Six clubs have won the European title since a new format of the Champions League was introduced (the wild-card system).
Three will play in Group B this season: reigning champion Pro Recco, Olympiacos (champion in 2018), and Jug (2016). All three are candidates to play in the Final Four, but at least one will finish its Champions League campaign in the first phase and get a chance in the LEN Euro Cup.
Besides three European champions, Dinamo Tbilisi is in Group B. The Georgians have been making progress in their play from year to year, but they don’t have realistic chances of finishing in 2nd place in the group, which is maybe the strongest in this stage of the competition.
Pro Recco suffered just a few losses in the past ten years. Some of the most painful defeats were in the matches against Olympiacos and Jug. The Greeks beat Recco in the final of the 2018 Champions League, when the Italians were the hosts, and in the semifinals the next year. Jug defeated Recco in two consecutive semifinals (2016 and 2017).
Therefore, Jug and Olympiacos are the “culprits” for why Recco didn’t win a title between 2015 and 2021 (the season 2019/20 was canceled)
The Italian giant suffered only one loss on its way to the 2022 title – it happened in Dubrovnik. Last season, Recco opened the season with a loss in Piraues, but it beat Olympiacos in Italy and eventually won the trophy.
There will be many highlighted derbies in this group
2024 Champions League, Group B
Roster: Marco Del Lungo, Tommaso Negri (goalkeepers), Matteo Aicardi, Giacomo Cannella, Francesco Condemi, Francesco Di Fulvio, Gonzalo Echenique, Andrea Fondelli, Benjamin Hallock (USA), Matteo Iocchi Gratta, Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE), Konstantinos Kakaris (GRE), Nicholas Presciutti, Aaron Younger (AUS), Gergo Zalanki (HUN), Alberto Luca Rossi, Stefano Sarmi, Francesco Shiaffino, Giovanni Batista Mangiante, Luca Perrone, Lorenzo Demarchi, Jacopo Cavalli. Head coach: Sandro Sukno (CRO).
Arrivals: K. Kakaris (Jug), F. Condemi (Ortigia)
Departures: L. Loncar (Olympiacos), P. Figlioli (Savona), A. Velotto (Marseille), E. Marini, R. Girasole, A. Nuzzo (all Telimar).
Key players: Aleksandar Ivovic, Francesco Di Fulvio, Marco Del Lungo, Gergo Zalanki, Aaron Younger, Gonzalo Echenique, Giacomo Cannella, Andrea Fondelli, Konstantinos Kakaris…
Last five Champions League seasons – 2023: winner; 2022: winner; 2021: winner; 2020 (after 9 rounds): 2nd in Group B; 2019: 3rd place.
Best results: 11x winner (1965, 1984, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2021, 2022, 2023), 7x runner-up (1967,1970, 1972, 2006, 2009,2011,2018).
Trophies in other LEN competitions: 8x LEN Super Cup winner (2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2021, 2022)
2023 – Group A: 2nd place, 36 pts (192:102). Final Eight – Quarterfinals: Pro Recco – Ferencvaros 8:4, Semifinals: Pro Recco – Vouliagmeni 12:8, Final: Pro Recco – Novi Beograd 1411.
Results in other competitions in the season 2022/23– Italian League: 1st place, Italian Cup: 1st place, European Super Cup winner.
Pro Recco waited a long time to win its 9th European title – between 2015 and 2021. It started improving and breaking records after it clinched the title in Belgrade two years ago. Recco defended the trophy in 2022 and, for the second time, won two back-to-back titles (it did it in 2006 and 2007, too). Nobody but Pro Recco clinched the Champions League twice in a row in the 21st century. The Italian giant didn’t stop there and triumphed last season to become only the second team to win three consecutive titles (Mladost Zagreb did the same more than 50 years ago).
Last season, Recco dominated the Final Eight and beat all their rivals quite convincingly. The Italians won their last three titles in Belgrade. The capital of Serbia became a “lucky city” for Recco. This season, the Final Four probably won’t be held in Belgrade, but the reigning champion will be the favorite No.1 again.
