For the first time, eight venues will witness Champions League action on one day: the expanded edition of the world’s premium water polo competition kicks off on Wednesday with a series of brilliant battles in sight.
After the tremendous success gained in the previous four years, LEN opted to expand the water polo Champions League group stage, from 12 to 16 teams.
Granting wild cards for the top clubs of nations with great water polo traditions, Champions League action will reach unchartered waters. Russia, the Netherlands, and Romania are on the newcomers’ list, while Montenegro will re-appear on the big stage after a one-year absence. For the first time, Spain will have two sides on the battlefield, just as Italy and Germany, while Serbia, Greece, and Croatia back their respective top club to advance to the Final Eight (replacing the Final Six format).
As in the last two seasons, Hungary tops this list with three participants, thanks to the special conditions granted for team sports in the land of the Magyars, which make it possible for them to have three pretty strong squads fighting for the F8 berths with great chances.
Jump down to read athlete and coach prematch commentaries!
|Jug C.O. Dubrovnik|
|Waspo 98 Hannover|
|Jadran Carine Herceg Novi|
|Spandau 04 Berlin|
Based on the line-ups’ strength, 2016 winner and last season’s runner-up Jug (CRO) and 2016 silver medallist Olympiacos (GRE) stand out in this group. Barceloneta (ESP), champion in 2014, will try to return to the F8 after they missed the cut last spring for the first time in four years – which means that the Game of the Day is the Spaniards’ clash with Olympiacos. Two years ago they met in the prelims, tied in Barcelona (7-7), while the Greeks won at home (9-5).
The race for the top four places will surely include Brescia (ITA), which made the F6 last season just ahead of OSC (HUN). Hannover might also have a say in it – its opening match at home against the Italians promises some exciting moments.
Partizan (SRB) always faces the same challenges: to keep the most talented players as long as possible before they join other European clubs. Thus the Serbs are not considered real favorites at club level (unlike amongst the national teams) – still, their youngsters have never offered easy matches to any visiting teams in the fearsome Banjica pool. OSC, attempting to make the finals after two failed campaigns, had some experience from the past seasons about what it takes to survive in Belgrade. Back in 2015-16, they lost the away clash 5-4 and the home clash wasn’t an easy cruise either (10-8). Now a first-round appearance in Serbia might require double the effort from the Hungarians in order not to lose valuable points right at the beginning.
The draw could have been more merciful to Dinamo Moscow (RUS), the newcomers have to play with hot favorite Jug on the opening day, perhaps any other rival would have meant an easier task for the Russians.
The three regular Final Six participants from the past seasons, Recco (ITA) and the two Hungarians, Szolnok and Eger are the front-runners in this group (in fact Recco has a guaranteed berth as the host of next June’s Final Eight, though the Italian giant would most probably make the cut on its own). Returner Jadran (MNE), traditional group stage participant Spandau (GER) and the three rookies, Alphen (NED), Steaua (ROU) and Sabadell (ESP) will surely stage fierce battles to clinch the fourth spot.
Title-holder Szolnok and 2015 winner Pro Recco are perhaps out of reach for most of their opponents, but Eger will have to be cautious meeting the upcoming teams. Their first visit is already a curious one: in Bucharest, Steaua and its fans will surely try to upset the Hungarians in the Romanians’ first-ever Champions League match. The same applies to Sabadell where Szolnok’s newly shaped team will have its first big encounter of the season.
The clash of Jadran and Spandau will offer thrills as both sides are eyeballing some better ranks this season – two years ago nothing separated them as both of their matches ended in a 9-9 draw. Perhaps Alphen is the team which faces something we can call ‘mission impossible’ since the Dutch debut in Recco where no team was able to win a match in the past three years.
(all times are local)
Dynamo Moscow (RUS) v Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
CN Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE)
Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v AN Brescia (ITA)
Partizan Belgrade (SRB) v A Hid-OSC Budapest (HUN)
CN Sabadell (ESP) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)
Steaua Bucharest (ROU) v ZF Eger (HUN)
Jadran Herceg Novi (MNE) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER)
Pro Recco (ITA) v AZC Alphen (NED)
For live scoring, stats and play-by-play action visit www.len.eu or download the Champions League App!
Jug: 2nd in Final Six. Prelims: 3rd in Group B – 5W, 2D, 3L (115-92)
Marat Zakirov, head coach, Dynamo:
“Our team had a good preparation for the coming game. Management of our club greatly reinforced club composition in this year, most players are in composition of Russian national team, so we hope to show worthy results. The general feeling of our team is only positive. Dynamo Moscow has not played in Champions League for 15 years, so Wednesday will be high day for team, players, spectators and for all, who loves our team.”
Sergey Lisunov, captain, Dynamo:
“We have great mood inside our team. We were thoroughly preparing for the first game, went to Budapest for trainings, so we hope to win. We also want to get good experience playing against such a great team as Jug.”
