Are you ready for the very best water polo?
The LEN Champions League begins tomorrow. Last season, the League was shortened due to the impacts of the pandemic. This autumn, the CHL returns to its usual format – 16 clubs are split into two groups, there will be no “bubble” tournaments, the teams will play home and away matches.
Both groups feature excellent clubs. Still, Group A, which starts tomorrow, is called “the group of death” for a reason. Only one club can be considered as an underdog here – Dinamo Tbilisi has no big hopes. The other seven clubs entered this season with high ambitions.
Four former European champions were drawn into Group A – Ferencvaros, Olympiacos, Barceloneta, Jadran Split (which came from the qualifications). Besides them, Italian champion Brescia, Serbian and Regional League champion Radnicki, and Novi Beograd, a new European water polo powerhouse, play in Group A.
A detail that makes a road to the Final Eight from this group even harder is that there are only three available F8 berths since Novi Beograd is already qualified as a technical host.
At least one of the former European champions and one of the participants of the F8 in last season, won’t reach the final tournament, which will be held in July.
The first round in this group brings two derbies. Novi Beograd will host Radnicki, while Ferencvaros and Brescia will face off in the replay of the last season’s semifinal (full schedule at the end of the article)
2021/22 Champions League, Group A
Ferencvaros Telekom Budapest (Hungary)
Last five seasons: 2021: runner-up, 2020 (after 9 rounds): 3rd in Group B; 2019: winner; 2017 – 2018 didn’t play in CHL.
2021 – Group B: 1st place, 24pts (113:73); Final Eight – quarterfinals: Marseille 14:6, semifinals: Brescia 14:12, final: Pro Recco 6:9
Best results: Winner (2019), 4x winner of Cup winners’ Cup (1975, 1978, 1980, 1998), 2x Euro Cup winner (2017, 2018).
Arrivals: Nemanja Ubovic (Sabadell), Daniil Merkulov (Jug AO), Luca Damonte (Palermo), Lorinc Gabor (KSI), Erik Molnar (UVSE).
Departures: Nikola Jaksic (Novi Beograd), Tamas Mezei (Vasas), Tamas Sedlmayer (Vasas), Ioannis Fountoulis (Olympiacos), Gergo Zalanki (Pro Recco), Nicolas Constantin-Bicari (Brescia), Andras Gardony (Szolnok)
Players to watch: Denes Varga, Marton Vamos , Soma Vogel (GK), Luka Damonte, Nemanja Ubovic, Daniil Merkulov, Vendel Vigvari, Szilad Jansik
Head coach: Zsolt Varga.
Several great players left Ferencvaros this summer. The team is younger than in the previous season, but “Fradi” is able for great achievements. Denes Varga, one of the superstars of European water polo, remains the team’s leader. Three newcomers Nemanja Ubovic, Daniil Merkulov and Luca Damonte are players who have a lot of experience and successes in international competitions.
Without any doubt, Ferencvaros is one of the most serious contenders for the title.
Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (Spain)
Last five seasons – 2021: 4th place; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 1st in Group A; 2019: 4th place; 2018: 3rd; 2017: 4th in Group B.
2021 – Group B: 2nd place, 24 pts (119:81); Final Eight – quarterfinals: Olympiacos 22:9, semifinals: Pro Recco 10:12, bronze-medal match: Brescia 7:13.
Best results: Winner (2014), 3rd place (2013, 2015, 2018)
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Unai Aguirre (Barcelona),Oscar Asensio (Sabadell),Albert Ponferrada (Catalunya), Luke Pavillars (Sidney University Lions) head coach Elvis Fatovic (Australia)
Departures: Milan Aleksic (Partizan), Blai Mallarach (Barcelona), Joao Pedro Coimbra Serra (Novi Beograd), Michael Bodegas (Marseille), head coach Chus Martin.
Players to watch: Felipe Perrone, Alvaro Granados, Alberto Munarriz, Miguel De Toro, Dani Lopez (GK), Unai Aguirre (GK), Francisco Fernandez, Martin Famera, etc
Head coach: Elvis Fatovic
Barceloneta rejuvenated the team, as well as Ferenncvaros. However, it kept big Spanish aces – Perrone, Granados, Munarriz, etc
Barceloneta starts its new European campaign with a new coach Elvis Fatovic, who successfully guided Jug Dubrovnik and the national team of Australia.
