"We've paid our dues the hard way"Article
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FEATURE: Nantes' Rock Feliho believes his side deserve to reach Berlin this year and is confident that his side has what it takes to finally beat domestic rivals Montpellier

"We've paid our dues the hard way"

Nantes defensive boss Rock Feliho - awarded best defender in the French league last season - looks back on the journey that took his team from the qualification rounds to the quarter-finals, where he will be facing friend Michael Guigou and his Montpellier team.

eurohandball.com: This is your third European campaign. What do you think of it so far?

Rock Feliho: This season we really took this EHF Cup step by step. And we can see we've done quite well so far, since we've made it to the quarter-finals. One thing that we don't and won't forget is that we're here thanks to a wild card. The first step was making it through the group phase. I can picture myself again, after the draw, saying that we had the hardest group possible.

eurohandball.com: This statement was proven correct, since no team progressed from the group unbeaten. Is that how you saw the group unfold?

Rock Feliho: That's exactly how I foresaw it. Surprises are everywhere in this EHF Cup. We saw it last season, with Holstebro defeating Kolding and qualifying for the finals, but this time, when I saw Pick Szeged and Tatran Presov on the board, you know that the way to the quarter-finals is going to be a tough one. We got out of here, even though, there is this slight disappointment not to have finished first, because that was possible to achieve.

eurohandball.com: Furthermore, this would have allowed you to avoid Montpellier in this round.

Rock Feliho: Of course, not meeting Montpellier at this stage of the competition would have been nicer. Honestly, I still remain convinced that there was room for two French teams in Berlin. Maybe, that's what is most frustrating in all of this.

Playing against Montpellier, or any other team actually, is not a problem in itself, but if you take part in European competitions, you'd rather avoid a team you play against at least four times in a season.

eurohandball.com: Especially since Montpellier and Nantes have a great love story in the cups. You take delight in meeting each other every season.

Rock Feliho: Indeed, we can't let go of each other (laughs). Michael Guigou told me a couple of months ago, when Montpellier knocked Nantes out of the French cup, that we would meet again in the EHF Cup. Sadly, he was right. It goes to show that in this competition, one single game can change everything.

eurohandball.com : Do you fear Montpellier more than any other club?

Rock Feliho: More? No. Montpellier remains, with Berlin, the strongest favourite to win the EHF Cup.  We know each other by heart, our strengths as our weaknesses. And these two games will take place in a completely different setting to the French league encounters. We'll be playing on a Monday, following a league game against PSG, and then the return leg is the Sunday after. Add a league game between the two legs of the EHF Cup, and it looks like a crazy schedule for us.

eurohandball.com: Nantes seems to be at the top of its game when the events pile up and when you've got some injured players. Why is this?

Rock Feliho: Clearly, the European Cup gives you a lot more energy. Every season, in the league, we fight like lions to get a ticket for the EHF Cup, and that would be to play it only half-hearted or to preserve ourselves? No way!

We love those games, they're such nice experiences, because we face another style of handball, we force ourselves to concentrate and focus a lot more. And indirectly, this surge of concentration is useful for us in the league.

eurohandball.com: Your progression in the European competitions seems so fast. What have you learnt over the last couple of seasons?

Rock Feliho: The first time we played in the EHF Cup, we were eliminated by Dinamo Minsk and we felt very frustrated about it. Of course, we were discovering and learning, but this experience made us realise we didn't use our home game well enough, and even though we won in Minsk, we by one goal on aggregate.

And there is last season's lost final as well. We touched the title with the tip of our fingers, but didn't grasp it fully in our hands. So why not make it back to the finals this year? I think we have proven that we're not here just because we're lucky or by chance. We're paid our dues the hard way.

TEXT: Kevin Domas / cor