Exactly eight months after the last official LEN sanctioned events – Day 10 in the Champions League and the Euro Cup semi-finals –, the European club competitions shall restart on Wednesday. Qualification tournaments in the Champions League will be held in Budapest (HUN) and in Siracusa ITA) respectively, each a tough one as only the winner of the respective groups of nines can go through.
On 11 March 2020 no one foresaw what was coming – that was the last day the ball was in play at a LEN event. Soon postponements were announced at first but within weeks it became clear that the season could not be finished as the Covid-19 pandemic forced the whole world into strict lockdowns and competitions in the other disciplines were also called off.
Though at this time of the year the situation is worrying again but with careful preparations and tight measures in place competitions can be held, and LEN also gave the green light to launch the 2020-21 season in European water polo. The playing formats will differ, however, beginning with the Champions League qualifications.
With eighteen teams aboard, only a single round is staged, with two tournaments featuring nine sides each. Teams were drawn into two sub- groups at both venues and the top-ranked sides of the sub-groups will play for the first place of the tournaments. The respective winners will qualify to the Champions League, while the other teams can continue their journey in the Euro Cup. The batches for the latter competition will be determined by the placements in the upcoming CHL qualifiers so both in Siracusa and in Budapest the rankings will be decided in the pool.
Since no team remained untouched by the effects of the current pandemic – confined to quarantine because of positive cases, or had reduced training opportunities, etc. – it’s a tough call to make a forecast for these qualifiers. Based on recent results, 2017 champion Szolnok (HUN) is the favourite in Siracusa, challenged by two tough Croatian teams, Mladost Zagreb and Jadran Split. In Budapest, host OSC (HUN) will need to come up with something big against Brescia (ITA) to clinch the Champions League spot – but even until Sunday we may witness a handful of surprises.
Let’s hope, only in the pools – teams are tested on-site at both venues (and required recently taken negative tests upon entering Italy and Hungary), both tournaments will be played behind closed doors, so amidst the current circumstances, LEN Officials and the organisers will do their best to be able to focus solely on water polo action.
Group A (Siracusa)
Ortigia Siracusa (ITA), CN Barcelona (ESP), Steaua Bucharest (ROU), Jadran Split (CRO), Primorac Kotor (MNE)
VK Szolnok (HUN), Mladost Zagreb (CRO), Paix d’Aix (FRA), Ydraikos (GRE) (as of now, Ydraikos might fail to show up due to travel problems – in that case the schedule may be altered – follow our updates on our social media platforms)
15.00 Ortigia–Steaua, 17.00 Jadran–Primorac
9.00 Jadran–Steaua, 11.00 Barcelona-Primorac, 13.00 Szolnok–Ydraikos, 15.00 Ortigia–Jadran, 17.00 Mladost–Paix d’Aix, 19.00 Barcelona–Steaua
12.00 Szolnok–Paix d’Aix, 14.00 Mladost–Ydraikos, 16.00 Ortigia–Barcelona, 18.00 Primorac–Steaua
12.00 Paix d’Aix–Ydraikos, 14.00 Barcelona–Jadran, 16.00 Ortigia–Primorac, 18.00 Mladost–Szolnok
9.00 for places 7-8, 11.00 for places 5-6,13.00 for places 3-4, 15.00 for places 1-2
Group B (Budapest)
OSC Budapest (HUN), Sintez Kazan (RUS), Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB), CN Terrassa (ESP), Tourcoing (FRA)
Vouliagmeni (GRE), AN Brescia (ITA), CSM Oradea (ROU), Enka Istanbul (TUR)
19.00 OSC–Tourcoing, 21.00 Radnicki–Sintez
10.00 Terrassa–Sintez, 12.00 Tourcoing–Radnicki, 15.00 Enka–Vouliagmeni, 17.00 Radnicki–Terrassa, 19.00 Sintez–OSC, 21.00 Oradea-Brescia
15.00 Brescia–Enka, 17.00 Tourcoing–Sintez, 19.00 OSC–Terrassa, 21.00 Vouliagmeni–Oradea
15.00 Terrassa–Tourcoing, 17.00 Brescia–Vouliagmeni, 19.00 Radnicki–OSC, 21.00 Oradea–Enka
12.00 for places 7-8, 14.00 for places 5-6, 16.00 for places 3-4, 18.00 for places 1-2
As usual, LEN shall provide live-scoring of each game on its website.