On the eve of the new season of the Champions League, Total Waterpolo will release a series of previews about the elite competition, starting with Group A.
The competition format has been modified this year, with 16 teams divided into four groups.
The contenders for the top two spots in Group A are Novi Beograd, the runner-up of the previous two seasons, and Brescia, which participated in every Final Eight/Six tournament between 2017 and 2023. Additionally, Sabadell, the second-best Spanish club, and Steaua, the Romanian champion, complete the group and hope they can reach 2nd place.
Novi Beograd and Brescia are familiar with each other, having faced off five times since Novi Beograd’s debut in the Champions League in 2021. In the 2022/23 season, Novi Beograd defeated Brescia in Italy, while the match in Belgrade ended in a draw. Novi Beograd finished third in the group, while Brescia arrived at the F8 in first place. The two teams met again in the semifinals, where Novi Beograd won a thrilling match and went on to win silver, while Brescia finished 4th.
Last season, Brescia and Novi Beograd were in the same group for the second time, with each team winning a home match. Novi Beograd clinched a new silver medal, while Brescia finished eighth at the F8. Sabadell was also in the group with Novi Beograd and Brescia last season, losing all four matches against the Serbs and Italians.
Although all three teams made significant changes to their rosters in the summer, last season’s results can serve as a prediction basis.
Steaua hasn’t recently played against any of the teams in Group A.
2024 Champions League, Group A
Roster: Lazar Dobozanov, Francesco De Michelis (ITA) – goalkeepers, Dusko Pijetlovic, Filip Filipovic, Milos Cuk, Angelos Vlachopoulos (GRE), Nikola Jaksic, Radomir Drasovic, Nikola Lukic, Alvaro Granados (ESP), Dimitrios Skoumpakis (GRE), Djordje Vucinic, Savo Cetkovic (MNE), Marko Radulovic, Miroslav Perkovic (MNE), Vasilije Martinovic, Viktor Urosevic. Head coach: Zivko Gocic.
Key players: Dusko Pijetlovic, Filip Filipovic, Alvaro Granados, Angelos Vlachopoulos, Nikola Jaksic, Milos Cuk…
Arrivals: L. Dobozanov, M. Cuk, M. Radulovic, N. Lukic (all Radnicki), F. Filipovic (Olympiacos), F. De Michelis (Distretti Ecologici Nuoto Roma)
Departures: D. Mandic (Ferencvaros), S. Rasovic (Vasas), V. Rasovic (Noisy-le-Sec), R. Filipovic (Oradea) J.P. Fernandes Coimbra (Partizan), N. Shushiashvili (Apollon Smyrnis).
Last five Champions League seasons – 2023: 2nd place, 2022: 2nd place, 2019 – 2021: didn’t play (eighth-finalists of 2021 LEN Euro Cup).
Best result: 2x runner-up (2022 and 2023)
2023 – Group B: 2nd place, 32 pts. Final Eight – Quarterfinals: Novi Beograd – Olympiacos 13:11, Semifinals: Novi Beograd – Barceloneta 12:10 (PSO). Final: Pro Recco – Novi Beograd 14:11.
Results in other competitions in the season 2022/23 – Serbian League: 1st place, Serbian Cup: 2nd place, Regional League: 3rd place.
Six players departed from Novi Beograd this summer, and as many arrived. Among those who left the club are the pillars of the Serbian national team, Dusan Mandic, Strahinja and Viktor Rasovic. Mandic was replaced by Serbia’s former captain, Filip Filipovic. Several young players and experienced Milos Cuk arrived from Radnicki. The club changed both goalkeepers, which should bring a new kind of energy to the team.
The 2021 Total Player Mandic and the best scorer of the 2023 World Championships S.Rasovic aren’t on the roster, but Novi Beograd has a team that can go high. There are a lot of super aces on the reshaped roster, and the club probably learned from the mistakes it made in the previous seasons when it had a lot of ups and downs.
Novi Beograd’s goal in the Champions League is the same as in the previous two seasons – to win the trophy. The Serbian champion indeed belongs to the circle of the best European clubs. But, the road to the Final Four is long Novi Beograd, like all the others, will have many hurdles on that road. All but 1st or 2nd place in Group A would be disappointing for Novi Beograd.
