Press Release courtesy of LEN
For the first time, eight venues will witness Champions League action on one day: the expanded edition of the world’s premium water polo competition kicks off on Wednesday with a series of brilliant battles in sight.
After the tremendous success gained in the previous four years, LEN opted to expand the water polo Champions League group stage, from 12 teams to 16.
Granting wild cards for the top clubs of nations with great water polo traditions, Champions League action will reach unchartered waters. Russia, the Netherlands, Romania are on the newcomers’ list, while Montenegro will re-appear on the big stage after one-year absence. For the first time Spain will have two sides on the battlefield, just as Italy and Germany, while Serbia, Greece and Croatia backs its respective top club to advance to the Final Eight (replacing the Final Six format).
As in the last two seasons, Hungary tops this list with three participants, thanks to the special conditions granted for team sports in the land of the Magyars, which make it possible for them to have three pretty strong squads fighting for the F8 berths with great chances.
Based on the line-ups’ strength, 2016 winner and last season’s runner-up Jug (CRO) and 2016 silver medallist Olympiacos (GRE) stand out in this group. Barceloneta (ESP), champion in 2014, will try to return to the F8 after they missed the cut last spring for the first time in four years – which means that the Game of the Day is the Spaniards’ clash with Olympiacos. Two years ago they met in the prelims, tied in Barcelona (7-7), while the Greeks won at home (9-5).
The race for the top four places will surely include Brescia (ITA), which made the F6 last season just ahead of OSC (HUN) and Hannover might also have a say so its opening match at home against the Italians promises some exciting moments.
Partizan (SRB) always faces the same challenge, to keep the most talented players as long as possible before they join other European clubs, thus the Serbs are not considered real favourites at club level (unlike amongst the national teams) – still, their youngsters have never offered easy matches to any visiting teams in the still fearful Banica pool. OSC, attempting to make the finals after two failed campaigns, had some experience from the past seasons what it took to survive in Belgrade. Back in 2015-16 they lost the away clash 5-4 and the home clash wasn’t an easy cruise either (10-8). Now a first-round appearance in Serbia might require double efforts from the Hungarians in order not to lose valuable points right at the beginning.
The draw could have been more merciful to Dinamo Moscow (RUS), the newcomers have to play with hot favourite Jug on the opening day, perhaps any other rival would have meant an easier task for the Russians.
The three regular Final Six participants from the past seasons, Recco (ITA) and the two Hungarians, Szolnok and Eger are the front-runners in this group (in fact Recco has a guaranteed berth as the host of next June’s Final Eight, though the Italian giant would most probably make the cut on its own). Returner Jadran (MNE), traditional group stage participant Spandau (GER) and the three rookies, Alphen (NED), Steaua (ROU) and Sabadell (ESP) will surely stage fierce battles to clinch the fourth spot.
Title-holder Szolnok and 2015 winner Pro Recco are perhaps out of reach for most of the sides, but Eger had to be cautious while meeting the upcoming teams. Their first visit is already a curious one: in Bucharest, Steaua and its fans will surely try to upset the Hungarians in the Romanians’ first-ever Champions League match. The same applies to Sabadell where Szolnok’s newly shaped team will have its first big encounter of the season.
The clash of Jadran and Spandau will offer thrills as both sides can eye some better ranks this season – two years ago nothing separated them as both of their matched ended in a 9-9 draw. Perhaps Alphen is the team which faces something we can call ‘mission impossible’ since the Dutch debut in Recco where no team was able to win a match in the past three years.
Champions League, Preliminaries, Day 1
(all times are local)
19.15 Dynamo Moscow (RUS) v Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
19.30 CN Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE)
19.30 Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v AN Brescia (ITA)
19.30 Partizan Belgrade (SRB) v A Hid-OSC Budapest (HUN)
18.15 CN Sabadell (ESP) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)
20.30 Steaua Bucharest (ROU) v ZF Eger (HUN)
20.30 Jadran Herceg Novi (MNE) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER)
20.30 Pro Recco (ITA) v AZC Alphen (NED)
For live scoring, stats and play-by-play action visit www.len.eu or download the Champions League App!