New season with novelties, new rules – still with the best teams and players
The new season kicks off this evening in Split with new rules and some novelties – but more importantly, the Champions League remained what it was: it features the best teams and the best players in the world. The 14-round journey towards the Final Eight is about to start for 16 sides, Croatia and Hungary will have 3 teams apiece, Spain and Germany have two, and six nations, Italy, Greece, Montenegro, Russia, Georgia and France, are represented by its respective champions.
This season each round will be played over two days (as in football), Group A will play on Tuesday/Friday and Group B on Wednesday/Saturday (and there will be a switch after Day 7) – what’s not changed that each and every game can be followed live in the free streaming, thanks to the cooperation of LEN, the clubs and LEN top partner Eurovision.
The Champions League Final Eight last June was the farewell scene of the old rules of the sport, the last games played with the former set – this season has already seen the 20sec shot-clock for the man-ups, the special rules applied in calling penalties and the 6m free throws among others in the qualifying matches.
The opening round begins this evening as an exception: Jadran Split faces off Olympiacos. The Croats posted some upsets in the last season, earned 6 wins while the Greek side, runners-up last May, had a bad start a year ago – in Croatia they had to be on top of their game in order to avoid the same embarrassment.
The favourites in Group A all play away in the first round, and just like Olympiacos, Barceloneta and Jug also have tricky journeys. The Spaniards, semi-finalist last season, visits Berlin where teams usually experience some tough moments and games might end in an upset if Spandau gets going. Jug should not travel far, just to the neighbouring Herceg Novi but the encounter with Jadran Carine will be anything but an easy cruising for the Croats as the Montenegrins can surprise any team in their home.
Szolnok meets newcomer Sintez, the Hungarian team transformed once more, only a few players remained on board from the 2017 champion side but still has enough quality to be in the race for the F8 berths.
In Group B two sides stand out for sure, Ferencvaros and Recco. The title-holder Hungarians start the new season against Hannover, despite some changes in the champion team’s line-up this should be an easy opener for them. Recco, third in last season, usually comes up with flawless performances in the prelims, they had one more 14/14 run last year but failed to go all the way in the Final Eight. The Italians tried to boost their line-up once again to clinch the trophy after 2015 – and Marseille, winner of the Euro Cup last spring, might have dreamed of a much easier opening match than this one against the giant of the field.
One of the most interesting games is the one between OSC and Mladost. The Hungarian team has an extraordinary strong foreign legion and is definitely on the list of the favourites but they need to prove that and against Mladost they will face a fine test to pass as the Croats had a stronger team this season.
The clash of the two rookies in Terrassa is going be an exciting battle, the Spaniards already proved their quality by coming all the way in the qualifications while Dinamo is to prove that they are up to the task to earn some good results in their first ever campaign in the Champions League.
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Group A (Tuesday)
19.00 (Monday) Jadran Split (CRO) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE)
Jadran: 5th in Group A – 6W, 0D, 8L, 137-140
Olympiacos: Runner-up (F8) – Prelims: 2nd in Group B – 9W, 3D, 2L, 149-98
Ivan Asic, head coach, Jadran:
“After 20 years without the Champions League, it is a big success for us that we are for the second straight year. I hope we will play as well as last year. We are again going to give 100 percent, in every game we will strive for win.
It is the start of group phase, we are playing against the team finishing second last year, they are the favourites, but we will try to surprise them.
With three great players left Olympiacos, one era is finished. But their new players have great experience and have quality.
This year Pro Recco and Ferencvaros are the teams who can beat anyone. In our group Barceloneta, Olympiacos and Jug also stand out, but the battle for the fourth place is open.”
Andelo Setka, player, Jadran:
“I’m pleased we did it again and play in the Champions League. Last year everybody was excited to qualify for the preliminaries, but this year both us, the players and the club management expected to make the group phase once again. We have a really good team and this year I think we can do even better.
Last year Olympiacos won both games against us easily. We should do better in our home game in Split. This year I think we will play a good match, it is the beginning of season, it us our first big game, it will be interesting.
It is hard to make predictions. Last year nobody saw us taking a point in group, and we did much more. Olympiacos is among the favourites, also Barceloneta in our group. They have a lot of national team players, but we will fight hard to cause them difficulties.”
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Olympiacos:
“We start the new season in the Champions League again with a game away from Piraeus. The first game of the competition should always be treated in a special way. We have to play with great respect to the opponent, with a lot of attention in our game and with a lot of concentration to get the result we want, our first win!”