The only Spanish club in the 2022 Champions League hasn’t missed the Final Eight since 2018. This season, the road to the F8 will be more complex than in the previous, but the Spaniards have the right to enter the season with the highest ambitions. They won’t be easy opponents to favorites. A spot at the Final Eight is Barceloneta’s primary goal in this season, for sure.
Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece)
Last five seasons – 2021: 7th place; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 3rd in Group A; 2019: runner-up; 2018: winner; 2017: 6th place.
2021 – Group A: 3rd place, 14 pts (89:92); Final Eight – quarterfinals: Barceloneta 9:22, semifinals 5th-8th place: Hannover 8:10, For 7th place: Marseille13:12
Best results: 2x winner (2002, 2018), 3x runner-up (2001, 2016, 2019).
Transfers, summer 2021
Arrivals: Filip Filipovic (Szolnok), Andro Buslje (Mladost), Marko Bijac (Pro Recco), Ioannis Fountoulis (Ferencvaros), Djuro Radovic (Jadran HN), Christodoulos Kolomvos (ENKA Istanbul), Konstantinos Gouvis (Vouliagmeni), Nikolas Gillas (Chios)
Departures: Konstantinos Kakaris, Stylianos Argyropoulos (both Jug AO Dubrovnik), Stefanos Galanopoulos (Apollon Smyrnis), Max Irving (Telimar), Dimitrios Skoumpakis (Vouliagmeni), Marios Kapotsis (Vouliagmeni), Hannes Daube.
Players to watch: FIlip Filipovic, Andro Buslje, Marko Bijac (GK), Ioannis Fountoulis, Konstantinos Genidounias, Konstantinos Mourikis, Emmanouil Zerdevas (GK), Georgios Dervisis, Djuro Radovic, etc.
Head coach: Theorodos Vlachos.
Last year, Olympiacos had financial troubles. Therefore, several stars departed from Olympiacos. According to unofficial information, participation in the 2020/21 Champions League was in question. Still, the Piraeus-based club entered the European stage and qualified for the Final Eight last season.
After a quite disappointing 7th place in the 2021 Champions League, Olympiacos renovated the team and sent a message that it wants to return to the European top. The list of reinforcements is long. Several great players, like Filipovic, Buslje, Bijac, returnee Fountoulis, arrived in Piraeus, while most of the key players renewed the contracts. This year’s big successes of the Greek national team are additional encouragement for the best Greek club.
Olympiacos starts the hunt for its third European title.
Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia)
Last five seasons – 2021: 5th place in Group B; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 8th in Group B; 2017 – 2019: didn’t play.
2021 – Group B: 5th place, 6 pts (74:121)
Best result: Group stage
Transfers, summer 2021
Departures: Boris Vapenski (Brescia)
Players to watch: Marko Jelaca, Dusan Vasic, Jovan Saric, Andria Bitadze, Irakli Razmadze (GK), etc.
Head coach: Dejan Stanojevic.
The best Georgian and several players from the ex-Yu countries are Dinamo’s leaders. The Georgian champion enters the season with no big chances to secure a spot among the top three teams. Each win in the “group of death” will be a significant success for Dinamo.
KVK Radnicki Kragujevac (Serbia)
Last five seasons – 2021: Qualifications – 2nd place in Group in Budapest (quarterfinalist of LEN Euro Cup); 2020-2017: didn’t play.
Best result: runner-up in 2014 and 2013 LEN Euro Cup winner (as VK Radnicki)
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Milos Cuk (Novi Beograd), Josip Vrlic (Mladost)
Departures: Strahinja Rasovic (Novi Beograd)
Players to watch: Milos Cuk, Josip Vrlic, Filip Jankovic, Lazar Dobozanov (GK), Marko Radulovic, Aleksa Ukropina, Stefan Brankovic,etc.
