A four-day water polo show that the lovers of this sport have waited for since September starts tomorrow.
The Final Eight of the Champions League will be opened in Belgrade on Wednesday, with the quarterfinal matches.
This will be the third Final Eight organized by Novi Beograd, the first one in the outdoor pool of the SC “11 April”, and the last Final Eight in the Champions League since the new-old format will be applied from the next season (the Final Four at the end).
In September, 39 teams started in the LEN Champions League. The best eight will battle for glory in the following four days.
Five are reigning national champions: Barceloneta, Pro Recco, Olympiacos, Novi Beograd and Ferencvaros. Italy and Greece will have two clubs each at the F8 – Brescia and Vouliagmeni lost to Recco and Vouliagmeni in the national finals. Croatia is the only country whose champion won’t play at the F8 but will have a representative at the tournament. Jug Dubrovnik failed to retain the domestic title (Jadran is the champion), but it managed to qualify for the Final Eight/Final Six for the eighth time in a row.
Today the opening press conference was held in Belgrade, with the participation of almost all teams (the representatives of Ferencvaros and Jug were missing because their flights were late). According to everything said today, the first impressions are that the hosts are ready, the venue is ready, and all teams are well-prepared and motivated.
Renato Zivkovic, LEN Water Polo Director, opened the press conference. He welcomed all the guests and the teams on behalf of LEN. He said he expected a water polo spectacle and thanked the hosting team Novi Beograd, the Water Polo Federation of Serbia and Serbian authorities and sponsors.
„Of course, I thank water polo players and coaches. We wouldn’t have a spectacle without them“, Zivkovic said.
Five of the eight participating teams have already won the Champions League. The defending champion Pro Recco did it 10 times and firmly holds the record. Jug won four titles, Olympiacos two, Barceloneta and Ferencvaros one each (the list of the winners is at the end of the article)
Before almost each Final Four/Six/Eight in the past 20 years, the stories about the favorites have always started with Pro Recco. The Italian champion is chasing its third title in a row. If Recco wins the trophy, it will become the second team with three titles in a row, after Mladost did it in the 1960s. But, there are many contenders for the trophy.
The coaches and the players, who were present at today’s press conference, said that each of the eight teams has its chances and that there are no strong favorites.
Wednesday, 31st May – Quarterfinals – 15:30: Barceloneta – Jug (QF1) 17:00: Novi Beograd – Olympiacos (QF4), 18:30: Brescia – Vouliagmeni (QF2), 20:00: Pro Recco – Ferencvaros (QF3)
Thursday, 1st June – Semifinals, 5th – 8th place – 15:30: losers: QF1 – QF4, 17:00: losers: QF2 – QF3; Semifinals, 1st – 4th – 18:30: winners QF1 – QF4, 20:00: winners QF2 – QF3 (Note: The schedule for this day will be changed for sure because Novi Beograd will play its game at 17:00)
Friday, June 2 – 19:00: 7th-place game; 21:00: 5th-place game
Saturday, June 3 – 19:00: Bronze-medal match; 21:00: Final
2023 Champions League Final Eight, quarterfinals, May 31
Barceloneta – Jug (15:30)
Group Stage: Barceloneta 1st place Group A, 39 pts (169:100) – Jug 4th place Group B, 16 pts (156:161).
Recent encounters – 2021/22 (5th-8th place semifinals): Barceloneta – Jug 12:9, 2019/20 (group stage): Jug – Barceloneta 14:8, 2017/18: Barceloneta – Jug 14:8 (bronze-medal match), 8:6 and 9:9 (group stage), 2016/17: Jug – Barceloneta 11:10 and 7:7 (group stage), 2014/15 (3rd-place match): Barceloneta – Jug 14:12; 2013/14 (group stage): Barceloneta – Jug 9:8 and 9:8.
The tournament starts with an encounter between Barceloneta and Jug. These two teams have met many times in the last several years. Barceloneta has been more successful. The Spaniards enter tomorrow’s match as the favorites since they won 1st place in the group ahead of Pro Recco and Olympiacos.
Elvis Fatovic, Barceloneta’s coach, was Jug’s coach and player for a long time:
“I am familiar with the feeling of playing against Jug, because we played against them last year. Besides, when I coached Australia, our rival was Croatia very often. We know Jug’s qualities, it it the team for respect. At the moment, we are focused only on that match. As for the tournament, we don’t feel the pressure of the favorite. There are a lot of good teams here at the Final Eight.
Barceloneta’s captain Felipe Perrone:
“We are happy because we arrived here as the group winners. For the first time in history, Barceloneta finished 1st in the group stage It’s a big step for us. I believe we can enjoy the final tournament in the outdoor pool after two years in which the Covid pandemic affected the Champions League.
