The Women’s Euro League continues this weekend as we approach the First Legs of the Quarter Finals. To be played throughout the afternoon and early evening on Saturday, eight of Europe’s top clubs are looking to get half the job done in their attempt to progress to the Final 4 competition in April.
We have two games being played in Athens on Saturday, with the current reigning champions, Olympiacos, hosting Dunaujvaros (a side they beat 7-6 in the final last season), while Ethnikos welcome five-time winners, Sabadell. Elsewhere, the last remaining Italian side in the competition, Plebiscito Padova will clash with last year’s semi-finalists, Dynamo Uralochka, while fellow Russians, KINEF Kirishi will prove a difficult task for the travelling UVSE.
The Euro League has been compelling thus far this season, and the forthcoming quarter-finals are no exception. Kirishi is not an easy place to go, even for a side like UVSE. Olympiacos may be favourites in their match against Dunaujvaros, but DVFE have defied all the odds before. Padova have already faced Russian opposition this season, in a thrilling draw, will the result be as equally exciting when Uralochka come to town? And the last game of the day will definitely be worth waiting for, as some of the best players in world water polo meet in Piraeus as Ethnikos host Sabadell.
It is worth mentioning that there are reports that the game in Padova between Plebiscito and Uralochka may be in doubt due to COVID passports on the Russian side. It is reported that some of the Uralochka players may have been vaccinated with serums not recognized by the EMA (European Medical Agency) and therefore would be prohibited to enter, and therefore play in Italy. LEN are reportedly aware of this situation, and provisions were being made for the game to be moved to Rijeka in Croatia, but these plans have since been dismissed. We await further news, but should Uralochka fail to participate in the match in accordance of LEN technical rules, Padova would be awarded an immediate 10-0 win.
11:00 – KINEF Kirishi vs UVSE
17:30 – Olympiacos Piraeus vs Dunaujvaros
18:00 – Plebiscito Padova vs Dynamo Uralochka
19:30 – Ethnikos Piraeus vs Astralpool Sabadell
KINEF Kirishi vs UVSE
Russia is always a really tough place to go and try to get a result from, and Marton Benczur will know this is a really tough assignment for his side. That is unlikely to have changed, even if KINEF did recently lose to title rivals, Dynamo Uralochka 11-8, earlier in January. We expect that last year’s LEN Trophy winners will have all of their top players available to them – the likes of Ekaterina Prokofyeva, Nadezhda Glyzina, Evgeniya Ivanova and Anna Karnaukh. Two players who may especially be a threat to the Hungarians are Tatiana Zubkova and Daria Ryzhkova, both of whom recently featured in Russia’s World League contest against Italy (with Ryzhkova netted a hat-trick). Aleksandr Naritsa’s side are certainly not a soft touch, they are currently unbeaten this year in Europe, however two of the results have been draws ( Mediterrani and Orizzonte).
UVSE, however, are also so far unbeaten in the Euro League, and currently sit 2nd in the Hungarian League, just a point behind leaders Ferencvaros. They have already played a Russian side this year in the Euro League in the form of Dynamo Uralochka in which the result was positive (13-12 victory). The side from Budapest clearly have quality everywhere. They have one of Europe’s reliable keepers in Alda Magyari, real goal scoring threats from Rita Keszthelyi-Nagy, Natasa Rybanska and Dora Abel-Antal, supported by promising young talent such as Kamilla Farago, Panni Szegedi and Lili Forgacs. If UVSE can’t find the win, they’ll hope to frustrate the Russians and keep the deficit low, to bring the game back to Hajos later this month.
Olympiacos Piraeus vs Dunaujvaros
The current reigning champions, led by Aleksandr Criric, added massively to their squad in the summer and so far it has seemed to work perfectly. They sit top of the Greek A1 league, 2 points ahead of NC Vouliagmeni with a game in hand. They are averaging 22 goals a game at the moment, and conceding on average only one goal a quarter. The quality in depth for Olympiacos is almost unrivalled with the quality of home talents: Eleftheria Plevritou, Eleni Xenaki, Foteini Tricha, Tina Siouti and young Maria Myriokefalitaki, supported by North American acquisitions Jordan Raney and left-hander Kyra Christmas. They have already shrugged off Terrassa, Roma and local rivals Ethnikos in this competition, and in front of a home crowd, they have to be favourites for this game.
