Niakaté eager to leave Brest on a positive note

EHF / Kevin Domas

“This is the right time to go and try something new. I was not going to wait until I am 30 to go abroad,” says Kalidiatou Niakaté.

In the last days of 2021, it all became clear in Kalidiatou Niakaté’s head. After thinking about trying to play handball in a foreign country for some seasons “it was too early, then the prospect of playing in Brest was one I could not say no to,” explains the French left back, who decided to sign with CSM Bucuresti from next season.

And with only a handful of weeks left to spend in Brittany, it is time for the EHF EURO 2018 winner to start looking back on her experience there.

“It made me grow as a person, as I am sure I am more mature in a lot of ways than I was three years ago.

“I also trained every day with some of the best players in the world for three years and I feel like I really developed as a player.”

And you can sure see that on the court as the French international has been scoring this season more than in any of her previous European campaigns. 62 goals already and she has established herself as the first choice at left back, due in part to the lack of rotation in her position.

“In a way, I am really happy about that because when you are a professional player, you want to play as much as possible. But on the other side, I would have really liked Djurdjina Jaukovic to be there, as I am sure the team would have benefited even more if we could have shared the playing load,” says the 27-year-old.

Mixed feelings are also what you will get if you ask Niakaté about her opinion on Brest’s EHF Champions League season. Although the French side took some time to get going, they only lost one European game in 2022, in the group phase against Rostov.

“It took a moment for us to build a team as a lot of things changed compared to last season. We had a lot of good players, but not a team per se. Things are different now, and the results show that.”

Happy to be the outsiders

After reaching the final last season, can Brest do it again this time? First, they will have to overcome Györ, a team they have had some success in the past few seasons. In fact, Niakaté must be one of the few players in Europe to have lost only one official game against the Hungarian side.

“I just want to keep that going,” she laughs. “I think our style of play does not really fit with Györ, they always had difficulties against us. The stakes will be even higher this time as a bad result would jeopardise our chances of going to Budapest.”

One might see Brest as the underdogs in the confrontation between the two sides, despite the French side winning the semi-final last season against Györ. But it actually seems to fit most of the French club’s camp.

“We will have no pressure and the outsider role is perfect for us. Györ will have a lot more to lose than us so we can relax more and hopefully, it will turn our way.”

Saturday’s game will be, of course, a special one for Niakaté as it will be her last home game as a Brest player in European competition. Although she does not want to think about that too much, for now, Kalidiatou Niakaté is clear about her desire to end on a high.

“I have known a lot of things in Brest. The Champions League, the FINAL4, the titles. I do everything I can to ensure my Champions League journey here ends on a positive note.”

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