May 07, 2003 - With the French men's team heading to a vital qualifier for the European Championships, Stéphane Antiga, has singled out this weekend's three remaining qualification matches as crucial to France's chances of qualifying for the Olympics according to a report in l'Equipe.
The exuberant French star is part of Philippe Blain's side which heads to Finland to play Greece, Romania and the home team and they know that any loss this weekend could harm their chances of sealing a European Championship qualification spot. Teams who top their pool plus the two highest-ranked second placed teams advance.
France, who surprised by snatching the bronze medal at the 2002 World Championship, top the pool with a better set ratio but are being nudged by Greece and Finland who have equal points after three Pool 2 matches. If France loses any match they may miss out on the European Championship and will be forced to contest one of the two Olympic qualifying events next year. If they qualify, France will be in the fast lane for Olympic qualification as Continental Champions qualify for the 2003 World Cup, where the top three-placed teams are guaranteed a place at the Olympics.
"People say that a team that finished third at the World Championship will have no problems to qualify for the European Championship and the Olympics, but just because of that title, it doesn't make it any easier," the 27-year-old said. "We really need to concentrate this weekend. I have always dreamt of playing at the Olympics and think it will be fantastic to make it to Athens as a player. Right now I have never been better prepared to play in the Olympics as I am now."
The French team for this weekend: Henno (Tours), Daquin (Latine, Ita), Ces (Toulouse), Antiga (Paris), Capet (Tourcoing), Granvorka (Cuneo, Ita), Montmeat (Poitiers), De Kergret (Tours), Marquet (Padoue, Ita), Patin (Asnières), Gibert (Tours), Frangolacci (Paris).