Roster: Eduardo Lorrio, Xavier Teclas (goalkeepers), Oscar Asensio, Kanstantin Averka (MNE), Alberto Barroso, Josep Bonet, Jose Javier Bustos, Blai Mallarach, Alex Marce, Jan Perez, Fyn Schuetze (GER), Francesco Valera, Guus van Ijperen (NED), Stefan Vidovic (MNE), Tomas Soler, Biel Degracia, Sergi Franch, Alex Llaurado, Tiago Carrio, Noah Romeva. Head coach: Quim Collet.
Key players: Eduardo Lorrio, Kanstantin Averka, Blai Mallarach, Alberto Barroso, Oscar Asensio…
Arrivals: B. Mallarach (Barcelona), A. Barroso (Salerno), S. Vidovic (Ortigia), F. Schuetze (Waspo 98 Hannover), O. Asensio (Barcelona), G. van IJperen (GZC Donk).
Departures: B. Sanahuja (Barceloneta), S. Cabanas (Jug Dubrovnik), L. Bertran (Barcelona), R. Veich (Barcelona), D. Banicevic (Spandau 04), M. Teclas (Terrassa), G. Gil, O. Blasco.
European trophies: LEN Euro Cup 2022.
Champions League, last five seasons – 2023: 5th in Group B; 2022: didn’t play (LEN Euro Cup winner), 2021: didn’t play (LEN Euro Cup quarterfinals): 2020: didn’t play in Europe; 2019: Qualification Round 2.
Best result: group stage
Season 2022/23 – Group A: 5th place in Group B, 16 pts.
Results in the national competitions in 2022/23: 2nd place in the Spanish Championship, finalist of the Spanish Cup.
In the previous and current seasons, Sabadell received the Champions League wild card as a replacement for a club that gave up the opportunity to pay and participate in the League without qualifications. The two teams Sabadell replaced will be its opponents this season. In the previous season, Sabadell played in the CHL instead of Steaua, and this year, it replaced Brescia.
The club finished 5th in Group B, but last season, none of the favorites earned an easy win in Sabadell.
There were a lot of departures from Sabadell after the end of the last season.
The club couldn’t keep two members of the Spanish national team, Bernat Sanahuja and Sergi Cabanas, who were the team’s leaders in the previous few seasons. Still, excellent players arrived at the club. Some of the significant reinforcements are experienced Spain’s leftie Blai Mallarach, Alberto Barroso, Montenegrin Stefan Vidovic, etc.
At the beginning of the season, the most crucial task for Sabadell’s coaching staff is to adapt the newcomers to the team’s style of play and vice versa. Due to the packed calendar, there is little room for testing the shape and improvisations. But, Novi Beograd and Brescia are in a similar situation as Sabadell. They also have many new players.
Sabadell isn’t a favorite for the top spot. Still, the second-best Spanish club has to be considered a team that can enter the race for the spots in the quarterfinal phase.
Roster: Eduard-Mihail Dragusin, Marius Tic, (goalkeepers), Victor Antipa, Andrei Armean, David-Joan Bota, Alex Dinca, Tudor Fulea, Vlad Georgescu, Vlad Gheorghe, Dimitri Goanta, Francesco Iudean, Filip Klikovac (MNE), Alexandru Lucas Matei, Horatiu Sebastian Muresan, Andrei Neamtu, Nicolae Oanta, Andrei Tepelus, Nebojsa Vuskovic (MNE). Head coach: Bogdan Rath.
Key players: Vlad Georgescu, Mihail Dragusin, Marius Tic, Tudor Fulea, Filip Klikovac…
Arrivals: M. Tic (Oradea), D.Bota (Dinamo Bucharest)
Departures: N. Moskov (Panionios), Alexandru Gheorghe, Andrei Mihaulta
Last five seasons – 2023: Qualification Round 2 and LEN Euro Cup eighth-finalists, 2022: 8th place in Group B, 2021: Qualifications; 2020: Qualification Round 2; 2019: 7th place in Group A.
Best result: 2x quarterfinalist (1992 and 1995).
Results in the national competitions in 2022/23: the Romanian champion and the Romanian Cup winner.
Steaua returns to the Champions League after a one-year absence. In the season 2021/22, the Romanians won 4 points in the group stage. Last year, they returned their wild card to LEN.
Steaua is the best Romanian club currently: the reigning champion and the Cup winner. Steaua won the national Cup for the 2023/24 season a few days ago after a penalty shootout win over its arch-rival Oradea in the final. Most of the Romanian national team players wear the cap of Steaua, including both goalkeepers, then goal getters Vlad Georgescu and Tudor Fulea, etc.
