Nielsen: “It will be a game like any other”
Despite being just 21 years old, Emil Nielsen has already grown into a goalkeeper of the high international level. His performances have not gone unnoticed, and VELUX EHF FINAL4 2018 participants HBC Nantes have signed a three-year contract with the young keeper from Skjern Handbold.
On Sunday afternoon, Nielsen will face his future club when Skjern host Nantes in a match that is crucial for both teams regarding progression to the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16.
Nantes are better off before the trip to western Denmark, sitting fifth in Group B with nine points, while Skjern are eighth and last with six.
“To me, this will be a game like any other, and a match I approach with a mindset of getting two points,” says Nielsen. “My transfer to Nantes is still something that happens after this season.”
Nielsen will be replacing Arnaud Siffert in the French club, meaning that he will be partnering up with French international Cyril Dumoulin.
“I obviously do not know if I will be first choice in the goalkeeper position when joining Nantes, but to be honest, that is not something I give much of a thought right now,” says Nielsen.
“I will think about that when I start there. After all, it is the coach who decides who plays and who does not. It does not matter that much to me as long as my team wins.
“I am joining Nantes to develop further as a goalkeeper and to help Nantes take the next step towards the international top,” says the talented keeper, who is currently sharing time in the Skjern goal with another national team player: Icelandic veteran Björgvin Pall Gustavsson.
“I have learned a lot from him. He is extremely experienced, and he is almost always there with a piece of good advice.”
Nielsen is seen by many people as Denmark’s next national team goalkeeper – the only question is when.
“I think you must ask national coach Nikolaj Jacobsen that question. I realise that I am up against three of the best goalkeepers in the world – Niklas Landin, Jannick Green and Kevin Møller – but I am sure my time will come,” he says.
Two wins may be enough
With Skjern, Nielsen reached the quarter-final of the VELUX EHF Champions League last season, where they were eliminated by, coincidentally, Nantes. This season, the Danish champions had a great start to the Champions League, but lately, they have not earned many points, to say the least.
Therefore, they may have to win their last three group matches to be sure to proceed to the knock-out stage for the second year in succession.
“Maybe just two wins, away against Motor Zaporozhye and at home against Celje, will do, but I will definitely not rule out the chance that we can spring a surprise on Sunday,” says Emil Nielsen, for whom Nantes is already a very well-known opponent.
In the quarter-finals of the Champions League last year, Nantes qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 thanks to a 33:27 win at home and a 27:27 draw in Skjern. The first meeting between the two clubs this season ended with a 35:27 home victory for Nantes, but Skjern were able to keep the game close until well into the second half.
It is the draw in Skjern Bank Arena last season that nourishes Emil Nielsen’s optimism the most.
“Our two defeats against Nantes have been away. At home, we got a draw the last time, and I do not see why we would not be able to do at least that once again.
“Compared to the autumn, where we lost a series of matches in the Champions League as well as several in the Danish league, we have got Bjarte Myrhol and Rene Rasmussen back from injury, and I can already see that our team have benefited from getting two such important players back,” says Nielsen.
“We have won our first three games after the winter break in the Danish league clearly, and I think that gives reason for optimism in the Champions League as well.”
Pace and defence will decide
Nielsen points at two key factors ahead of Sunday’s match.
“We will need to run a lot with them, and then our defence will have to be really compact.They have some awesome backs and a great line player who works brilliantly with their playmaker, so it will be crucial to us to really be effective in our defence, and in addition, we will obviously need some saves in goal.
“The team that wins the goalkeeper duel is likely to be the winner of the match too,” concludes Nielsen.Author: Peter Bruun / cg