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21.08.2018, 12:00
Cocks relishing group phase debut
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VELUX EHF Champions League Countdown: Riihimäen Cocks (FIN). The Finnish champions, the only newcomers this season, are fully aware of their underdog role - and they are enjoying it
 

Cocks relishing group phase debut

After failing to qualify twice, Riihimäen Cocks have gained direct access to the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase this season for the first time.

Out of all 28 participants, Cocks are the only team to make their group phase debut when play gets underway in September.

With their debut, the 10-time Finnish champions and three-time Baltic League winners are taking a further step up the European ladder.

Three questions ahead of the new season:

- What does it mean to Cocks to have finally made it to the group phase?


A lot. The team have been dominating handball in Finland for years and gathering international experience in various European Cup competitions. But entering Europe’s top flight is a new dimension.

“It is very important to us. This raises our club’s handball activity and culture to another, much higher level. We are looking forward to the VELUX EHF Champions League season with great enthusiasm,” says team manager Jari Viita.

- What can they achieve in their maiden group phase season?

Facing the runners-up from Poland and Spain - Orlen Wisla Plock and Abanca Ademar Leon - as well as national champions Elverum from Norway, Dinamo Bucuresti from Romania and Wacker Thun from Switzerland, Cocks have a tough task ahead of them. Still, they are determined to challenge each and every opponent.

“We aim to be competitive in every single game despite the fact that we are debutants in the Champions League,” Viita says. “Being in the underdog role among more experienced teams in the group, we should feel more freedom and less pressure than our opponents. Every single game for us will be like a final. Therefore we have to prepare us well, push ourselves to the limits and hunt for our points with a good, fighting attitude.”

- How does their group look from their own point of view?

Cocks are not only new to the group phase, they also face a different level of competition in their domestic league, compared to the other teams in Group D.

“All our opponents are very experienced, good teams, which have played many international games,” Viita says. “Their advantage over us is that they can also play high-level games in their national leagues. Still, Cocks want to challenge them all.”

Self-esteem

Cocks are upbeat, and they have every reason to be. They won the Finnish championship for the 10th time and the Baltic league for the third time, and they are going into their first VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase. The team captain, experienced left wing Teemu Tamminen, has no doubt about Cocks’ targets for the upcoming European season.

“Our objective is to get some points and to show everyone who we are,” Tamminen says. “But, of course, all our opponents are great teams so I obviously expect many tough games.”

In the spotlight: Nico Rönnberg

Even after the arrival of two new playmakers, Oleksandr Kyrylenko and Sasja Puljizovic, who are likely to become strong reinforcements, Cocks will again rely heavily on Nico Rönnberg. The 26-year-old, experienced left back has been a crucial part of the team’s DNA for years.

Rönnberg scored 62 goals for Cocks in the EHF Cup last year, and he will have to play and shoot well again if the Finnish champions are going to be successful in their group phase debut season.

Fun fact

In 2014, after the team had reached the Challenge Cup Quarter-final for the first time, few people believed then head coach Kai Kekki when he predicted that Cocks would play in the Champions League within the next five years.

Kekki, now coaching the national team, has been right after all.

What the numbers say

Cocks don’t have fond memories of their previous group phase debut in a European Cup competition. In 2016/17, they made it to the group phase of the EHF Cup for the first time - but ended their campaign with zero points from six matches. Their return to the EHF Cup Group Phase last season led to an only slightly better result as they gained two points in total - from an away win at Koper in Slovenia.

This season, they will be chasing points on Europe’s top-level competition.

Riihimäen Cocks (FIN)

Qualified for VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 season: Finnish champions (upgrade from EHF Cup)

Newcomers: Oleksandr Kyrylenko (Spojnia Gdynia), Sasja Puljizovic (OV Helsingborg)

Left the club: Aleksandr Bochko (Meshkov Brest), Robin Sjöman (BK-46), Aleksandr Potsykailik (unknown)

Coach: Gintaras Savukynas (since 2016)

Team captain: Teemu Tamminen

Manager: Jari Viita

VELUX EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2018/19 season): 3
Qualification (2): 2016/17, 2017/18

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Group Phase: 2016/17, 2017/18; Qualification: 2015/16

Challenge Cup:
Quarter-final: 2013/14, 2014/15; Round 3: 2006/07

Cup Winners’ Cup:
Round 1: 2007/08, 2008/09

Finnish league:
10 titles (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

Baltic league:
3 titles (2016, 2017, 2018)

Finnish cup:
9 titles (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)


TEXT: Björn Pazen, Peter Bruun / ew
 
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