings peace, Jérôme Fernandez, former captain of the Group of Experts, pointed out. As long as Nicholas is there, the pressure on young people will be less, and they must take the opportunity to relieve themselves. »

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