Novi Beograd – Olympiacos (17:00)
Group Stage: Novi Beograd 2nd place Group B, 32 pts (178: 136) – Olympiacos 3rd place Group A, 31 pts (175:114).
Recent encounters – 2021/22 (Group stage): Novi Beograd – Olympiacos 9:12 and 12:12.
Host Novi Beograd faces Olympiacos, the club coached by Igor Milanovic, who led Novi Beograd to the title of the Serbian champion, the Regional League trophy, and silver in the Champions League last year.
Zivko Gocic, Novi Beograd’s head coach, welcomed guests and invited spectators to come to the pool and added:
“We play at home and know we have big possibilities. But, eight excellent teams will participate in the tournament, and each of them is well prepared for sure. It’s hard to predict the outcome and single out the favorites. I am convinced that every match will be of exceptional quality. Now, we are thinking only about the first game against Olympiacos. We’ll do our best to win that match.
Angelos Vlachopoulos, Novi Beograd’s captain, is highly motivated:
“Last year, we lost in the final after a penalty shootout. But, that is behind us. We are ready for the new challenges at the Final Eight. We want to show a good level of play, win three games in a row, and take the trophy. We can make it if we do our best.
Igor Milanovic, Olympiacos’ head coach, won five Champions Leagues (three as a player and two as a head coach). An experienced coach said that he felt nice in his city and continued:
“I don’t feel any pressure. Olympiacos had more pressure in the Greek Championships, where is each final a must-win match for us. We won the “double crown” in Greece and arrived in Belgrade without the pressure imposed by the management. Still we want to win each game. During this season, we had very nice moments and played beautiful games, but we had bad periods, too. I hope that we can play a good game on Wednesday. I strongly believe my players can win the next match.”
Olympiacos arrived in Belgrade without first center-forward Chirstodoulos Kolomvos, who had problems with the eye. But, that fact doesn’t change the Greek champion’s ambitions.
As of today, only two teams have significant problems with injuries. Christodoulos Kolomvos won’t play for Olympiacos. Jug will be without captain Loren Fatovic, who broke his finger in the match agaginst Brescia
“Last year, we failed to qualify for the Final Eight. It was very hard to accept that. We are happy we are back at the final tournament. I am sure that we will do our best, like the other teams.”
Brescia – Vouliagmeni (18:30)
Group Stage: Brescia 1st place Group B, 34 pts (124:45) – Vouliagmeni 4th place Group A, 17 pts (130:156)
Recent encounters – 2020/21 (qualifications): Brescia – Vouliagmeni 10:6, 2015/16 (qualifications): Brescia – Vouliagmeni 10:6
Brescia, the regular participant in the F8 tournaments in the last few years, will try to reach the semifinals through the match against debutant Vouliagmeni.
In the past two years, Brescia made the semifinals, but lost both times, winning 3rd and 4th place at the end, respectively.
“Reaching the final is a challenging task, but it is not impossible. Vouliagmeni is a very good team and has a very good coach. But, we are Brescia, and we can make the semifinals!”
Brescia’s captain, Christian Presciutti, will retire after the Belgrade Final Eight.
“This is a very emotional tournament for me, I will play the last three games in my career. Last year, we lost in the semifinals in the dying seconds of the match against Novi Beograd. Our dream is to reach the final this year. I am proud of this season, we finished 1st in the group, but the Final Eight differs significantly from the group stage. In a single match, everything can happen. Both teams have chances.”
Vladimir Vujasinovic, the three-time CHL winner as a player, before the game against Brescia said:
“A great journey is behind us. We started it from the qualifications and arrived among the top eight teams. We are very satisfied with the results this season. It was an excellent experience for the club. We already achieved success by reaching the Final Eight. Our rivals have better teams, so we can’t speak about the entire tournament now. A day before the start, our only goal is to do our best in the quarterfinals.
Vouliagmeni’s captain Marios Kapotsis has a similar opinion as his coach:
“I am very proud because we are at the Final Eight. I hope we will give our best at the tournament, play good games and be a tough opponent to everyone.”
Pro Recco – Ferencvaros (20:00)
Group Stage: Pro Recco 2nd place Group A, 36 pts (192:102) – Ferencvaros 3rd place Group B, 25 pts (148:141).
Recent encounters – 2021/22 (semifinals): Pro Recco – Ferencvaros 10:7; 2020/21 (final): Pro Recco – Ferencvaros 9:6; 2019/20 (group stage): Pro Recco – Ferencvaros 13:13; 2018/19 (group stage): Pro Recco – Ferencvaros 9:6 and 13:7
The first day will be closed with an encounter between the teams that won the previous three editions of the Champions League.