Head coach: Uros Stevanovic
Water polo in Kragujevac had a lot of ups and downs in the past eight years. VK Radnicki was the LEN Euro Cup winner and the Champions League runner-up, but a few years after these successes, the club ceased to exist. A new club, KVK Radnicki was founded in 2016. In five years, it passed the way from the lowest Serbian League to the trophy in the Regional League and the Serbian title. KVK Radnicki hasn’t made big changes in the team since the last season. The team is quite young, reinforced by two experienced players – Milos Cuk and Josip Vrlic, who both have won the Champions League (Cuk with Partizan and Vrlic with Jug).
The Kragujevac-based club is targeting the Final Eight, and maybe even more… Lack of experience might be a problem for Radnicki, but this is a team with high potential
Novi Beograd (Serbia)
Last five seasons – didn’t play (eighth-finalists of 2021 LEN Euro Cup)
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Dusko Pijetlovic, Radomir Drasovic (both Szolnok), Dusan Mandic (Pro Recco), Angelos Vlachopoulos (Brescia), Nikola Jaksic (Ferencvaros), Gojko Pijetlovic (Oradea), Viktor Rasovic (Noisy-le-Sec), Strahinja Rasovic (Radnicki), Djordje Vucinic (Sabac), Joao Pedro Coimbra Serra (Barceloneta), Miroslav Perkovic (Primorac).
Departures: Djordje Filipovic (retired), Milos Cuk (Radnicki), Dimitrije Risticevic (Partizan), Aleksandar Radanovic, Nikola Nikolov, Nikola Bursac (all three Vojvodina), Filip Gardasevic (Crvena Zvezda), Marko Avramovc (retired), Mateja Asanovic (Oradea), Nikola Radulovic.
Players to watch: Dusko Pijetlovic, Dusan Mandic, Gojko Pijetlovic (GK), Nikola Jaksic, Strahinja Rasovic, Angelos Vlachopoulos, Viktor Rasovic, Drasko Gogov, Radomir Drasovic, etc.
Head coach: Vladimir Vujasinovic.
Novi Beograd is a young club (founded in 2015) but has made big progress in the last few years. The culmination of that progress was this year’s transfer market.
Novi Beograd started its activities regarding the transfers ten months ago, and step-by-step, composed a dream team. Olympic champions (the Pijetlovic brothers, Mandic, Jaksic, Rasovic) and Olympic silver-medalist Vlachopoulos are just six of many aces who arrived at Novi Beograd.
Waterpolo Club Novi Beograd itself doesn’t have big experience in Europe, but it has excellent champions, who have rich treasuries of trophies, on its roster. A new powerful team, guided by Vladimir Vujasinovic, has had a great start to the season. It scored 91 goals in the first four matches in the new season. Two of these four matches were big derbies against Champions League clubs – Radnicki (an 18:14 victory) and Crvena Zvezda (18:10). These two results and the roster say that winning the Champions League isn’t an unattainable goal for Novi Beograd.
AN Brescia (Italy)
Last five seasons – 2021: 3rd place; 2020: Qualification Round 3 (semi-finalist in Euro Cup); 2019: 6th place; 2018: 7th place; 2017: 5th place.
2021 – Qualifications: 1st place in the Group in Budapest; Group B: 3rd place, 21 pts (117:80); Final Eight – quarterfinals: Jug 12:10, semifinals: Ferencvaros 12:14, bronze-medal match: Barceloneta 13:7
Best result: 3rd place (2021), 4x Euro Cup/LEN Trophy winner (2002, 2003, 2006, 2016).
Transfers, summer 2021
Arrivals: Petar Tesanovic (Jadran HN), Boris Vapenski (Dinamo Tbilisi), Stefano Luongo (Pro Recco), Nicolas Constantin Bicari (Ferencvaros).
Departures: Marco Del Lungo (Pro Recco), Angelos Vlachopoulos (Novi Beograd), Giacomo Canella (Pro Recco), Dimitris Nikolaidis (Spandau 04), Maro Jokovic (Jug Dubrovnik)
Players to watch: Vincenzo Renzuto, Christian Presciutti, Edoardo Di Somma, Djordje Lazic, Stefano Luongo, Nicolas Constantin Bicari, Vincenzo Dolce; Petar Tesanovic (GK), Boris Vapenski,etc.
Head coach: Alessandro Bovo.
