After three exhausting stages of the Premier Regional League, the regular season ended.
Novi Beograd, Jug, Jadran Split and Radnički advanced to the Final Four that will be held in Belgrade on April 2 and 3.
Most water polo fans and experts would agree that the best four clubs qualified for the final tournament. The four Champions League teams have shown the most in their national championships this season. They have achieved good results in the Champions League, especially Jug and Novi Beograd. On the other side, Jadran Split and Radnički won national cups.
None of the teams will arrive at the tournament as an underdog. The coaches and the players expect a spectacular Final Four in Belgrade on the first weekend of April.
Novi Beograd got into an excellent start, winning six games in the Regional League first stage, played at the “April 11” pool, where F4 will be held.
After the second stage, Novi Beograd dropped to 2nd place. But, the team recorded three convincing wins in Zagreb last week, while Jug lost to Radnički. Therefore, the Belgrade-based team returned to 1st place and deserved the right to host the F4.
Igor Milanović debuted as Novi Beograd’s head coach in Zagreb. After the tournament, he said:
“We achieved our goal in Zagreb. We recorded three victories, raised the compactness of the team to a higher level, we got to know each other even better. My assistants and I are satisfied with both the results and the team’s behavior. We will play against Radnicki in the semifinals. It will be a strange, unpredictable match. Novi Beograd has played many games this season against Radnicki, which is an extremely strong team. I am sure that the fans and water polo lovers will enjoy that duel. We hope to win both in that match and in the final. We have quality. I can tell that the outcome of the tournament depends on us the most.”
Jug missed the chance to host the Final Four in Dubrovnik because of the defeat to Radnički. However, the Dubrovnik-based team isn’t disappointed with what they achieved in the regular season.
“The regular was a bit surprising on our part. We had the chance to finish 1st. But, all in all, in the end, we can be satisfied with our play and 2nd place – Jug’s experienced ace Maro Joković said. – I think that everything is open regarding the outcome of the final tournament. The league proved to be very strong and uncertain. Everyone can beat everyone in the semifinals and advance to the final. As for Jug, some younger players got a chance to prove themselves through the regular season. They proved that we could count on them in the future.”
Jadran Split finished in 3rd place and will face Jug in the semifinals. Jadran beat Jug twice in the domestic competitions this season. Still, it lost to the team from Dubrovnik in the Regional League (that happened in the second stage in Belgrade). Jadran’s wing and winner of the 2016 Olympic silver medal Andjelo Šetka commented that the league was balanced.
“The regular season was a tough and even competition. It was proved in the final standings—only four points separate first-placed Novi Beograd and Radnički that finished 4th. Besides the four semifinalists, many high-quality teams also participated in the league. There were a lot of excellent matches. The competition was difficult, especially because it was played through the tournaments. The teams didn’t have enough time to prepare for the games properly, analyze the opponents, etc. All in all, we can be satisfied with 3rd place. As for the Final Four, the host, Novi Beograd, has a slight advantage. But, all four teams are very good. I think each of these is able to reach the top. We’ll play against Jug in the semifinals. I hope we will be well prepared for that game and show our best. But there is a lot of time until then. Before the tournament, we will talk more about the semifinals”, Šetka said.
Reigning champion Radnički was the only unbeaten team after two stages. However, the Kragujevac-based team lost to Partizan in their pool in the first round of the last stage. But, a day after, Radnički beat Jug. At the end of the regular season, it earned a hard-fought victory over Šabac.
“There is no doubt the four best teams qualified for the Final Four. The whole league was exciting. It remains a pity that it was played through tournaments. I think that this year’s Regional League would have been the strongest in the world if it had been played according to the classic league format – with home and away matches, because all teams are of high quality. In such a format, the first-placed team could lose points in away match against, for instance, the tenth team in the table. I hope that we have left the pandemic behind, and that we will leave wars behind, and that the league will return to the traditional format next season.”, Radnički head coach Uroš Stevanović said.
Radnčki will play against Novi Beograd in the semis.
“This season, we lost the first two matches, in the Champions League and the Serbian Championship, then we beat them in the Serbian Cup final and in the Regional League. We were a competitive rival in all the matches. Novi Beograd will be the favorite in the semis. But if we play as we can, as we did against Jug on Saturday, I think we will have our chances. The second semifinal, the Croatian derby, will surely be very uncertain, too. There is enough time for all four teams to recover and prepare well for the Final Four and make a great spectacle”, Stevanović underlined.
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