The last round in 2018 offers a brilliant clash in Group A as the top two sides, Barceloneta (ESP) and Recco (ITA), both with four wins, are determined to maintain their respective clean sheets. The winner of the all-Hungarian battle between Ferencvaros and Eger will get some comfort for Christmas while the third Magyar side, 2017 champion Szolnok should already play for survival against title-holder Olympiacos (GRE).
Barceloneta and Recco both have been enjoying great runs so far as they won all of their respective matches including precious victories against the group’s third giant Ferencvaros. Barceloneta achieved that feat three weeks ago in Budapest, an even more valuable result, and now the Spaniards take on their arch-rivals at home. Though the road is long to the Final Eight – nine more rounds will follow in 2019 – the outcome of this clash might have an effect on the hunt for the first place in Group A.
The chasers of the top dogs also face crucial tests. The two Hungarians will meet each other: Ferencvaros took a promising start but two victories were followed by two defeats, in Recco, and from Barceloneta. The latter one came just days after FTC-Telekom’s Super Cup triumph over Olympiacos – the situation is somewhat similar as the Budapest side has just clinched the Hungarian Cup last weekend in two games while Eger was resting and preparing for this upcoming encounter. Still, in the autumn they met three times and Ferencvaros won at least by three goals on each occasion.
Brescia pulled off a big win in Eger on Day 4 and that not just improved but boosted the Italians’ chances to make the cut once again. Three more points against Dynamo would put the hosts in a very comfortable situation before the Christmas break while another defeat would require a hell of efforts from Dynamo in the new year to catch up with the others. Worth noting that last year both their matches ended in a 9-9 draw.
Two winless sides will play in Bucharest, Steaua (ROU) is favored to gain its first points against Crvena Zvezda (SRB).
A tremendous battle is in sight in Szolnok where the champions of the last two seasons face off. The Hungarians, winners in 2017 but having been reshaped since, have been struggling in the autumn. They played four tight matches but could win only the first one (at home against Jadran), followed by two defeats and a draw in three connecting away games.
Now they play at home against Olympiacos which also had some problems at the beginning, earning one point in two away matches, but the title-holder Greeks seemed to have found the right track and won two at home with ease. With only three teams making the cut here beside F8 host Hannover, this match is absolutely crucial for Szolnok in order not to fall behind significantly. Two years ago they played 5-5 in Szolnok and the Hungarians won 6-4 in Piraeus.
The group’s surprise side BPM Busto (ITA), which managed to break to the circles of the champions (winners of the last three editions were considered the favorites beforehand), is on another tough tour in Croatia. After three magnificent wins, the Italians lost a thriller in Dubrovnik three weeks ago and it’s going to be a great test of character how they handle the pressure in Zagreb as the Mladost pool has never offered easy games for the visiting sides.
German hosts and Croatian visitors clash in the remaining two matches. Both Hannover and Spandau are yet to earn its respective first wins: for Waspo it won’t be an easy ride against Jug which kicked off the season with four wins through three of them were really hard-fought ones. Spandau managed to force a tie against Szolnok to claim its first point while Jadran could beat Hannover at home to earn its first win so two rising teams are set to meet in Berlin.
Zsolt Varga, head coach, FTC-Telekom:
“We are coming from a long series of games from the past weeks. We expect a tough game against Eger, where we need to keep the three points at home.”
Norbert Dabrowski, head coach, ZF-Eger:
“We saw how strong FTC was in the Hungarian Cup final. But in the Champions League Barceloneta already demonstrated that winning against FTC at Budapest was possible.”
Alessandro Bovo, head coach, Brescia:
“Wednesday’s game is nothing but another very important step in our international path. We play at home and we have to gain the best result. In the last two weeks, we’ve had some problems with injuries and cases of flu, but now we’re ready. For sure, it will be a hard challenge: Dynamo is the same very good team from the last season, with three great Serbian players like Pijetlovic, Radjen, and Subotic.”
Marat Zakirov, head coach, Dynamo:
“We are going to Brescia with great pleasure. We’re going to play in a beautiful city against a great rival. We expect a good game and a nice atmosphere.”
Chus Martin, head coach, Barceloneta:
“Following our recent victory over Ferencvaros in Hungary, the team comes to the last Champions League game of the year with full of confidence. The team won all of its four matches, three of those away from home. We finish the year with a home game against the favorites for the title. Sure, it’s going to be a great match and the fans will enjoy some magnificent play. And of course, we aim to play our very best game and secure another victory.”
Ratko Rudic, coach, Pro Recco:
“It will be a tough match even because of the psychological aspect. Barceloneta is a great team, with a complete roster: they have strong and quality players in every position. Impossible to make predictions, but I am confident in the performance of my athletes.”
Iosep Andrei, head coach, Steaua:
“It will be a strong battle, but we don’t want to lose the opportunity to add the first
points in this campaign of the Champions League.”
Aleksandar Filipovic, coach, Zvezda:
“Playing in the Champions League means you can do nothing but give your best at any time and against any team. Steaua is quite an organized team which means one thing only: this is going to be a really competitive game! It will definitely be a step forward, whatever result we’ll be bringing home. Steaua will surely put up a good water polo fight and we are more than happy to dive in!”
Zivko Gocic, head coach, Szolnok:
“We are facing a tough game against the title-holder Olympiacos Piraeus. Our team is in good health, we are preparing with all the team members. We will have to give our best and will have to play very well. It is not a secret that we are going for a win against Olympiacos, a very strong team this year as well.”
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Olympiacos:
“It’s a game between the Champions of 2018 and the Champions of 2017. Both teams need the win and the 3 points to keep up in the ranks. We want to try to win our first away game. To achieve that we have to be very focused and play strong in defense.”
Karsten Seehafer, head coach, Hannover:
“Everyone knows that Jug Dubrovnik is a great player in water polo. We will not give the points easily, we will give them a hard time. The question is how fantastic we will play Wednesday and how well Jug will do this day.”
Vjekoslav Kobescak, head coach, Jug:
“Hannover is playing much better than the rankings show. There is a hard match in front of us against a very tough opponent but I hope for a positive result and a good performance. That would be a great introduction to the final of the Croatian Cup.”
Petar Kovacevic, head coach, Spandau:
“It will be our last game in 2018 and we want to prove that our performance is on the rise. Jadran showed its strength by beating Waspo, so we have to expect a hard and tight game. However, we are still looking for our first win in the Champions League this season and it would be nice to finish the year with three points at home.”
Ivan Asic, head coach, Jadran:
“We have a good spell now, we won seven games in a row and that is what gives us confidence. Among those wins is one against Hannover in the Champions League, we showed everyone that we have our place in this competition and that we can play against the biggest clubs in Europe. We have Ivan Krapic back to our roster now after a long injury thus we will be even stronger.”
Zoran Bajic, head coach, Mladost:
“We are aware of how good they are and that they are one of the biggest surprises in our group. We are sure they are one of the teams that will be our close rival in the battle for the 4th place in our group. But for sure we will play the best game we can and I am looking forward to using the home advantage and claim three points.“
Marco Baldineti, coach, BPM Sport Management:
“It’s not yet a decisive match because there are still many more to play till the end of this season, so we just have to face it like the others. We should do our best and play ‘our game’, and just see the result as a consequence. We are going to meet a very strong team, of the same level as Jug Dubrovnik, with Antonio Petkovic who is playing for Mladost this year and who left great memories behind here for our team. We hope we will be able to recover the best possible way from all the battles we had recently and play with our full potential.”