Last season, was one of the most successful in Brescia’s history. The club won its second-ever title of Italian champion and finished 3rd in the Champions League. However, Brescia faced the departure of several key players. But, the Italian champion composed a new good squad with many experienced players. This is the team that can beat anybody and reaches the Final Eight. And if they qualify for the F8, everything will be possible.
Jadran Split (Croatia)
Last five seasons – 2021: Qualifications – 5th place in Group in Syracuse; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 7th place in Group A; 2019: 5th place in Group B; 2018: didn’t play (quarterfinalist of LEN Euro Cup); 2017: didn’t play.
Best result: 2x winner (1992 and 1993), semifinalist in 1994
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Niksa Dobud (Pro Recco), Marino Cagalj (Spandau 04), Luka Bukic, Konstantin Kharkov (both Mladost), Mate Anic (Reims).
Departures: Ivan Domagoj Zovic (Szolnok), Nikola Milardovic (PAOK), Ivo Bego (Trieste).
Players to watch: Niksa Dobud, Konstantin Kharkov, Luka Bukic, Jerko Marinic Kragic, Rino Buric, Zvonimit Butic, Mate Anic (GK),Marino Cagalj, etc.
Head coach: Mile Smodlaka.
Jadran qualified for the Champions League for the third time in the last four years. But, this season, the former European champion enters the CHL in a different role. Jadran wasn’t among the favorites in the previous two appearances. Still, it won’t be a surprise if Jadran advances to the F8 and even makes a step or two further this season. Jadran’s golden age was the beginning of the tenth decade of the 20th century. Since then, the Split-based side hasn’t won many trophies. But, a new era began this summer. Jadran was one of the most active clubs in the transfer market. There were not many departures while a few great players arrived.
Jadran isn’t a favorite for the top of the table, but it is a team that can make headaches to the best teams. Jadran can win points both in home and away matches.
Day 1 (October 26)
Barceloneta – Jadran (19:15)
Novi Beograd – Radnicki (19:45)
Brescia – Ferencvaros (20:30)
Olympiacos – Dinamo Tbilisi (19:15)
All times are local
Day 2 (November 9)
Brescia – Barceloneta
Novi Beograd – Olympiacos
Jadran – Dinamo
Radnicki – Ferencvaros
Day 3 (November 19 )
Dinamo – Barceloneta
Ferencvaros – Olympiacos
Radnicki – Brescia
Jadran – Novi Beograd
Day 4 (November 30)
Olympiacos – Barceloneta
Dinamo – Brescia
Ferencvaros – Novi Beograd
Jadran – Radnicki
Day 5 (December 14)
Barceloneta – Ferencvaros
Radnicki – Dinamo
Olympiacos – Jadran
Novi Beograd – Brescia
Day 6 (December 21)
Barceloneta – Radnicki
Ferencvaros – Jadran
Brescia – Olympiacos
Dinamo – Novi Beograd
Day 7 (January 11)
Barceloneta – Novi Beograd
Brescia – Jadran
Olympiacos – Radnicki
Dinamo – Ferencvaros
Day 8 (January 26)
Novi Beograd – Barceloneta
Jadran – Brescia
Radnicki – Olympiacos
Ferencvaros – Dinamo
Day 9 (February 9)
Radnicki – Barceloneta
Jadran – Ferencvaros
Olympiacos – Brescia
Novi Beograd – Dinamo
Day 10 (February 23)
Ferencvaros – Barceloneta
Dinamo – Radnicki
Jadran – Olympiacos
Brescia – Novi Beograd
Day 11 (March 19)
Barceloneta – Olympiacos
Brescia – Dinamo
Novi Beograd – Ferencvaros
Radnicki – Jadran
Day 12 (March 30)
Barceloneta – Dinamo
Olympiacos – Ferencvaros
Brescia – Radnicki
Novi Beograd – Jadran
Day 13 (June 8)
Barceloneta – Brescia
Olympiacos – Novi Beograd
Dinamo – Jadran
Ferencvaros – Radnicki
Day 14 (June 15)
Jadran – Barceloneta
Radnicki – Novi Beograd
Ferencvaros – Brescia
Dinamo – Olympiacos