Stefan Mitrovic, player, Olympiacos:
“We are travelling to our the first game in the Champions League, which will be difficult, because the first game of a new team (as we are one) in any competition is always difficult. Jadran is a good team, especially at home and we do not know what to expect since we are still at the beginning of the season and have not had the opportunity to watch our opponent on video. However, I am confident that we will do our best to start with a win in a competition that we have high expectations for this year as well.”
19.00 Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) v Zodiac Barceloneta (ESP)
Spandau: 8th in Group B – 2W, 1D, 11L, 114-156
Barceloneta: 4th (F8) – Prelims: 2nd in Group B, 10W, 1D, 3L, 154-120
Petar Kovacevic, head coach, Spandau:
“After the first two matches of the new season, we don’t really know where we stand yet. But with our new team, we are looking forward to the match against Barcelona, their team will certainly be one of the favourites in our group again.“
Dmitrii Kholod, player, Spandau:
“I am looking forward to the first Champions League match with my new team. We will attack with full gear and will look for our chance in every game.“
Jesús Martin, coach, Barceloneta:
“This is the first Champions League game and it’s against an extremely tough opponent. We already know that this is a team that’s really hard to beat at home. We’ve only had six weeks of preparation and the team still needs some fine-tuning. But we’re all set to try to get those three points and our first victory in the Champions League. Our team members haven’t been together long and our goal is apply a game-by-game approach and obviously this first one is vital to start the season well. We’re entering the Olympic year so our players will have a lot of commitments this season and the challenge begins by getting a good result with the club in the Champions League.”
Blai Mallarach, player, Barceloneta:
“The match against Spandau 04 is going to be a complicated game; the start of a competition is always the most difficult. We’ve had some new players join us and now we have to see how this new line up performs in a competition as demanding as the Champions League. We’re also playing this first game away, in a very difficult venue. Spandau also signed new players, such as Russian Dimitrii Kholod, and I think it’ll be a very tough game. It’s going to depend more on our capabilities than those of our opponent. If we go out there and keep the pace fast – their style of play is a bit a slower – and play our own game, we can get ahead.”
Alberto Munarriz, player, Barceloneta:
“The team goes into this new season very motivated by having some new players join our side. These guys are keen to show what they can do and they’ve injected a new energy. We’ve prepared a lot over the last month for this match because starting with a good result is really important. We’re training very well together and although we need some more matches to fully engage and understand each other we’re already functioning very well as a team.”
19.00 Szolnoki Dozsa (HUN) v Sintez Kazan (RUS)
Szolnok: 4th in Group B, 6W, 4D, 4L, 135-122
Kazan: newcomer in the League
Zivko Gocic, head coach, Szolnok
“Many players have moved to Sintez Kazan from Dynamo Moscow recently. The team of Sintez is arriving from the qualifications rounds and they won their last three games in the Russian league. We have been training hard to build a strong team. We want to kick off this season with a win in our home.”
Viktor Nagy, captain, Szolnok:
“We have many new members in our team this season as well. This is always a big challenge and task for a team. Our goal for now is to get aligned and become a real team. We want to win our opening game, anyway.”
Aleksandr Eryshov, head coach, Sintez:
“We are very happy that we have made it to the Champions League regular season. This is a big step forward for our team, a great achievement. We are sure that the competition will be pretty tough, because we are supposed to face the strongest teams in the continent. We are looking forward to the start of the season, and we are going to be a good challenge for all our opponents.”
Artem Odintsov, captain, Sintez:
“We are very excited about the Champions League. Stakes are incredibly high, so we will be happy to write a new chapter in the history of our team. It will be a great challenge and also a big experience for Sintez as not all our players have been lucky enough to taste the smell of these games. Sure, that that the season will be exciting and very interesting.”
19.00 Jadran Carine Herceg Novi (MNE) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
Jadran: runner-up in the Euro Cup
Jug: 5th (F8) – Prelims: 1st in Group B – 10W, 2D, 2L, 152-110
Petar Radanovic, coach, Jadran:
“It is a great challenge and pleasure for us to play in the Champions League. This young and talented team deserves it. Jug is an experienced and excellent team, we know each other very well. On 4 October we played a very good game with them in Dubrovnik in the Regional League competition. This one will also be a very difficult match on Tuesday as all of us expect Jug to qualify for the Final Eight again. Our advantage is to play at home and we will give our best.”
Marko Petkovic, captain, Jadran:
“It is great to be once again in the Champions League. This is the best competition for the best teams. Our group this season is very strong, just as our first game with Jug. We will start the Champions League season at home, what is very good because each year the first game is something special. We, as a team, will give our utmost to get the best possible result, though Jug has a very good roster and they are more experienced.”
