Sokolic: “Velenje still have room for improvement”
The 2020/21 season is becoming a distant memory for RK Gorenje Velenje. The Slovenian club returned to the domestic throne after eight years, beating RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko to the Slovenian league title for the first time since 2012/13.
Velenje also starred on international level, reaching the semi-final of the EHF European Cup Men where they narrowly went down against eventual champions AEK Athens HC.
No wonder Velenje were starting their 2021/22 campaign with high hopes in the EHF European League Men. Europe’s second-tier competition would give additional wind in the wings to the many young, talented players in Velenje’s squad.
While not fully living up to their billing yet after seven rounds of the group phase, Velenje are ranked fifth in group C with three points – but they still are hopeful of reaching at least the fourth position, which would give them entry to the knockout phase.
One of those optimistic players is Tilen Sokolic, the 25-year-old left wing. The former Slovenian youth international is Velenje’s top scorer in the competition with 28 goals.
“We had a successful European season so far, but we still have enough room for improvement. We will give our best to achieve that,” said Sokolic, who came to Velenje in 2020 from Koper on a one-year contract, which was soon extended after his strong performances.
For Velenje, round 8 of the European League includes the important clash with BM Logroño La Rioja, a match that could be decisive for that fourth place in group C. The match in Slovenia is scheduled for Tuesday (22 February) at 20:45 CET and will be streamed live on EHFTV.
“It is a very important match for us and our ambition to catch that Last 16 spot. We are going for the win in every game, this one will be no exception,” Solokic said. “La Rioja are a very good team and I believe it is going to be a very tough match, from the beginning until the end. With a good defence and our best attack we can reach the desired goal.”
La Rioja are a very good team and I believe it is going to be a very tough match, from the beginning until the end. With a good defence and our best attack we can reach the desired goal.
Currently two points behind La Rioja, a win for Velenje would mean that both teams become level on points. In that case, the head-to-head comparison comes into play, which makes the 31:26 win from La Rioja in the reverse fixture important.
In other words, Velenje should try to win by at least six to boast their Last 16 chances.
“We had a good start in that first match, but we ran into some problems and La Rioja took advantage of that and made a gap. We couldn’t catch up later in the game and eventually lost by five goals,” Sokolic remembered.
“I believe we are able to turn things around this time, but we will see on Tuesday on the court.”
Asked what Velenje would have to improve from that round 2 match against La Rioja, Sokolic had a simple answer: “If we take a look at that first match in Spain, we must be better in defence and try to maintain the same energy and concentration throughout the whole 60 minutes.”
While Velenje are still fighting for a Last 16 place in the European League, they are also having a hard time in the Slovenian domestic championship: as the reigning champions, they are ranked fourth with 19 points, two behind third-ranked Riko Ribnica.
“In the domestic league we had some unfortunate losses. We weren’t lucky enough in some situations. However, we still have a good number of matches to fix that and anything can happen,” the left wing remained positive.
“We want to win as many matches as we can, even try to catch up with first-ranked Celje. We want to finish in third at least.”