The three-stage qualifying process is set to reach its climax in the coming days: the home-and- away legs of the four play-off matches are scheduled for this Saturday and next Wednesday. The winners will join the Champions League field.
Two in-house derbies give special taste to this final round of the qualifications, though one of them, the Croatian clash, may not bring the usual fierce battle. The transformation of Mladost Zagreb may offer an easy ride for Jadran Split – at least their recent match, where the team from Split beat their arch-rival 15-7 in the home league, predicts a lop-sided contest. Indeed, Jadran had contracted Mladost’s top scorers in the summer, leaving the other side to go for a restart with youngsters.
The clash of the Hungarians differs even though Szolnok lost its Serbian Olympic champions (like Filip Filipovic) and legendary goalie Viktor Nagy (retired) who had been instrumental in winning the Euro Cup and the domestic title. In both finals they defeated OSC, which saw less changes in its line-up – still, Szolnok looks strong so far with the new young talents they added.
Neither of the two Italian clubs can take anything for granted in the other two pairs. The game of Savona and Zvezda features the respective No. 3 teams of Italy and Serbia. The Italians arrived at this stage in an awkward way: they played three straight draws in the previous round but that was still enough to make the cut. The Serbs enjoyed a fine cruise – both teams are a mix of young players and decorated veterans, it’s a hard call to pick a favourite.
The chances of Brescia are definitely better against CN Barcelona. The Italians produced their best-ever Champions League run last season while reaching the semi-finals in the F8, and despite losing a couple of key players, they still look strong. Last weekend they were less convincing at some phases, but the beginning of the season is always challenging and they may come up with a much compact performance this time – though the Spaniards’ will put up some fight for sure.
Champions League, Qualification Round III, 1st leg
- 18.30 Jadran Split (CRO) v HAVK Mladost Zagreb (CRO)
- 18.30 Szolnoki Dozsa (HUN) v OSC Budapest (HUN)
- 18.30 RN Savona (ITA) v VK Crvena Zvezda (SRB)
- 19.00 CN Barcelona (ESP) v AN Brescia (ITA)