Still, it’s yet to be seen what Steaua is capable of on the European stage. Several weeks ago, it participated in the preparation tournament in Kragujevac and lost four games against Serbian clubs Radnicki, Valis, Sabac and Crvena Zvezda. Most of those defeats were by one or two goals. However, the purpose of preparation games is to see what you are doing wrong and what needs to be fixed. Steaua’s first test in the Champions League will be against the Serbian champion, Novi Beograd, in Belgrade – a good opportunity for the Romanians to show if they improved their play. However, Steaua will have nothing to lose in that match but can learn and get a lot..
Roster: Petar Tesanovic (MNE), Francesco Massenza (goalkeepers), Mario Del Basso, Vincenczo Dolce, Francesco Faraglia, Djordje.Lazic (SRB), Tommaso Gianazza, Vincenzo Renzuto Iodice, Stefano Guerrato, Jacopo Alesiani, Edoardo Manzi, Maxwell Irving (USA), Alessandro Balzarini, Niccolo’ Gitto.
Key players: Petar Tesanovic, Vincenzo Dolce, Djorjde Lazic, Vincenzo Renzuto, Max Irving, Jacopo Alesiani, etc.
Arrivals: M.Irving (Telimar), F. Faraglia (Distretti Ecologici Nuoto Roma), S. Guerrato (De Akker Bologna) E. Manzi (De Akker Bologna), M. Del Basso (Telimar), F.Massenza, A. Balzarini (both Brescia Waterpolo – the development team of AN Brescia).
Departures: C. Presciutti (retired), E. Di Somma (Ferencvaros) B. Vapenski (Dinamo Tbilisi), K. Kharkov (Jadran Split), S. Luongo (De Akker Bologna), T.B. Necchi, M.Girri (both Brescia Waterpolo).
Best Champions League results: 3rd place (2021), 4th place (2022).
Trophies in other LEN competitions: 4x LEN Euro Cup winner (2002, 2003, 2006, 2016).
Last five Champions League seasons – 2023: 8th place; 2022: 4th place; 2021: 3rd place; 2020: Qualification Round 3 (semi-finalist in Euro Cup – season canceled); 2019: 6th place.
Season 2022/23 – Group A: 1st place in Group A, 34 pts. Final Eight – quarterfinals: Brescia – Vouliagmeni 10:11, Semifinals 5th – 8th place: Brescia – Ferencvaros 8:9, 7th-place match: Brescia – Jug 10:14.
Results in other competitions in the season 2022/23 – Italian League: 2nd place, Italian Cup: 2nd place.
The 2024 Champions League qualifications – Group B: 1st place, 12 pts. Results: vs. ASC Duisburg 11:4, Noisy-le-Sec 10:9, Primorac 11:3, Radnicki 15:8.
Brescia finished atop its groups in the previous two seasons in the Champions League but failed to reach the final. In 2022, the Italians took 4th place. This June, Brescia lost to Vouliagmeni in the quarterfinals and, after that, sank completely and finished in 8th place.
This year, the club had the right to skip the qualifications and to enter the Champions League with a wild card (as the 2nd-placed club in the league of the European champion). But Brescia said: “No, thanks”. It didn’t want to pay for the wild card and started its journey from the qualifications, as in many previous years. It achieved the first goal and advanced to the group stage.
As for the transfers, several men who played crucial rows in Alessandro Bovo’s “army” left the club. Only one player who has taken part in major continental and world tournaments arrived – Team USA’s Maxwell Irving. The other newcomers have experienced playing in the Italian Serie A1, one of the best national leagues in the world.
The team is rejuvenated but able to perform well. In the past ten days, Brescia played eight games and recorded as many victories (in the qualifications for the Champions League and for the Italian Cup). It proved it could play and win several games in a few days. Still, there were few dangerous opponents among Brescia’s recent rivals (Noisy-le-Sec and Radnicki were the toughest rivals to Brescia). The new squad is yet to show its real face and full potential in the matches against the favorites for the European trophies, like Novi Beograd or Pro Recco. These duels will answer if Brescia can battle for the medals this season.
Day 1 (September 26) schedule: Sabadell – Brescia (19:30 – CET), Novi Beograd – Steaua (19:45 CET)