|02.09.2016, 10:10||◄ last page|
PREVIEW: With a spot in Group C of the VELUX EHF Champions League up for grabs it is the Slovenian and the Slovakian sides who are the hot favourites to make it to the deciding match in qualification Group 1
Hosts Presov have sights firmly fixed on group stage
The VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase may start on 22 September, however, before the new season can kick off two places need to be filled.
Qualification Group 1 will determine the participant that will join Group C, consisting of Naturhose La Rioja, HC Metalurg, Chekhovskie Medvedi, Elverum and Montpellier.
Two SEHA League contenders, Rk Gorenje Velenje and TATRAN Presov, will battle for the final spot in Group C, but they first need to overcome handball minnows on the rise, Cocks from Riihimäki and Red Boys from Differdange.
GROUP 1 PREVIEW
Rk Gorenje Velenje (SLO) vs Cocks (FIN)
While the Slovenian side are the favourites in this match, they have to be aware of the dangerous Finnish champions Cocks.
Velenje are hungry for European experience as they missed out last season, being knocked out early in EHF Cup Qualification Round 3.
Coach Marko Sibila is aware qualification will not be an easy task: “We have been drawn into the group with the best side in qualification and they are the hosts of the group.”
Velenje have brought in Alem Toskic and Matjaz Brumen from Vardar together with Luka Mitrovic from Norway for the new season.
Gintaras Savukynas & Co. stand in the Slovenian side’s way.
Savukynas has experience from coaching the Lithuanian national team and Champions League Group Phase side Meshkov Brest from 2010 to 2012.
Cocks, the local handball pride of Riihimäki, a town in Southern Finland about 69 km north of Helsinki, are the Finnish Champions and Baltic Handball League winners from last season.
Their team consist of seven Finnish, four Belarusians, four Russians, two Moldovans and one Portuguese player.
“We need to be more efficient and steady in our performance,” said Savykynas after the win and defeat in the final two pre-season games against Icelandic runners-up Afturelding last week.
Cocks are still newcomers to European handball, despite reaching EHF Challenge Cup quarter-finals in 2014/15.
TATRAN Presov (SVK) vs Red Boys Differdange (LUX)
The Slovakian Champions returned to the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase last season after missing out on four occasions.
In the 2016/17 season they have to fight their way through qualification after being bottom of Group C with only 4 points last season. They do have the privilege this time around to host one of the groups, which gives them a big advantage.
Rastislav Trtik’s squad was reinforced with newcomers in likes of Stefan Jankovic, Leon Vucko, Vadym Brazhnyk, Marek Pales and Roman Tsarapkin.
On the way out of the club were some very well-known handball names like Radoslav Antl.
Playing Differdange in the second tie on Saturday makes them heavy favourites and anything but a win would be a huge shock.
However, things are not going smoothly for Rastislav Trtik's men ahead of their big weekend. The head coach himself was hit by appendicitis, underwent surgery in Doboj and it is not known if he will be fit to sit on the bench.
“We have to prepare ourselves well for the tournament. We have to focus on ourselves, it is not so important to talk about the qualities of Differdange or Gorenje Velenje now,” said Trtik shortly after the draw.
Differdange from Luxembourg were Challenge Cup Last 16 participants in the 2014/15 season, were founded in 1939 and play their home matches in Oberkorn. They won the national championship in Luxembourg last season.
TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / bc