Group B of the 2021/22 Champions League will see many encounters between the clubs that have won the Champions League.
Besides title-holder Pro Recco, four former champions play here: Spandau, Jug, OSC Budapest, and Crvena Zvezda. The remaining three teams are Marseille, Waspo Hannover, and Steaua Bucharest.
The clubs in Group B have more European trophies in their treasuries than the clubs that play in Group A. However, the number of the title contenders is smaller than in Group A, where seven clubs seek F8 berths.
Pro Recco is a heavy favorite in the group, which starts on Wednesday. Jug will probably be Recco’s most dangerous opponent. According to predictions Marseille, and two qualifiers OSC and Crvena Zvezda, have realistic chances of reaching the Final Eight.
Spandau, Hannover, and Steaua are in a circle of clubs that can surprise the favorites. The other five teams shouldn’t underestimate the Romanians and, especially, the Germans.
A highlight of the first round is the game Marseille – Pro Recco (full schedule at the end of the article).
2021/22 Champions League, Group B
Pro Recco (Italy)
Last five seasons – 2021: winner; 2020 (after 9 rounds): 2nd in Group B; 2019: 3rd place; 2018: runner-up; 2017: 3rd place.
2021 – Group A: 1st place, 30 pts (127:68), Final Eight – quarterfinals: Waspo Hannove 16:9, semifinals: Barceloneta 12:10, final: Ferencvaros 9:6
Best results: 9x winner (1965, 1984, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2021), 7x runner-up (1967,1970, 1972, 2006, 2009,2011,2018).
Transfers, summer 2021
Arrivals: Luka Loncar (Jug AO), Marco Del Lungo, Giacomo Canella (both Brescia), Gergo Zalanki (Ferencvaros), Zeno Bertoli (Posillipo), head coach Sandro Sukno (Primorac).
Departures: Niksa Dobud (Jadran S), Dusan Mandic (Novi Beograd), Marko Bijac (Olympiacos), Niccolo Figari (Iren Quinto), Stefano Luongo (Brescia), head coach Gabriel Hernandez.
Players to watch: Aleksandar Ivovic, Francesco Di Fulvio, Luka Loncar, Marco Del Lungo (GK), Gergo Zalanki, Aaron Younger, Pietro Figlioli, Gonzalo Echenique, Matteo Aicardi,etc.
Head coach: Sandro Sukno.
There is not much new to say or write about Pro Recco and its goals. Pro Recco’s ambitions have been the same for years. The season isn’t successful if the club doesn’t win the European title. After a long wait, the “Recchini” finally won the Champions League last season in an impressive way (13 wins in as many matches). But Recco was dethroned in Italy (Brescia is the national champion).
Several excellent players left Pro Recco last summer, but the club found good replacements and Recco is, as always, one of the favorites for the title. Sandro Sukno, a new coach, faces a demanding task because Recco’s goals are always to win everything they can. However, the 2017 Total Player is aware of big responsibility and ready for challenges. Recco is targeting the 10th title of the European champion. Still, this season it will be much harder to reach this goal than in the previous one. The competition is stronger.
Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (Croatia)
Last five seasons – 2021: 5th place; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 2nd in Group A; 2019: 5th place; 2018: 4th place; 2017: runner-up.
2021 – Group A: 2nd place, 19 pts (102:106). Final Eight – quarterfinals: Brescia 10:12, semifinals 5th-8th place: Marseille16:13, 5th-place match: Hannover 16:11
Best results: 4x winner (1981, 2001, 2006, 2016), 4x runner-up (2007, 2008, 2013, 2017), LEN Trophy winner (2000).
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Konstantinos Kakaris, Stylianos Argyropulos (both Olympiacos), Maro Jokovic (Brescia).
Departures: Luka Loncar (Pro Recco), Daniil Merkulov (Ferencvaros), Paulo Obradovic (Enka Istanbul), Xavi Garcia (retired), Alex Obert.