Recco made slight changes to the roster, rejuvenating the team by bringing one of the best center-forwards of today, Konstantinos Kakaris, and Francesco Condemi, the leader of a new generation of Italian players.
Defeating Recco will be very difficult, but nobody is invincible. As mentioned, Jug and Olympiacos proved that several times.
Roster: Marko Bijac (CRO), Emmanouil Zerdevas (goalkeepers), Ioannis Alafragkis, Andro Buslje (CRO), Ippokratis Chalyvopoulos, Georgios Dervisis, Dimitrios Dimou, Ioannis Fountoulis, Konstantinos Genidounias, Nikolaos Gkillas, Konstantinos Gouvis, Luka Loncar (CRO), Dimitros Nikolaidis Alexandros Papanastasiou, Marton Vamos (HUN), Theodoros Damigos,Nikiforos Liantziris. Head coach: Hrvoje Koljanin (CRO).
Key players: Ioannis Fountoulis, Marko Bijac, Andro Buslje, Marton Vamos, Alexandros Papanastasiou, Konstantinos Genidounias, Luka Loncar, DImitrios Nikolaidis…
Arrivals: head coach Hrvoje Koljanin (Jug), D. Nikolaidis, I. Alafragkis (both Vouliagmeni), L. Loncar (Pro Recco).
Departures: head coach Igor Milanovic, F. Filipovic (Novi Beograd), K. Mourikis (Panionios), C. Kolomvos (ENKA Istanbul).
Last five Champions League seasons – 2023: 5th place; 2022: 5th place in Group A; 2021: 7th place; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 3rd place in Group A; 2019: runner-up; 2018: winner.
Best results: 2x winner (2002 and 2018), 3x runner-up (2001, 2016, 2019).
Other European trophies: LEN Super Cup winner (2002)
2022 – Group A: 3rd place, 31pts (175:114). Final Eight – Quarterfinals: Olympiacos – Novi Beograd 11:13, Semifinals 5th – 8th place: Olympiacos – Jug 14:5, 5th-place match: Olympiacos – Ferencvaros 9:4
Results in other competitions in the season 2022/23 – Greek League: 1st place, Greek Cup: 1st place.
The club has high ambitions and hopes to win trophies in all competitions. The upcoming matches against Pro Recco and Jug will indicate how far the Greeks can go in Europe this season.
Roster: Irakli Razmadze, Giorgi Gvetadze (goalkeepers), Revaz Imnaishvili, Khivcha Jakhaia, Beka Kapanadze, Artsom Dzikhtsiarenka, Giorgi Magrakvelidze, Maksim Malyshau (BLR/GEO),Stefan Pjesivac (MNE/GEO), Veljko Tankosic (SRB), Boris Vapenski (SRB/GEO), Andrija Vlahovic (CRO/GEO), Luka Mtchedlishvili, Saba Oboladze, Besarion Akhvlediani, Giorgi Kiriakidi, Nokoloz Kurashvili, Saba Tkeshelashvili, Demetre Todua, Merabi Machavarini, Timur Bazhinov, Giorgi Chegelishvili, Giorgi Veshaguri, Aleksandre Chkheidze. Head coach: Dejan Stanojevic (SRB).
Key players: Revaz Imnaishvili, Boris Vapenski, Andrija Vlahovic, Stefan Pjesivac, Veljko Tankosic, Giorgi Magrakvelidze, Irakli Razmadze
Arrivals.B.Vapenski (Brescia), V. Tankosic (Crvena Zvezda)
Departures: J. Saric, B. Gyapas.
Last five Champions League seasons – 2023: 7th place in Group A; 2022: 8th place in Group A; 2021: 5th place in Group B; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 8th in Group B; 2019: didn’t play.
Best Champions League result: group stage
Season 2022/23 – Group A: 7th place with 6 points (115:200)
Dinamo strengthened its roster with a returnee, Boris Vapenski, and Veljko Tankosic, the best scorer in the history of Crvena Zvezda.
