Novi Beograd, the host of the 2023 Final Eight, has been the favorite for the trophies in all competitions this season (after all, the same as in the previous season). However, the first two attempts ended in failure. Novi Beograd lost to Crvena Zvezda in the final of the Serbian Cup. A few months ago, Jug defeated Novi Beograd in a penalty shootout in the semifinals of the Regional League.
Two weeks before the start of the Final Eight (Belgrade, May 31 – June 3), Novi Beograd ended a bad run and clinched the trophy this season. It defeated Crvena Zvezda in the final of the Serbian League after two games (13:8 and 14:7) and became the national champion for the second time in a row.
The triumph in the national championship is an encouragement, but a relief at the same time, before the Final Eight.
“The trophy in the Serbian Championship is, in my opinion, more significant than the trophies we lost. The national championships are more important than the national cups and the Regional League. But the title of the Serbian champion isn’t the goal for which we gathered in the club and for which this team was formed. The main goal and the challenge are ahead of us – the Final Eight. I hope that we will, finally play at the level for which this team is able – at the level equal to the quality of our team”, Novi Beograd’s most experienced player Dusko Pijetlovic says in an interview with Total Waterpolo.
The double Olympic champion believes his team can play better than in the finish of the Serbian League and the Champions League group stage.
“We still haven’t reached our maximum. We had oscillations even in the Serbian final. Even though we beat Crvena Zvezda in both matches quite convincingly, we had downs in our play. Alvaro Granados helped us, scoring ten goals. However, there were fewer oscillations than in the earlier matches. As the finish of the season is approaching, we are improving our shape. I hope we will keep going this way and play better at the Final Eight.
Dusko Pijetlovic is one of the most decorated players in the history of the Champions League. He has won four trophies. Nobody except him and Andrija Prlainovic has won three titles in a row with three different clubs. They did it between 2011 and 2013 (Partizan 2011, Pro Recco 2012, Crvena Zvezda 2013). Pijetlovic added his fourth trophy with Pro Recco in 2015.
Handling with pressure
Novi Beograd is finishing another turbulent season. There were a lot of ups and downs, the team didn’t play as all wished. The club made some moves that were surprising….
“This has been another turbulent season for Novi Beograd. I already played for a club that is similar to Novi Beograd – Pro Recco, for a total of four seasons. Only wins and trophies are expected if you play for such a team. In the end, it all comes down to the last few days of the season, to the final tournament of the Champions League. It isn’t easy to train and work for these few days during the entire season.
Still, Pijetlovic doesn’t ask for excuses.
“That kind of approach brings enormous stress. Each loss in the season is a big failure, and it’s sure that all of that affects the team mentally. That causes losses of concentration. There is too much thinking about the results and not enough relaxation. But it is normal in all big teams and an integral part of sports. Those who do not know how to deal with it should not play sports at this high professional level.”
Novi Beograd will face Olympiacos in the semifinals. The Greek team is coached by Igor Milanovic, who coached Dusko Pijetlovic at Partizan, Pro Recco, Novi Beograd. One of Olympiacos’ aces is Pijetlovic’s long-time teammate at Partizan, Recco and the Serbian national team Filip Filipovic.
The duel between the Serbian and the Greek champions is the derby of the quarterfinals. Both teams can win the title, but they aren’t the only two trophy contenders.
“Since my debut at the final tournament of the Champions League, in 2007, from year to year, it has been more and more difficult to win the trophy. The teams’ quality and budgets have been more and more balanced.”
Pijetlovic underlines that tiny details will decide.
“Luck will be a significant factor. All coaches know to prepare their teams properly. They know to choose the tactics. As for the tactics, I don’t expect surprises. I expect the teams will play in the style they have had throughout the season. I think that nobody will risk and change something significantly in the tactics. Luck, and coping with the situation at crucial moments will decide. The third key factor will be physical preparation. Each team will play three challenging games in four days.”
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