Champions League

Big hunt for Champions League trophy begins!

Olympiacos, the reigning Champion Photo: LEN/G.Scala (Deepbluemedia)

The best and the most interesting water polo competition for clubs will start tomorrow! It’s time for the main round of the Champions League.

For the first time, three nations will be represented by three clubs apiece. Italian teams in the 2017/18 Champions League will be Pro Recco, Brescia and Sport Management. Hungary will be represented by Szolnok, Eger and Ferencvaros, while three Croatian clubs are traditional main round participant Jug Dubrovnik, returner to the main stage Mladost Zagreb, and Jadran Split, which upset Jadran Herceg Novi in the 3rd Qualification Round last week.

Olympiacos, the reigning champion, will try to reach the trophy for the 3rd time in its history, but a lot of clubs are eyeing the title.

Group A

(Club/ biggest success in the Champions League/ season 2017/18)

Wild card holders
Pro Recco (Italy)/ 8-times champion/ 2018: 2nd place.
Barceloneta (Spain)/ 2014 champion/ 2018: 3th place.
Eger (Hungary)/ 2017: 4th place/ 2018: 6th place
Dynamo Moscow (Russia) / 1964, 1969 and 1987: 2nd place/ 2018: 5th place in Group A
Steaua (Romania)/ seasons 1991/1992 & 1994/95: Quarterfinals/ 2018: 6th place in Group B
Crvena Zvezda (Serbia) / 2013 champion / 2018: didn’t qualify.

Qualification Round 3 winners
AN Brescia (Italy)/ 2014 & 2017: 5th place / 2018: 7th place.
Ferencvaros (Hungary)/ 1989: semifinals/ 2018: didn’t participate

Pro Recco, which has clinched the European title eight times, and Ferencvaros, 2017 and 2018 Euro Cup winner, are front-runners in Group A.

Recco hasn’t won a European trophy since the 2015 Champions League. Last summer, there were a lot of changes in the squad. Several excellent players arrived in Recco: a goalkeeper Marko Bijac, the best European player in 2017 by LEN, and Vincenzo Renzuto came from Jug. Important reinforcements are also a Croat Luka Bukic (came from Mladost), an Australian Joseph Kayes (OSC), an American Luca Cupido (Newport) and Alessandro Velotto (Cannottieri Naples). An experienced Croat Niksa Dobud will join the team in April after a 4-year suspension for an escaping the FINA doping test. The team will be led by most decorated water polo coach in the world Ratko Rudic, who replaced Recco’s legend Vladimir Vujasinovic on the bench.

Ferencvaros returned to the main stage after 17 years. The Budapest-based side dominated Euro Cup in the past two seasons. It won the 2017 and the 2018 Euro Cup, as well as the 2018 Hungarian Championship. Ferencvaros, which rolled past the rivals in the Champions League Qualifications, enters the competition with a strong squad. Comparing the last season’s team, new names are an Australian Aaron Younger, Tamas Mezei (both came from Szolnok), Miklos Gor-Nagy (Szolnok) and Mark Kallay (Debrecin). Krisztian Manhercz (OSC) and Balazs Szirany (Honved) left the club, while Norbert Madaras and Daniel Varga are retired.

Nice chances to reach the Final Eight from this group have 2014 champion Barceloneta (Spain), Eger (Hungary), and Brescia (Italy). Dynamo Moscow (Russia), led by Serbs Dusko Pijetlovic, Nikola Radjen, and Gavril Subotic, and several members of the national team od Russia, is also in the race for the Final Eight. 2013 champion Crvena Zvezda (Serbia), which replaced Partizan in a circle of clubs with wild cards, and Steaua (Romania) will try to upset the favorites.

Group B

(Club/ biggest success in the Champions League/ season 2017/18)

wild card holders:
Olympiacos (Greece) / 2002 and 2018 champion/ 2018: 1st place.
Jug Dubrovnik (Croatia)/ 4-times winner/ 2018: 4th place
Szolnok (Hungary)/ 2017 champion/ 2018: 5th place
Spandau 04 Berlin (Germany)/ 4-times winner/ 2018: 8th place.
Waspo Hannover (Germany)/ 2017 & 2018: 6th place the Group Stage/ 2018: 6th place in Group A
Mladost Zagreb (Croatia)/ 7-times winner/ 2018: didn’t qualify.

Qualification Round 3 winners
Jadran Split (Croatia)/ 1992 and 1993 champion/ 2018: didn’t participate.
Sport Management (Italy)/ season 2016/17: 3rd Qualification Round/ 2018 :didn’t participate

The road towards the Final Eight will be much harder for the clubs in Group B than for the teams from Group A.

Hannover (Germany), which has a guaranteed berth at the Final Eight, as the technical host, is in this group. So, there are only three available tickets for the F8 that will be held in June.

In the race for these three tickets are some powerhouses. Besides reigning champion Olympiacos (Greece), favorites are three former European champions Jug (Croatia), Szolnok (Hungary) and Mladost (Croatia). Sport Management (Italy) also may enter the hunt for spots at F8. It seems that Spandau (Germany), 4-times European title winner, which made a big surprise by reaching the F8 last season, isn’t close to 2019 Final Eight.

