Spartak Volgograd, Russia’s perennial title holder over the last seven seasons, secured back-to-back away wins this weekend against Shturm 2002 of the Moscow region, cementing #1 spot in Russia’s Superleague with two games left before the March 2 start of the playoffs. Vladimir Karabutov’s squad crushed the hosts 12-7 on Saturday and then cruised to another victory on Sunday (11-8), extending its lead in the standings to 10 points.
After 23 games, Spartak Volgograd tops the table with 42 points on a 20-1 win-loss record and two ties. Dynamo Moscow sits in second place with 32 points after splitting victories with third-placed Sintez Kazan. In the last round, the Muscovites play the underdog, Kazakhstan’s Astana, and are likely to retain the second spot. Astana did stage a major surprise, though, over the weekend, taking home a rare win from Astrakhan against hosts Dynamo on Sunday.
In Ruza, the Moscow region, Shturm 2002 on Saturday stood its ground in the first two periods, clinging to a 5-5 tie. However, in the remaining two quarters Spartak Volgograd went on a 7-1 romp steamrolling past the hosts for its 19th win of the season. The next day, the champions were a goal down after the opening period and then shocked Shturm 2002 by 4-0 in the second quarter to open up a three-goal lead that they held onto until the final buzzer.
In Moscow, Dynamo was facing Sintez, its chief rival in the battle for #2 spot in the standings. The Muscovites easily won the front end of the back-to-back games, led by Alexei Bugaichuk and Ivan Koptsev who both scored hat-tricks. On Sunday, the visiting team tightened its defense headed by legendary veteran goalkeeper Nikolai Maximov and edged Dynamo 7-5.
In Astrakhan, nothing seemed to be going wrong for Dynamo as it demolished Astana 12-6 in their first encounter on Saturday. But the squad from the Kazakh capital fought back the next day and won handsomely (12-8), taking home its only second victory in 23 games!
The last games of the Superleague’s regular season are scheduled for Feb. 23-24 featuring the following matchups: Astana vs. Dynamo Moscow, Spartak Volgograd vs. Dynamo Astrakhan, and Sintez Kazan vs. Shturm 2002.
In the Higher League, KINEF Surgutneftegaz beat the second team of Spartak Volgograd (11-10, 15-9) in consecutive games over the weekend, all but securing the championship and the last, seventh playoff spot. With two games to play, the team from the northwestern Russian town of Kirishi has a comfortable four-point lead over Sintez UOR.
Technically, Russia’s water polo championship is an open, three-nation tournament with the 14-team field also featuring clubs from the Belarus capital of Minsk, and Astana. The competition format involves three stages, and the season starts with the 14 squads split into four groups – A, B, C and D. Over three rounds each team plays once the teams from its own group and from other groups, too (A vs. B, C vs. D, A vs. C, B vs. D, A vs. D, B vs. C) for a total tally of 13 games.
This marks the end of the first part of the season and the field is then split in two: the teams placed 1-6 proceed to play in the top-tier event named Superleague, while 7-14th place finishers continue to compete in the second-tier Higher League. In the Superleague, the best six teams play each other at home and away twice for a total of 20 games, with the games scheduled as back-to-backs (usually on Saturdays and Sundays), both played at the hosts’ venue. The points earned in the first-stage head-to-head games between these six teams are added to the total point count in the Superleague. The same principle is applied in the Higher League.
The top six qualify automatically for the playoffs, and the Superleague regular season champion is awarded a bye in the quarterfinals. The remaining five are joined by the Higher League champion (essentially, the 7th place finisher overall) and form three quarterfinal pairs (2nd vs. 7th, 3rd vs. 6th, and 4th vs. 5th). The three winners advance to round up the semifinals pool where they are joined by the Superleague regular season champion.
In the 24 seasons after the Soviet breakup, the competition has been dominated by Spartak Volgograd – the team that clinched 11 titles, including seven straight that are part of its continuing title-winning streak that began in 2010. Dynamo Moscow trails in second place with seven championships, Shturm 2002 is third with four, Sintez Kazan and CSK VMF Moscow have one title apiece.
MATCHDAY 22 (Feb. 18)
Shturm 2002 vs. Spartak Volgograd 6-12 (3-2, 2-3, 0-3, 1-4)
Dinamo Moscow vs. Sintez Kazan 11-7 (3-1, 2-3, 2-1, 4-2)
Dynamo Astrakhan vs. Astana 12-6
MATCHDAY 23 (Feb. 19)
Shturm 2002 vs. Spartak Volgograd 8-11 (3-2, 0-4, 2-2, 3-3)
Dynamo Moscow vs. Sintez Kazan 5-7 (1-3, 1-1, 2-3, 1-0)
Dynamo Astrakhan vs. Astana 8-12 (4-3, 2-3, 1-3,1-3)
G W D L Pts
Spartak Volgograd 23 20 2 1 42
Dynamo Moscow 23 15 2 6 32
Sintez Kazan 23 14 2 7 30
Dynamo Astrakhan 23 8 1 14 17
Shturm 2002 23 6 0 17 12
Astana 23 2 1 20 5