Courtesy: LEN Media
Champions League action returns to the pools with the first round of the qualifications, starting on Thursday. Sabac (SRB) and Barcelona (ESP) will host the respective tournaments, where, just like in the recent Super Cup final in football (Liverpool v Chelsea), female referees have also been appointed to officiate the men’s matches. Besides the games, Barcelona will host the draw for the main round, this event will take place on Friday.
Twelve teams, drawn into two groups of six, will start their quest in the Champions League on Thursday. The top four ranked sides from each group will advance to the second round.
Group A in Sabac will feature two Serbian clubs, besides the host, 2013 winner Crvena Zvezda also plays here just like Dynamo Moscow (RUS), which barely missed the Final Eight on its previous two attempts. Oradea (ROU) and Galatasaray (TUR) were also part of main round action in earlier seasons while a newcomer from Greece, Apollon Smyrnis completes the line-up here.
In Barcelona, the home side’s fiercest rivals should be Steaua Bucharest (ROU), participant in the group stage in the past two years, and Sintez Kazan (RUS), winner of the Euro Cup in 2007. Enka Istanbul (TUR), Pays d’Aix Natation (FRA) and Banja Luka (BIH) might be entangled to a tough battle for the 4th qualifying spot.
The two tournaments will see female referees on the pool deck – something LEN already tested some years ago but now the TWPC has the intention to nominate the top women officials regularly to whistle at men’s matches in the coming season. Hungary’s Gabriella Varkonyi (in Sabac) and Italy’s Guiliana Nicolisi (in Barcelona) shall be the first ones in line, like it happened in the men’s football Super Cup final (Liverpool v Chelsea), which was refereed by France’s Stephanie Frappart.
Just like last year, Barcelona will stage the Champions League draw for the main round again. This event, in the presence of the top clubs’ representatives, will take place on Friday, from 12.30 and can be followed live on the LEN website. Free live streaming of each game will also be offered from the qualification tournaments.
Champions League, Qualification Round I
Group A (Sabac)
Apollon Smyrnis (GRE), Dynamo Moscow (RUS) CSM DiGi-Oradea (ROU), VK Sabac (SRB), Crvena Zvezda (SRB) Galatasaray (TUR)
Group B (Barcelona)
CN Barcelona (ESP), Sintez Kazan (RUS) Steaua Bucharest (ROU), Paix D’Aix Natation (FRA) Enka Istanbul (TUR), VK Banja Luka (BIH)
Teams joining in Qualification Round II
VK Jadran Split (CRO), CN Terrassa (ESP), Team Strasbourg SNS (FRA), Lokomotiv Tbilisi (GEO), OSC Potsdam (GER), Vouliagmeni (GRE), A-Hid OSC Budapest (HUN), AN Brescia (ITA)
Teams with wild cards, awaiting for the draw on Friday
Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) HAVK Mladost Zagreb (CRO), Atletic Barceloneta (ESP), CN Marseille (FRA), Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO), Wasserfreunde Spandau 04 (GER), Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE), FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN), Szolnoki Dozsa (HUN), Pro Recco (ITA), Jadran Herceg Novi (MNE)