Players to watch: Maro Jokovic, Loren Fatovic, Toni Popadic (GK), Alexandros Papanastasiou, Hrvoje Benic, Stylianos Argyropoulos, Konstantinos Kakaris, Marko Zuvela, etc
Head coach: Vjekoslav Kobescak.
Jug Dubrovnik dominated Croatian water polo for years. But, the 4-time European champion finished the last season without winning a trophy in domestic and international leagues and cups. During the transfer window, four excellent players (Loncar, Garcia, Obradovic, Merkulov) departed from Recco. Three reinforcements arrived, including returnee Maro Jokovic, one of the best left-handed players of the 21st century.
However, the team has been rejuvenated significantly. The first game, against Hannover tomorrow, will be vital for Jug’s players and coaches to see what is a younger team capable of. However, everybody believes that Jug will maintain continuity of appearances at the final tournament. The Dubrovnik-based team hasn’t missed the F8/F6 since 2015.
Waspo 98 Hannover (Germany)
List five completed seasons – 2021: 6th place, 2020 (after 10 rounds): 7th in Group B; 2019: 8th place (host of F8, 6th in Group B), 2018: 6th in Group A; 2017: 6th in Group B.
2021 – Group B: 4th place, 9 pts (89:112), Final Eight – quarterfinals: Pro Recco 9:16, semifinals 5th-8th place: Olympiacos 10:8, 5th-place match: Jug 11:160.
Best result: 6th place (2021).
Players to watch: Aleksandar Radovic, Marko Macan, Petar Muslim, Julian Real, Ivan Nagaev, Moritz Schenkel (GK), Darko Brguljan, Jorn Winkelhorst, Ante Corusic, etc.
Head coach: Karsten Seehafer.
Behind Waspo Hannover is a great season. Waspo won the 2021 German League and the Super Cup. The coronavirus pandemic ruined their plans. Hannover had to cancel the organization of the 2021 F8 but reached the final tournament and achieved the biggest success in the club’s history by winning 6th place.
Hannover starts the new European season encouraged by winning the German Cup ten days ago. Hannover’s strongest trump card is experience. All key players are over 30 years old. But, this fact sometimes might be a disadvantage in an exhausting season. We’ll see if experienced aces of Croatian, Montenegrin, and German water polo can maintain a good shape until the summer.
CN Marseille (France)
Last five seasons – 2021: 8th place; 2020 (after 10 rounds): 6th in Group B; 2019: played in LEN Euro Cup (winner); 2018: Qualification Round 3 (semifinalist of LEN Euro Cup); 2017: QR 2.
2021 – Group A: 4th place, 13 pts (93:94). Final Eight – quarterfinals: Ferencvaros 6:14, semifinals 5th – 8th place: Jug 13:16, 7th-place match: Olympiacos 12:13
Best results: 8th place in 2021, Euro Cup winner (2019)
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Michael Bodegas (Barceloneta), Alexandre Bouet (Douai).
Departures: Bogdan Djurdjic (Crvena Zvezda), Alexandre Camarasa (retired)
Players to watch: Andrija Prlainovic, Michael Bodegas, Ugo Crousillat, Dejan Lazovic (GK), Ante Vukicevic, Vladan Spaic, Uros Cuckovic, Roman Marion Vernoux, Igor Kovacevic, etc.
Head coach: Milos Scepanovic.
Marseille has made significant progress in recent years. Marseille is the first and the only French club that won a trophy in LEN’s competitions. Last year, several great reinforcements headed by Andrija Prlainovic, arrived at the club. Marseille qualified for the F8, but it finished 8th, primarily because of a lack of experience (most of the players didn’t compete at F8 before). Last year, they gained the necessary experience. The team hasn’t been changed a lot since the 2021 F8. Michael Bodegas is a great addition. All in all, Marseille composed the team that can improve the results achieved last season.
Spandau 04 Berlin (Germany)
Last five seasons – 2021: 5th in Group A 2020 (after 10 rounds): 6th in Group A; 2019: 8th in Group B; 2018: 8th place; 2017: 5th in Group A.