While it may be an uphill battle for Attila Mihok’s Dunaujvaros, they have qualities of their own that can hurt opposition sides, with that 12-8 victory over Mataro earlier in the campaign being a case in point. Amongst their ranks they have two of Europe’s best scorers in Greta Gurisatti and Dorottya Szilagyi, who could walk into any team in the world, but beyond that the rest of the team is a mixed bag of talented prospects (Somogyvari, Sumegi, N. Szabo) and solid, experienced players (Horvath, Mahieu, Garda). Whilst the game could be competitive, DFVE will hope their form is better than it has been in the past few weeks, with two defeats in their last five in the league. If they can stay in the tie when facing Olympiacos in Hungary in two weeks, they have as good a chance of causing an upset.
Plebiscito Padova vs Dynamo Uralochka
Plebiscito Padova are well worth their place in the quarter-finals having progressed through the qualification stages unbeaten against some decent opposition. They have been in solid form in the Italian A1. They sit in 2nd with eight wins out of nine – their only defeat at the hands of SIS Roma. Padova has already seen Russian tourists this season with Plebiscito’s last group-stage match ending in a 7-7 draw with KINEF. Italian sides are often overlooked, but it would be foolish of Uralochka to underestimate this Padova side. One player the Russians will definitely know well is one Mariia Borisova. The Russian international is loved around the club in Italy and when you look at her goal scoring record its not hard to see why. She has 16 goals in the A1 so far in addition to her 19 goals in the Euro League. Alongside Borisova, Laura Barzon is Padova’s big scorer, while Australian international Elle Armit and Elisa Queirolo are also players to watch. Laura Teani is between the sticks for the Italians, fresh from her decent showing against Russia in the World League.
Four of the Russian national team that beat Italy 11-5 last week were comprised from Mikhail Nakoryakov’s Dynamo Uralochka side. The outstanding Evgeniia Golovina made three penalty saves in that match – she will hope to make the same kind of impact in this contest. The competition’s third highest scorer, Maria Bersneva (23 goals), also dons the colours of the side from Zlatoust, while Yulia Lapteva and Polina Popova are really exciting young players who are breaking through this year. Uralochka are currently top of the Russian league and in good form, making this match a really interesting contest. They missed out on a place in the final last season on penalties, so they will see this game as a big chance to put last seasons’ hurt behind them.
Ethnikos Piraeus vs Astralpool Sabadell
Despite a narrow defeat to Olympiacos in the last round of the group stages, Ethnikos are more than worthy quarter-finalists. They were excellent throughout qualifiers, beating some really good teams along the way. While they may be making progress in Europe, their league form has not been what is expected. They are currently in fourth position in the Greek league, five points behind league leaders Olympiacos, three points behind Vouliagmeni and two points behind ANO Glyfada – with two of those teams with games in hand. The Euro League may be Ethnikos’ only route of redemption this campaign, which makes them a very dangerous prospect for Sabadell. They have some real superstars in their squad, starting between the sticks in the shape of Ashleigh Johnson. The American made a huge difference for Ethnikos in the preliminary rounds. Also in the squad are the two Haralabidis sisters (Steph and Ioanna) who have been loving life since swapping Los Angeles for Piraeus. It doesn’t stop there though, Eleni Elliniadi and Ioulia Anna Kontoni have made real contributions for the Blue and Whites this year, while Ethnikos will be boosted with the inclusion of the best Centre-Forward in world water polo at the moment, Rebecca Parkes.
In normal circumstance, the prospect of facing the current Ethnikos side would be very daunting, but I suspect if there was a side in world water polo equipped to take them on, it would be David Palma’s Sabadell. Sabadell haven’t lost a game this season in the Division de Honor (15 games winning streak) but their Euro League form hasn’t been as perfect. They lost to rivals Mataro in the last round 9-10, in a result that ultimately didn’t matter. Sabadell’s squad is stacked with quality in every area of the pitch. Their standout player this season has to be Judith Forca Ariza, who has 40 goals to her name already in the league, making her the top goal scorer in that competition, as well as another 28 in the Euro League, also making her the top goal scorer in this competition. Away from the left-hander, Maica Garcia continues to dominate her CB’s, while Irene Gonzalez, has also crept under the radar as someone who is having a great time this season. That’s all before even mentioning that Sabadell have Laura Ester in goal, Maggie Steffens and Brigitta Games (both USA), Gurpreet Sohi and Monika Eggens (both Canadian) and Maartje Keuning and Sabrina Van der Sloot (Netherlands) all in the squad. It is amazing that such a wealth of talent will be competing together in one team.