There were not many surprises in the Group Stage of the Champions League. All favorites qualified for the Final Eight in Belgrade (May 30 – June 3).
But, something that few predicted before the start was that Barceloneta would finish 1st in Group A. Of course, it would have been a big surprise if Barceloneta hadn’t qualified for the F8. The Spanish champion is among the best European teams. Still, Olympiacos and Pro Recco were the favorites for the top spot in the group, but both teams finished behind Barceloneta. The Spaniards beat Olympiacos twice. They suffered a convincing loss to Pro Recco in Barcelona, but they took revenge for that defeat with a victory over the European champion in Italy.
Barceloneta coach Elvis Fatovic, commenting on his team’s results in the Champions League, says:
“Our results and first place in the group are maybe over expectations, considering that Pro Recco and Olympiacos are among the favorites for winning the Champions League. But, in the end, all teams had the same goal – to qualify for the Final Eight. First place in the group isn’t an advantage. At the tournaments like the Final Eight, when one match decides, all clubs have their chances.”
Last summer, Barceloneta didn’t suffer big changes on the roster. But, an outstanding goal getter Alvaro Granados left the club. However, Granados’ departure didn’t have a negative impact on Barceloneta’s offensive play. The club netted 169 goals in 14 matches. Felipe Perrone is the best scorer of the Group stage with 38 goals. Alberto Munarriz contributed to Barceloneta’s results with 20 goals, Luke Pavillard with 19, etc.
“The defense has been definitely our strength this season. I think that the defensive play was the decisive factor. As for the offense, it is not easy to replace Alvaro, perhaps the most dangerous striker in the world, but we have a well-balanced team. Everyone can take responsibility, depending on the opponent’s tactics.”
100 Barceloneta had the best defense in the Group Stage. The Spanish champion conceded 100 goals (7,1 per match). The second place on the list of the best defenses belongs to Pro Recco (102 goals). The title holder is followed by Olympiacos (114), Brescia (124), Novi Beograd (136), etc.
Considering that Barceloneta finished 1st, ahead of the big favorites, do you feel like a favorite for the title?
“It would be pretentious to say that we are coming as favorites because there are teams with several times bigger budgets than ours. But we want to play at the level we have been at for most of the year in this competition. We’ll see for what result that will be enough.”
Barceloneta will face Jug Dubrovnik in the quarter-finals. Fatovic started playing water polo in Dubrovnik and wore Jug’s cap for most of his career. He left a strong mark at the Dubrovnik-based club. Fatovic won two Champions League playing for Jug (2001 and 2006).
“Jug has achieved excellent results this season. There were many changes on Jug’s roster last summer. Some of the key players left the club. There are a lot of young players on the current roster. But, despite all of that, good results didn’t lack. Jug won the Regional League at the tournament in Belgrade (beating host Novi Beograd and Jadran Split – Ed), showing great mental strength. There are not many teams that can do that. A month ago, we had joint training with Jug. We have a lot of respect for them.
Vjekoslav Kobescak is one of the best coaches in the world, who knows how to play and win big tournaments.”
On Wednesday, Fatovic will lead his team against Jug for the second time in his coaching career. Last year, Barceloneta defeated Jug 12:9 in the 5th-8th place semifinals at the F8. This year, the match Barceloneta – Jug won’t be a “family duel”. Elvis’ son Loren, Jug’s captain, finished the season because of an injury (an broken finger) suffered on Tuesday in Brescia.
Elvis Fatovic started his coaching career shortly after he retired as a player of Jug.
He has coached only two clubs – Jug (2008 – 2011) and Barceloneta (since 2021). But, in meantime, he successfully led Australia as a head coach (2013 – 2021) and won one bronze in the World League and one silver in the World Cup. He was an assistant coach in the Croatian national team for several years, including 2012 when the Croats won Olympic gold
Which teams are the biggest favorites for the title?
“In my opinion, there are many contenders for the trophy. On paper, Pro Recco and Novi Beograd are the favorites, but… I think that all other teams have their chances. The tournament is long and challenging. There will be a lot of factors that can decide. At the moment, before the start, we are all focused only on Wednesday and on the quarterfinal day, Fatovic underlines at the end of the interview with Total Waterpolo.
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