Vjekoslav Kobescak, head coach, Jug:
“Dynamo is great team this year with three Serbian internationals and lot of Russian national team players. In this moment we don’t have information about them because they didn’t play official games so we couldn’t do proper analysis as we usually do. Anyway, it will be tough match but I have faith in my team.”
Viktor Rasovic, player:
“Tough match at the beginning of competition. They are very strong at the hole position but if we can guard Pijetlovic and Lisunov we can count on a positive result.”
Barceloneta: Prelims: 4th in Group A – 4W, 2D, 4L (89-81)
Olympiacos: 6th in Final Six. Prelims: 2nd in Group A – 7W, 1D, 2L (90-63)
Chus Martin, head coach, Barceloneta:
“Tomorrow, the best water polo competition of our continent will begin. We have more matches this year and a new final competition, the Final Eight. This match against Olympiacos will be more difficult, they are one of the best opponents because all their players are playing together for long years in the club and the national team. All matches in our group will be finals. We are expecting a win but the match against Olympiacos will be really difficult.”
Dani Lopez, goalkeeper, Barceloneta:
“Our team has a lot of will as the Champions League begins. The match against Olympiacos will be a difficult one but we are prepared for this game. Our pool will be ready for this match and our supporters will encourage us during the entire game.”
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Olympiacos:
“Barceloneta is not unbeatable in their home. In the past we have made good results there, but for sure it would be a strong first day! They play in their home against Olympiacos and they have to win, because all the teams are aware to win the games in their home. This would be very difficult. I know they are better than last year, Perrone is a world-class player that put the team in a better level.”
Josip Pavic, goalie, Olympiacos:
“In our first game in Champions League we play against Barceloneta. Definitely it would be a tough game. They signed Felipe Perrone and a centre-forward, this makes them very strong. We had a very good joint training camp with Pro Recco and we feel ready for the start of the season! This year would be more difficult, as we have much more also difficult games in the season. We have to look for every match separately as all our opponents are strong.”
Hannover: Prelims: 6th in Group B – 0W, 3D, 7L (98-128)
Brescia: 5th in Final Six. Prelims: 3rd in Group A – 5W, 2D, 3L (91-78)
Karsten Seehafer, head coach, Hannover:
“We had a good preparation for the following season in Dubrovnik two weeks ago. Last weekend we won the German Super Cup in Berlin against German champion Spandau. The actual season will start on Wednesday in the game against AN Brescia and we are expecting a tough game. It won’t be easy but the recent season showed, everything is possible…”
Tobias Preuss, player, Hannover:
“We’re up to high expectations about Brescia coming to Hannover to kick off the Champions League season in home waters. We know about their qualities as a team as well as of their great individual players. However, this is our city and we’ll try everything to give them a very tough time to keep those first points here at the Stadionbad. We’re ready to play!”
Sasa Radovic, player, Hannover:
“Brescia is the only team from Italy that can play on the same level with Pro Recco. This shows their strength. They have changed the team from last year, making a trio from our national team colleagues and friends, Jankovic, Vukcevic and Paskovic. They have many Italian national team players as well, who played together for many years. They are a compact team, being in the European water polo for a long time, and this game will be a great opportunity for us to see where we stand, what to improve and work on in our play.”
Predrag Jokic, player, Hannover:
“Brescia is a good team with quality players in all positions who are playing in almost the same crew for years but I think if we repeat the game against Spandau we can get a good result.”
Alessandro Bovo, head coach, Brescia:
“Hannover is a very good team, they’ve invested – and they keep on investing – to become a very strong water polo club, and now their line-up is remarkable with foreign players of top level… We have to pay attention and give our best, especially in extra-player situations and in inferiority in numbers too.”
Partizan: Prelims: 5th in Group B – 1W, 1D, 8L (76-124)
OSC: Prelims: 4th in Group A – 3W, 3D, 4L (79-74)
Stefan Ciric, head coach, Partizan:
“Partizan enters the competition with the youngest team in its long history, so our main goal in the 2017/18 Champions League is gaining experience. But results are important too. OSC is one of the best European clubs in the moment and one of the favourites in the competition this season. The team from Budapest has several excellent players, among them are members of the national team of Serbia Nemanja Ubovic and Sava Randjelovic. We respect OSC, they are the favourite in Wednesday’s game, but we’ll try to gain at least one point. Every point in this season’s Champions League would mean a lot for our young players.”
Szolnok: Winner in Final Six. Prelims: 1st in Group A: 9W, 1D, 0L (101-62)
Victor Cabanas, player, Sabadell:
“For the club it’s a great result to be here. It proves if you take and move the right pieces together, you can achieve what you want. In our first game we have to give all what we have, we don’t have to put limits on ourselves. We don’t have experience in this competition, only one of our team-mates played in this stage. We just have to play and see what is our place in this competition and try to improve game by game.”