Olympiacos kept almost every player who won the Champions League last June in Genoa. Only Evangelos Delakas left the team because he ended the career. Olympiacos coach Thodoris Vlachos doesn’t have a hard task to prepare the team, which is led by a goalkeeper Josip Pavic, MVP of 2018 Final Eight, Konstantinos Mourikis, Ioannis Fountoulis, Andro Buslje, Emmanouil Mylonakis…

Szolnok has a new coach. Former captain of Serbia Zivko Gocic, who played for Szolnok from 2011 until 2018, has retired and became a coach by replacing Sandor Csech. New players are Daniel Angyal (Eger), Viktor Rasovic (Jug Dubrovnik), Djordje Lazic (Partizan), Andras Teleki (Savona) and Kristof Szatmari (Pecs). The players who left the club are Aaron Younger, Tamas Mezei (both Ferencvaros), Milos Cuk (Mladost) and Bence Fulop (Debrecen).

Jug found good replacements for Bijac and Renzuto, who moved to Pro Recco, and Rasovic (Szolnok). The team was reinforced by a goalkeeper Toni Popadic Batina (returned from Mediterani), a Russian Danil Merkulov (Jadran Herceg Novi), Alexandros Papanastasiou (Glyfada), who is a member of the Greek national team.

Four former European champions will compete in Group B. Besides Szolnok, Jug, and Barceloneta, there is Jadran Split, which had its golden days a long time ago (1991 and 1992 European champion). Jadran qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 1994. That is already a big success for this team.

Calendar

Day 1 (17 October 2018)

Group A

Barceloneta – Eger
Steaua – Brescia
Crvena Zvezda – Pro Recco
Ferencvaros – Dynamo Moscow

Group B

Szolnok – Jadran Split
HAVK Mladost – Hannover
Sport Management– Olympiacos
Spandau 04 – Jug

Day 2 (3 November 2018)
Day 3 (21 November 2018)
Day 4 (5 December 2018)
Day 5 (19 December 2018)
Day 6 (9 January.2019)
Day 7 (23 January 2019)
Day 8 (6 February 2019)
Day 9 (27 February 2019)
Day 10 (16 March 2019)
Day 11 (27 March 2019)
Day 12 (13 April 2019)
Day 13 (24 April 2019)
Day 14 (15 May 2019)

Final Eight (Hannover, 6 – 8 June)

ALL CHAMPIONS

2017 / 2018: Olympiacos Pireaus CFP (Greece)
2016 / 2017: Szolnok VSK (Hungary)
2015 / 2016: VK Jug Dubrovnik (Croatia)
2014 / 2015: Pro Recco (Italy)
2013 / 2014: Club Natació Atlètic-Barceloneta (Spain)
2012 / 2013: VK Crvena Zvezda (Serbia)
2011 / 2012: ASD Pro Recco (Italy)
2010 / 2011: VK Partizan (Serbia)
2009 / 2010: ASD Pro Recco (Italy)
2008 / 2009: VK Primorac Kotor (Montenegro)
2007 / 2008: ASD Pro Recco (Italy)
2006 / 2007: ASD Pro Recco (Italy)
2005 / 2006: VK Jug Dubrovnik (Croatia)
2004 / 2005: CN Posillipo Naples (Italy)
2003 / 2004: Domino BHSE Budapest(Hungary)
2002 / 2003: ASD Pro Recco (Italy)
2001 / 2002: Olympiacos Pireaus CFP (Greece)
2000 / 2001: VK Jug Dubrovnik (Croatia)
1999 / 2000: VK Becej Nis Naftagas (Serbia)
1998 / 1999: Splitska Banka Split (Croatia)
1997 / 1998: CN Posillipo Naples (Italy)
1996 / 1997: CN Posillipo Naples (Italy)
1995 / 1996: HAVK Mladost (Croatia)
1994 / 1995: CN Catalunya (Spain)
1993 / 1994: Újpesti TE (Hungary)
1992 / 1993: Jadran Koteks Split (Croatia)
1991 / 1992: Jadran Koteks Split (Croatia)
1990 / 1991: HAVK Mladost (Yugoslavia)
1989 / 1990: HAVK Mladost(Yugoslavia)
1988 / 1989: Spandau Berlin (West Germany)
1987 / 1988: Sisley Pescara (Italy)
1986 / 1987: Spandau Berlin (West Germany)
1985 / 1986: Spandau Berlin (West Germany)
1984 / 1985: Vasas SC (Hungary)
1983 / 1984: ASD Pro Recco (Italy)
1982 / 1983: Spandau Berlin(West Germany)
1981 / 1982: CN Barcelona (Spain)
1980 / 1981: VK Jug Dubrovnik (Yugoslavia)
1979 / 1980: Vasas SC (Hungary)
1978 / 1979: OSC Budapest (Hungary)
1977 / 1978: Circolo Canottieri Naples (Italy)
1976 / 1977: CSK VMF Moscow (URSS)
1975 / 1976: Partizan Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
1974 / 1975: Partizan Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
1976 / 1974: MUG Moscow (URSS)
1972 / 1973: OSC Budapest(Hungary)
1971 / 1972: Mladost Zagreb (Yugoslavia)
1970 / 1971: Partizan Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
1969 / 1970: Mladost Zagreb (Yugoslavia)
1968 / 1969: Mladost Zagreb (Yugoslavia)
1967 / 1968: Mladost Zagreb (Yugoslavia)
1966 / 1967: Partizan Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
1965 / 1966: Partizan Belgrade (Yugoslavia)
1964 / 1965: Recco (Italy)
1963 / 1964: Partizan Belgrade (Yugoslavia)

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