There are several very good Georgian and naturalized players on the team, but the Tbilisi-based side enters the Champions League with slim chances.
Dinamo has been still waiting for a win over a European powerhouse. Unfortunately for the Georgians, they probably won’t have a chance to achieve a historic victory this season. They didn’t have luck in the draw.
Nevertheless, Dinamo should make the most of their matches against the three strong teams to prepare for the LEN Euro Cup eighth-finals. Additionally, the team has more experienced players this year compared to last year, which could work in their favor.
Roster: Toni Popadic, Ivan Jurisic, Niksa Brzica (goalkeepers), Hrvoje Zvono, Ivusa Burdjelez, Bogdan Djerkovic (CAN), Franko Lazic, Maro Jokovic, Ivan Vukojevic, Hannes Daube (USA), Sergi Cabanas (ESP), Filip Krzic, Rino Buric, Goran Grgurevic, Toni Mozara, Marko Zuvela, Niko Balic, Luka Bjelopera, Vlaho Pavlic, Mauro Prkoca, Antoan Spilar. Head coach: Vjekoslav Kobescak.
Arrivals: Rino Buric (Jadran Split), Sergi Cabanas (Sabadell), Hannes Daube (Marseille), Bogdan Djerkovic (Canada), Luka Bjelopera (KPK Korcula)
Departures: Loren Fatovic (Jadran Split), Konstantinos Kakaris (Pro Recco), Matias Biljaka (Jadran Split), assistant coach Hrvoje Koljanin (Olympiacos).
Key players: Maro Jokovic, Toni Popadic, Marko Zuvela, Sergi Cabanas, Rino Buric, Franko Lazic, Hannes Daube…
Last five Champions League seasons – 2023: 7th place; 2022: 8th place, 2021: 5th place; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 2nd in Group A; 2019: 5th place.
2023 – 4th place in Group B, 16 pts (156:161). Final Eight – quarterfinals: Jug – Barceloneta 9:11, semifinals 5th-8th place: Jug – Olympiacos 5:14, 7th-place match: Jug – Brescia 14:10
Best CHL results: 4x winner (1981, 2001, 2006, 2016), 4x runner-up (2007, 2008, 2013, 2017),
Other trophies in the European competitions: LEN Super Cup (2006 and 2016), LEN Trophy/Euro Cup (2000)
Results in other competitions in the season 2022/23: Regional League winner, Croatian Cup winner, 2nd place in the Croatian League, Croatian Super Cup winner.
Road to the 2024 Champions League – Group D (Dubrovnik): 1st place, 9 pts. Results: vs. Dinamo Bucharest 16:4, vs. Tourcoing 17:8, vs. OSC Budapest 14:10.
Even though it lost the title of the Croatian champion, Jug had a very good 2022/23 season. It surprised the favorites by winning the Regional League. It beat its biggest rival in Croatia, Jadran Split, in three finals (Regional League, Croatian Cup, Super Cup of Croatia).
It had a lot of ups and downs throughout the season, but the trophies and the fact Jug qualified for the F8 prove that there were more ups than downs. The team didn’t shine in F8. Jug played well in the quarterfinals but lost to Barceloneta. That was followed by a catastrophe in the game against Olympiacos, which will be the Croats’ first irival this season. The Dubrovnik-based side recovered and defeated Brescia in the 7th-place match.
Two players who were very important for Jug, captain Loren Fatovic and Konstantinos Kakaris, left Dubrovnik. Still, Jug did some good jobs in the transfer market and signed versatile players Sergi Cabanas and Rino Buric, than American Hannes Daube…
Jug had to play in the Champions League qualifications for the first time after 11 years because it didn’t win the domestic title and lost the wild card.
However, the qualifications were helpful for a new team to check its capabilities. The results in the qualification tournament, especially a very convincing win over the biggest rival in the group, Tourcoing, say that Jug is moving in the right direction.