Handball World Cup 2021: Joséphine Nkou, the Lioness of Congo-Brazzaville

La Congolais du Paris 92 Joséphine Nkou.

© Pierre Violet / Paris 92

Text by: Christophe Diremszian

6 mins

The only resident of the elite of the French women's handball championship, Joséphine Nkou is one of the centerpieces of the Congo.

A return team for the first time in twelve years at the world championships in Spain, from December 2 to 19.

Portrait of the left wing of the Lionesses of Paris 92, who became the Red Devil.


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Joséphine Nkou made the history of Congolese sport, with a 9-meter shot in the last second of the quarter-final of the 2021 women's handball CAN, against Senegal (21-20 on June 15). The good inspiration of the pocket left wing (1.65 m) of Paris 92 brought the Red Devils back to the world for the first time since 2009. And it does not matter that the selection of Younès Tatby was then removed from the podium by Tunisia. Her decisive 24-year-old player couldn't remember her first continental meeting better, at least in sporting terms.

Taking part in the Spanish World Cup is not the least of the pride of this native of the Paris region, accustomed to taking up challenges and overcoming obstacles and prejudices on her ability to make a career at a high level. His other great success of the moment is to have found the French elite with the Parisian Lionesses. Trained in Brest, Fleury-les-Aubrais then in Le Havre, passed professional within the Norman club in the summer of 2018, Joséphine Nkou had to go down one floor, in Octeville (second division), during last season.

The current one had left to take place in the third division but a phone call from Yacine Messaoudi, coach of Paris 92 and attentive observer of the CAN - since become the coach of women's Senegal - convinced her to sign in the capital to compensate for the long Alice Mazens' absence due to injury. “

Taking its bearings was not easy

, she slips.

Between the first and the second division, there is a big gap in requirements, in the quality of training. You have to be very diligent.


The choice nevertheless pays off. At the international break, Paris 92 points to 3rd place in the Butagaz Energy League, the French women's championship, and Joséphine Nkou is not for nothing (10 goals in 9 matches). She just regrets the elimination of the club from the second preliminary round of the European League (the second continental competition) by the Spanish club Bera Bera (27-27 on the first leg, 21-26 on the return). But she admits not having been able to give her all to avoid this failure. “ 

I had just returned from an internship with the national team. I only had one day off, I hadn't recovered enough. In the first leg, I was zero

, she confesses.

On the way back, I made a good start, but I quickly took 2 minutes and I didn't come back…


From Bleuettes to Red Devils

Joséphine Nkou started handball in college “ 

for fun 

”, when she was already practicing judo.

The sticky little ball took over in the 3rd grade and quickly became serious business.

So much so that in addition to making its ranges in training, it is called up for the French junior team, alongside future international A like Orlane Kanor or Océane Sercien-Ugolin.

But fate will quickly take him away from the Route des Bleues.

If Joséphine Nkou participates in the qualification of the selection for Euro 2015 of the category, she will remain docked for the final phase.

What to draw a certain bitterness about the codes of integration at the highest level ...

Today, the tricolor jersey has been put in favor of the red tunic, an astonishing change at first glance for a player with… Cameroonian origins. “

I was approached by Jocelyne Mavoungou [Congolese right wing] when I was playing in Le Havre, but I refused because I was young and my mother did not want to

, she says.

Cameroon was also interested in me, but I was contacted, then I was left without news ... At the end of January, the Congolese captain Diane Yimga spoke to me again about the selection. I said to myself this time that there was no commitment to speak with the vice-president of the federation, and I was seduced by the project. 


Much less by the reality of a CAN disputed under Covid-19. A first trying experience where her main discovery was… herself! " 

I'm a warrior, but I didn't think I was so much!" Only the girls who went to Cameroon can understand what we went through. A hotel with cockroaches, poor food, sometimes just a little rice and gravy to eat before going to play. We even played the last match against Tunisia on an empty stomach because of a communication problem between the staff and the hotel… An ordeal!

 “Not to mention that on the ground, the burden of matches rested mainly on professionals like her. " 

The locals were struggling to cope with the pressure.

We often played for an hour… And in addition, until the group match against the Congo, I was sick!

In total, I lost ten kilos!


Want to surprise at the World Cup

On arrival, the snatch qualification for the World Cup is all the more flavorful. Joséphine Nkou now intends to show with Congo in the group stage that she will be able to fight against South Korea (champion of Asia), that her team will not be a simple

sparring partner

of Denmark (absent from the Olympic Games of Tokyo but 4th in Euro 2020), and take a crucial revenge on Tunisia. “ 

I want to create a surprise

, she confesses.

I think we can make the Danes outsmart as long as possible. But the real goal, our final, will be the third match against the Tunisians.


This confrontation should indeed make it possible to determine which of the two nations will continue its journey in this competition where three teams out of four qualify for the main round.

But to have the right to believe in it, it will, according to her, be necessary to avoid a recurring pitfall in the game: the defensive withdrawal.


In Congolese handball, you learn to score goals but defense is not considered to be something important… Also beware of ball losses so as not to be punished by easy goals.

»Compulsory rigor so as not to transform a first moment of dream into a rout, while waiting, as she hopes, to experience the ultimate consecration: playing the Olympic Games.


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