2021 – Group A: 5th place, 6 pts (79:104)
Best results: 4x winner (1983, 1986, 1987, 1989), 4x runner-up (1981, 1982, 1988,1990).
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Dimitris Nikolaidis (Brescia), Agusti Pericas (Terrassa), Zoran Bozic (Esslingen), Marek Tkac (Sabac)
Departures: Remi Saudadier (Noisy-le-Sec), Stefan Pjesivac (Crvena Zvezda), Marino Cagalj (Jadran Split), Luuk Gielen (UZSC Utrecht).
Players to watch: Nikola Dedovic, Dmitri Kholod, Marko Stamm, Dimitrios Nikolaidis, Laszlo Baksa (GK), Marin Restovic, Maurice Juengling, Denis Strelezkij, Mateo Cuk, Marek Tkac, etc.
Head coach: Petar Kovacevic.
Spandau has been a regular participant in the CHL since 2013 as a wild cardholder. But, the German club, which ruled the European water polo in the 1980s, didn’t have a lot of success in the past eight years. Spandau played at the Final Eight just once (and finished 8th). Last season, the Berliners had some fine moments and made headaches to the favorites in the Champions League, but they collected only 6 points.
Spandau, which has one Olympic champion on the roster (Nikola Dedovic), doesn’t enter the season as a favorite for securing a spot at the Final Eight, but it won’t be a big surprise if they win 4th place in Group B.
Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
Last five seasons – 2021: Qualifications – 8th place in Group in Syracuse; 2020: Qualification Round 2; 2019: 7th place in Group A; 2018: 6th place in Group B; 2017: Qualification Round 2
Best result: 2x quarterfinalist (1992 and 1995).
Transfers summer 2021
Arrival: Nino Mudrazija
Departures: Andrei Priotesa (Noisy-le-Sec)
Players to watch: Marius-Florin Tic (GK), Tudor Fulea, Victor Antipa, Tiberu Negrean, Vlad Dragomirescu, Vlad Georgescu, Alexandru Ghiban, Levante Vancsik, etc.
Head coach: Aurelian Georgescu.
Steaua doesn’t have big stars on its roster, but many members of the Romanian national team have been playing in the Bucharest-based team for years. They know each other very well. Still, if they secure a place in the higher half of Group B table will be a great success and a surprise.
OSC Budapest (Hungary)
Last five seasons – 2021: Qualifications – 3rd place in Group A (LEN Euro Cup finalist); 2020 (after 10 rounds): 1st place in Group B; 2019: didn’t play (semifinalist of LEN Euro Cup); 2018: 7th place in Group A; 2017: 4th place in Group A.
Best results: 2x winner (1973, 1979), 2x runner-up (1974,1975), runner-up in the Cup Winners’ Cup (1976)
Transfers summer 2021
Arrivals: Mate Aranyi (UVSE), Vince Vigvari (UVSE).
Departures: Balazs Erdelyi (Vasas), Kristof Toth (retired).
Players to watch: Krisztian Manhercz, Balasz Harai, Ferenc Salamon, Vince Vigvari, Erik Csacsovszky, Marton Levai (GK), Kristof Varnai, Marton Toth,etc
Head coach: Daniel Varga.
OSC’ golden era was the 1970s. Between 1973 and 1976, the Budapest-based club played in five European finals and won two titles of the continental champion. Eight years ago, OSC started coming back to the top of the Hungarian and European water polo, but it hasn’t won a trophy in the 21st century.
The season 2019/20 was great for OSC, which played excellently in the Hungarian League. It beat Ferencvaros and Pro Recco in the Champions League, and was atop the group. However, the coronavirus stopped that great run. After the canceled season, the club’s future was in question, because they left without a sponsor. Still, a new sponsor has backed the club, but with one condition – OSC had to play with Hungarian players only. Foreigners left the team.
A new younger team, with a new head coach Daniel Varga, reached two finals in the last season, but lost to Szolnok in the LEN Euro Cup and the Hungarian Championship. In the Champions League Qualifications OSC took revenge, ousted Szolnok and continued the run towards the Final Eight, and will be a strong contender for the F8 berths.