Sándor Cseh, head coach, Szolnok:
“It is well known that the Sabadell water polo team is the second best team of Spain, following Barceloneta. They are especially dangerous in home games, they swim fast and their game is intense. As their start-off is very powerful, we have to adjust to the pace of the game very quickly and we cannot lean back for even a moment. Fortunately we can count on each and every player of our team on our opening game, where our aim is to win.”
Tamás Mezei, player, Szolnok:
“We do not know Sabadell, as they are new in the Champions League. What we know is that Spanish teams play fast and swift. As this will be our first game and it will also be abroad, we cannot envisage an easy encounter. One thing is for sure, this match will be a great opportunity for testing our shape, because we are looking forward to a fully-schedule November. Naturally, we want to start off with a win, as the winners of last season’s Champions League.”
Eger: 4th in Final Six. Prelims: 2nd in Group B – 6W, 0D, 4L (78-84)
Iosep Andrei, head coach, Steaua:
“We will met one of the best teams in Europe, who played the semi final in the Final Six past season, so our task will be very difficult. They are in very good shape right now, winning all the games in the Hungarian Cup and in the championship as well. We hope, with the help of our supporters – the game is already sold out – we will be able to display a very good game and to demonstrate that we deserve to be in the main groups of the Champions League.”
Mihai Dragusin, captain, Steaua:
“It will be a very difficult game. Eger is a very good team with players who can make the difference. We will try to enter very focused into the match and we hope to play a good game.”
Norbert Dabrowski, head coach ZF-Eger:
“This will be the first Champions League game of the season, and we are very excited. We are the probable winner of the match, but we need to prove our quality.”
Gergo Kovacs, player, ZF-Eger:
“In the past weeks we played a lot of games, and we have more hard trainings, which were required to stick it out the whole season. Personally, I started to feel nowadays the benefits of the work and I hope we can acquire three points in Bucharest with a good water polo.”
Balint Lorincz, player, ZF-Eger:
“I had a backache in the last weeks, but on the weekend I played against the Honved. For Wednesday I will be in a better shape and I hope the team can start with a great win in the Champions League.”
Jadran: did not qualify.
Spandau: Prelims: 5th in Group A – 2W, 1D, 7L (75-95)
Vladimir Gojkovic, head coach, Jadran:
“It is great success of our team to be participant of Champions League after long qualifications. It is real honour to be here among the best 16 teams. We will give our best in the coming 14 games, especially those at home. First game at home with Spandau will be first opportunity to get our first points in the Champions League. I am sure we will enjoy good water polo. Champions League is welcomed back to Montenegro, Herceg Novi.”
Marko Petkovic, captain, Jadran:
“It is our really pleasure that we’ve passed through three stages of qualification and finally we are in Champions League. This is huge challenge for this young team. We do not have anything to lose, we can just win. We will give our best to try to win our first game at home. The season will be long and difficult with 14 games, but we will give our best.”
Peter Kovacevic, head coach, Spandau:
“It is always very difficult playing in Montenegro, especially against such a very strong team as Jadran. Our team is still not at its 100%. We have just started the season and still are integrating some new players. If we do have a chance, we will keep up but it will be hard.”
Marko Stamm, captain, Spandau:
“We do know that it will be hard to be successful but we do have a young new team with hungry players. Of course we will try to win and to set the first mark this season.”
Recco: 3rd in Final Six. Prelims: 1st in Group B – 10W, 0D, 0L (116-63)
Maurizio Felugo, president, Pro Recco:
“From Genoa to Genoa: on Wednesday starts the Champions League, a competition very important for us especially considering the Final Eight in June organised at home. We are ready to play, we know that this year we’ll have to work hard to reach the goal. There are many strong teams, so it will be a fantastic challenge.”
Eraldo Pizzo, vice-president, Pro Recco:
“Pro Recco v Alphen isn’t just an ordinary game. In December 1983 we played the Champions Cup Final against Alphen. We lost in Holland, then we won 8-5 in Piscine di Albaro conquering the trophy. Today Pro Recco is a strong team and Alphen is rising again after a period away from the big stages. It will be a good match.”
Ron van der Wild, head coach, AZC Alphen:
“AZC Alphen has a great European history. But we must be realistic, those experiences have been a long time ago. With AZC Alphen, we are building a new flowering period. We are grateful to LEN that we can play on this platform via the wild card. Of course we have a lot of respect for our first opponent Pro Recco. But in the water we will fight for a good result.”
Tim van Gulik, captain, AZC Alphen:
“We have been able to create a strong new team. In addition to players with international experience, we also have a number of young players in the team – boys from our own water polo school. This is good for their future. Pro Recco is a historically well-known team in Alphen. In 1983 they beat AZC Alphen in the final of the champions’ cup. It’s a great start of our European adventure, I would say.”