The field is to be halved
The first really crucial stage is commencing in the women’s Euro League. Only eight teams can survive the preliminary round where the groups look quite balanced so a couple of great teams have to fall.
It’s also a battlefield of the leading European nations and a great test to see whose clubs will make the cut this weekend. Spain, Russia, Hungary, Italy have three teams apiece in this round – as a kind of consequence, three groups shall witness in-house encounters between sides from the same country.
Last year’s runner-up Olympiacos can play at home but will have three tough days as the Greeks have to play with the experienced Russian team Uralochka and two Italian participants, Messina and Padova. The latter one reached the LEN Trophy final last April.
The third Italian, Orizzonte enjoys the advantage of playing at thome but the record-holder, 8-time winner team faces a couple of demanding clashes. One is due against last year’s surprise F4 participant (and 2016 LEN Trophy winner) Mataro (ESP), the other is against Ugra (RUS) which won all of its three matches in the qualifications. Here Lille (FRA) is considered an underdog but the French can cause some headaches for any team playing with a loose approach.
Even in wintertime three days of extreme heat are forecasted in Budapest where title-holder Kirishi (RUS) and LEN Trophy winner UVSE (HUN) will have another showdown after the Super Cup final. Add the other two teams, Greece’s No. 2 side Vouliagmeni and another Hungarian, BVSC which can cause an upset on its better days against anyone and one can come to the conclusion of naming it the ‘death group’ of the prelims.
The fourth quartet promises a series of thrillers too. The Spanish teams will play in front of their home supporters in Barcelona and Sabadell, winning four times in the last six editions, is the overwhelming favourite. Still, fellow Spaniards Sant Andreu, Hungary’s No 2. Dunaujvaros and the last standing Dutch entrant Utrecht will surely challenge the big one as well as stage fierce battles to book a place in the quarters.
Euro League, Preliminary Round
Group E (Piraeus)
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE), Dynamo Uralochka (RUS), Despar Messina (ITA), Plebiscito Padova (ITA)
Group F (Catania)
La Sirena Mataro (ESP), Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk (RUS), Ekipe Orizzonte (ITA), Lille UC (FRA)
Group G (Budapest)
Kinef Kirishi (RUS), UVSE Budapest (HUN), NC Vouliagmeni (GRE), BVSC Zuglo (HUN)
Group H (Barcelona)
Astralpool Sabadell (ESP), Dunaujvaros (HUN), CN Sant Andreu (ESP), UZSC Utrecht (NED)