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01.09.2016, 10:00◄ last page     

FEATURE: President and head coach of Finnish and Baltic champions Cocks look forward to their first ever VELUX EHF Champions League qualifiers.

Riihimäki and Finnish handball enter new waters

It is history in the making, when Cocks enter the VELUX EHF Champions League Qualification Group 1 for the group phase this weekend.

After reaching the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup twice in a row, followed by a go at the EHF Cup last season, the Finnish champions are aiming for the premier club competition this time around.

Cocks have qualified as Finnish champions, and they are also ruling Baltic champions.

Last season, along with winning the Finnish championship, the team also won the Baltic League, consisting of the top teams from Finland, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

“Even though last season’s Champions League Last 16 participants, Meskov Brest, did not take their first team with them, it was still some kind of achievement.

“Particularly that we managed to defeat SKA Minsk, who were in the group phase of the EHF Cup; this was probably one of our greatest achievements ever,” finds Jari Viita who is president and owner of the club based in Riihimäki, a town with a population of around 30,000, 70 kilometers north of Helsinki.

“Playing in the Champions League qualifiers for the first time in our history is obviously also very big for us, but we will assume a very humble attitude ahead of qualification, as we realise that we are new to this, and that we will be up against some very strong teams.

“This means a lot to the town Riihimäki. We feel huge support in the town from fans and sponsors,” Jari Viita tells ehfCL.com ahead of the qualification tournament in Presov, Slovakia where the other participants will be Rk Gorenje Velenje, hosts TATRAN Presov and Luxembourg champions Red Boys Differdange.

Training with Danish top team

This summer, Cocks started a formal cooperation with Danish top team KIF Kolding Kobenhavn.

The two teams have already been training together for a week ahead of this season and played a test match against each other.

“The cooperation started in the Forum Club Handball, where I got to know Jens Boesen (managing director in KIF) who gave me some great advice with regards to running a handball club at the top level.

“Our relations were soon extended, and this year, we have seen the first results.

“It is obvious that our players benefit a lot from training with such experienced players.

“Furthermore, some of our young players may benefit from a loan spell with Kolding and vice versa,” Jar Viita explains.

Just the beginning

Cocks have signed a few reinforcements when compared to the team which won the Finnish championship as well as the Baltic League last season.

Two of the most prominent ones are Belarusian playmaker Aliaksandr Bachko, who was a key player for SKA Minsk in the EHF Cup last season, and Portuguese right back Thiago Da Silva who has Champions League experience with FC Porto.

Cocks’ new Lithuanian head coach Gintaras Savukynas is content with his players.

“We have a rather experienced squad consisting of players, most of whom have experience in the Champions League, the EHF Cup and the Baltic League, and we feel well prepared for the challenge, which awaits us this weekend in Slovakia,” says Gintaras Savukynas who also has international experience himself from being Lithuanian national coach from 2009 to 2014.

In order to keep their dream of reaching the Champions League Group Phase alive, Cocks will have to defeat Slovenian Rk Gorenje Velenje on Saturday.

If successful, they then would play the winner of Presov versus Differdange.

“We are still just at the beginning of a process that should bring us to top European handball within the next ten years, so we still have time to wait for the big results,” concludes Jari Viita.

TEXT: Peter Bruun / bc

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