For the first time in her career, French centre back Grace Zaadi Deuna took a leap into the unknown last summer. After playing her whole career in Metz, the 27-year-old moved to Russia and to Rostov-Don.
“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, to challenge myself both on and off the court” she explains.
Judging by her smile when she talks about her Russian adventure, the experience seems to be a rousing success so far.
Before joining Rostov, Zaadi Deuna asked French captain Siraba Dembélé Pavlovic for advice: she too has played in Rostov between 2016 and 2018.
“She told me to go, that the club was very professional and that such an experience would definitely make me a better player. When you’re playing abroad, you feel like you’ve got something to prove on the court. If you do things right, you play 120 per cent because you don’t want to disappoint anyone,” explains Zaadi Deuna.
Not disappointing anyone has been France’s mantra since the beginning of the EHF EURO 2020. After last year’s failure at the World Championship, there is a huge hunger for success among the players.
“We are title-holders. Winning the EURO at home meant the world to us at the time, and we are not going to let it fade away without fighting,” said Zaadi Deuna before leaving for Denmark.
But for her, this EHF EURO feels like the competition where she will have to take an even bigger role in her team, thanks to the absence of Allison Pineau after breaking her nose. Pineau’s loss means Zaadi Deuna must take even more responsibility on court.
Even though she netted nine times in the first preliminary round, it is perhaps surprising what aspect she has enjoyed the most so far.
“I honestly took a lot of pleasure defending against Denmark. When we saw them going left and right without finding solutions, I enjoyed it so much. Because that was a team effort, we all played perfectly to deliver defensively,” she says.
France now have six points, four from the preliminary round and two from their win against Spain, before facing Russia on Friday. The two teams are now used to facing each other in big competitions.
“The Olympic final, the opening game and the final at the EHF EURO 2018 – we never meet in pointless games, and those games against Russia always end up as being some of the most exciting. And this one should be no different,” Zaadi Deuna predicts.
The Rostov player will face five of her club teammates on the Herning court on Friday. The aim remains the same as in earlier EHF EURO 2020 matches, however: to beat everybody. So far, France have fulfilled their contract.
“The way we played in the preliminary round gave us a lot of confidence. We’re getting better with every game, and I hope we’ll keep on improving in the main round,” adds Zaadi Deuna.
France managed to beat Spain on Thursday. But the clash against Russia will be a whole other level.