Ferencvaros hasn’t beaten Pro Recco in the recent history of the Champions League. It couldn’t defeat Recco even in the season when it won the Champions League (2018/19). One match, played in Italy, in the canceled season 2019/20 ended in a draw.
Recco defeated Ferencvaros on its way to the titles in the previous two Final Eights – in the final in 2021 and in the semifinal last year.
Sandro Sukno won the Champions League as a player and a head coach. Asked if Pro Recco felt pressure as the favorite that could win the third trophy in a row, the head coach of the reigning champion said:
“We are entering the tournament without pressure. We are fully concentrated on the first game against the excellent team of Ferencvaros. It’s hard to say which team is the favorite. All clubs have chances. There are no significant differences in the quality of the participating teams. It will be impossible to win the game already in the first half. I expect that tiny details will decide in all matches.”
Aleksandar Ivovic, Recco’s captain, is self-confident:
“I think we can repeat the success from the last season. We are in good shape, and the atmosphere in the team is excellent. We will have a challenging game against Ferencvaros at the start. They have always participated in the semifinals since 2018, which says everything about Ferencvaros.”
WHO LIKES THUNDERS AND RAIN?
The weather forecast for this week in Belgrade isn’t promising. There is a big possibility that the rain will be falling in the following four days. According to the regulations, the game won’t be stopped because of rain. But there will be breaks, and the teams will leave the pool if a thunderstorm starts.
Igor Milanovic commented on the forecast:
“There can be strange conditions for the water polo depending on the weather. Because of that, the teams will maybe have to improvisate in their tactics. As Sandro Sukno said, details and better coping in the final minutes will probably be decisive”
Vladimir Vujasinovic added with a smile:
“If there is rain and a big storm that breaks the matches, our chances will increase. Vouliagmeni trains and plays in the outdoor pool all year and we are used to such conditions. That’s our environment.
1963/1964. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1964/1965. Recco (ITA)
1965/1966. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1966/1967. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1967/1968. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1968/1969. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1969/1970. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1970/1971. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1971/1972. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1972/1973. OSC Budapest (HUN)
1973/1974. MGU Moskow (USSR)
1974/1975. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1975/1976. Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1976/1977. CSK VMF Moscow (USSR)
1977/1978. Canottieri Naples (ITA)
1978/1979. OSC Budapest (HUN)
1979/1980. Vasas Budapest (HUN)
1980/1981. Jug Dubrovnik (YUG)
1981/1982. Barcelona (ESP)
1982/1983. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1983/1984. Stefanel Recco (ITA)
1984/1985. Vasas Budapest (HUN)
1985/1986. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1986/1987. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1987/1988. Sisley Pescara (ITA)
1988/1989. Spandau Berlin (FRG)
1989/1990. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1990/1991. Mladost Zagreb (YUG)
1991/1992. Jadran Koteks Split (CRO)
1992/1993. Jadran Koteks Split (CRO)
1993/1994. Ujpest Budapest (HUN)
1994/1995. Catalunya Barcelona (ESP)
1995/1996. Mladost Zagreb (CRO)
1996/1997. Posillipo Naples (ITA)
1997/1998. Posillipo Naples (ITA)
1998/1999. POSK Splitska Banka (CRO)
1999/2000. Becej (YUG)
2000/2001. Jug Dubrovnik (CRO)
2001/2002. Olimpiacos Piraeus (GRE)
2002/2003. Pro Recco (ITA)
2003/2004. Honved Budapest (HUN)
2004/2005. Posillipo Naples (ITA)
2005/2006. Jug Dubrovnik (CRO)
2006/2007. Pro Recco (ITA)
2007/2008. Pro Recco (ITA)
2008/2009. Primorac Kotor (MNE)
2009/2010. Pro Recco (ITA)
2010/2011. Partizan Belgrade (SRB)
2011/2012. Pro Recco (ITA)
2012/2013. Crvena Zvezda Belgrade (SRB)
2013/2014. Barceloneta (ESP)
2014/2015. Pro Recco (ITA)
2015/2016. Jug Dubrovnik (CRO)
2016/2017. Szolnok (HUN)
2017/2018. Olimpiacos Piraeus (GRE)
2018/2019. Ferencvaros Budapest (HUN)
2019/2020 season canceled
2020/2021 Pro Recco (ITA)
2021/22 Pro Recco (ITA)
Titles by clubs – 10: Pro Recco, 7: Mladost and Partizan, 4: Spandau and Jug, 3: Posillipo, 2: OSC, Vasas, Jadran Split, Olympiacos, 1: MGU Moscow, CSK VMF Moscow, Canottieri Naples, Barcelona, Pescara, Ujpest, Catalunya, POSK, Becej, Honved, Primorac, Crvena Zvezda, Barceloneta, Szolnok, Ferencvaros.