BVK Crvena Zvezda (Serbia)
Last five seasons – 2021: didn’t play (semifinalist of LEN Euro Cup); 2020: Qualification Round 2; 2019: 8th place in Group A; 2018: Qualification Round 3; 2017: Qualification Round 2.
Best result: winner in 2013.
Transfers, summer 2021
Arrivals: Bogdan Djurdjic (Marseille), Stefan Pjesivac (Spandau 04), Filip Gardasevic (Novi Beograd)
Departures: Lazar Vickovic (Partizan), Kristian Sulc (Sabac), Petar Kasum (Metanopoli Milan), Yusuke Shimizu.
Players to watch: Nikola Radjen, Milos Vukicevic, Gavril Subotic, Vladimir Misovic (GK), Bogdan Djurdjic, Veljko Tankosic, Ivan Basara, Marko Radovic, Stefan Pjesivac etc.
Head coach: Aleksandar Filipovic.
Crvena Zvezda surprised Europe by winning the Champions League in 2013. In the following season, the new, current format of the Champions League was launched. The reigning champion wasn’t given a wild card, and had to play in the qualification, but failed to advance to the group stage. Pro Recco was better than Crvena Zvezda after a penalty shootout in the last qualification round. Crvena Zvezda accepted a wild card for the season 2018/19 but didn’t win a single point that year. After that, the “red-whites” started a consolidation. This year, they finally returned to the elite competition through qualifications for the first time.
Crvena Zvezda is a good mixture of experienced and young, talented players. If they do their best, they can reach the F8.
Day 1 (October 27)
Marseille – Pro Recco (19:00)
Crvena Zvezda – Spandau (20:00)
Jug – Waspo Hannover (19:00)
OSC Budapest – Steaua (19:00)
Day 2 (November 10)
Jug – Marseille
Crvena Zvezda – OSC Budapest
Pro Recco – Steaua
Spandau – Waspo Hannover
Day 3 (November 20)
Steaua – Marseille
Waspo Hannover – OSC Budapest
Spandau – Jug
Pro Recco – Crvena Zvezda
Day 4 (December)
OSC Budapest – Marseille
Steaua – Jug
Waspo Hannover – Crvena Zvezda
Pro Recco – Spandau
Day 5 (December 15)
Marseille – Waspo Hannover
Spandau – Steaua
OSC Budapest – Pro Recco
Crvena Zvezda – Jug
Day 6 (December 22)
Marseille – Spandau
Waspo Hannover – Pro Recco
Jug – OSC Budapest
Steaua – Crvena Zvezda
Day 7 (January 12)
Marseille – Crvena Zvezda
Jug – Pro Recco
OSC Budapest – Spandau
Steaua – Waspo Hannover
Day 8 (January 25)
Crvena Zvezda – Marseille
Pro Recco – Jug
Spandau – OSC Budapest
Waspo Hannover – Steaua
Day 9 (February 8)
Spandau – Marseille
Pro Recco – Waspo Hannover
OSC Budapest – Jug
Crvena Zvezda – Steaua
Day 10 (February 22)
Waspo Hannover – Marseille
Steaua – Spandau
Pro Recco – OSC Budapest
Jug – Crvena Zvezda
Day 11 (March 18)
Marseille – OSC Budapest
Jug – Steaua
Crvena Zvezda – Waspo Hannover
Spandau – Pro Recco
Day 12 (March 29)
Marseille – Steaua
OSC Budapest – Waspo Hannover
Jug – Spandau
Crvena Zvezda – Pro Recco
Day 13 (June 7)
Marseille – Jug
Osc Budapest – Crvena Zvezda
Steaua – Pro Recco
Waspo Hannover – Spandau
Day 14 (June 14)
Pro Recco – Marseille
Spandau – Crvena Zvezda
Waspo Hannover – Jug
Steaua – Osc Budapest