Vjekoslav Kobescak, head coach, Jug:
“We are looking forward to the new season of the Champions league which we open with a difficult match in Herceg Novi. We had a tough game against Jadran last Friday in the Regional League so I expect great and equal game till the very end.”
Xavi Garcia, captain, Jug:
“It will be a tough match. They showed their quality last Friday here in Dubrovnik where we won but it was very difficult. I expect the same kind of match tomorrow in Igalo and I hope we will take very important three points.”
Group B (Wednesday)
19.00 FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v Waspo 98 Hannover (GER)
FTC: Winner (F8) – Prelims: 4th in Group A – 8W, 1D, 5L, 146-117
Hannover: 8th (F8, host) – Prelims: 6th in Group B – 3W, 3D, 8L, 130-169
Zsolt Varga, head coach, FTC-Telekom:
“Both teams have changed in the summer with the arrival of new players. It will be a good test for us to see where we are, but it’s very important to keep the three points at home.”
Nicolas Constantin-Bicari, player, FTC-Telekom:
“It’s the first game in the Champions League. We had a good preparation with Mladost Zagreb and Olympiacos. We are excited and ready to start our European journey.”
Karsten Seehafer, head coach, Hannover:
“The first game to play is against the reigning champions. FTC is one of the favourites in the current season, they changed some positions, they will be stronger than the last season. We can only win in this game, we have nothing to lose…”
Aleksander Radovic, player, Hannover:
“We had a good preparation this year, we won the Super Vup in Germany last week. But we need time, we have some new and some young players in the team. We will do our best.“
20.30 CN Terrassa (ESP) v Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO)
Terrassa: newcomer in the League
Tbilisi: newcomer in the League
Didac Cobacho, coach, Terrassa:
“It’s a very special game for us. It’s the first match of the Champions League Preliminary Round that we’ll play in the club’s history. We’re really looking forward to the match. We came at a good time, with a good number of games played. The team is well, the whole team, without injuries. We hope it will be an exciting match and, above all, that we let our public enjoy good water polo.
On the other side, Dinamo Tbilisi is a strong team, as we are in the top sixteen where all teams are strong. It’s going to be a very tough game because the squad is made up of renowned players like Vapenski, Jelaca and Baraldi. I’m sure it will be exciting.”
Ricard Alarcon, player, Dinamo:
“Dinamo is a team that makes up the Georgian national team. In its squad three players stand out, the Italian international centre forward Fabio Baraldi, who stands out for his height and strength; a strong and experienced Georgian nationalised centre back Marko Jelaca and the Serbian leftie Boris Vapenski. It’s a veteran team that knows what it’s playing. They know each other very well. It’s a strong team that will come out on top to show everyone how good they are. They have a team to fight for the top four positions. I hope for a balanced match. We will try to get the best possible result, as our goal is to get as many points as possible at home.”
Revaz Chomakhidze, head coach, Dinamo:
“It’s not an easy task to play in Terrassa for a newcomer team as we are. Anyway, we will do our best to demonstrate that our presence in the Champions League is not just a coincidence.”
Zurab Rurua, captain, Dinamo:
“I have never played against CN Terrassa, but watched three of their games in the qualification rounds of the Champions League. They gained experience to play with new rules and the game will be tough anyway. But we are here to fight to win this game.”
20.30 A Hid-OSC Budapest (HUN) v HAVK Mladost Zagreb (CRO)
OSC: semi-finalist in Euro Cup
Mladost: 7th in Group B – 3W, 2D, 9L, 129-161
Lajos Vad, head coach, A-Hid OSC:
“We are in the Champions League again! Our goal is to win the first match at home against a very strong Mladost Zagreb team.”
Krisztian Manhercz, player, A-Hid OSC:
“This is my first Champions League match in my career so I really wait that. Mladost is a very strong team but our side is fully prepared and we want to keep the three points at home, so we will do our best!
Zoran Bajic, coach, Mladost:
„For sure, they are one of the better teams in our group. Our goal is the same as in last year: we do our best and go in the game with full concentration and preparation. I know that it will be a hard and good match so I hope that the audience will enjoy a great water polo show and that in the end we will win the first game of this season.“
Ivan Marcelic, captain, Mladost:
„We are entering the new season with high expectations, both in our domestic competitions and in the Champions League. We will see right after first leg if our ambitions are justified. OSC is a great team that also wants to qualify for the Final 8 so it is our direct rival for one of the four spots qualifying for that tournament. We started really well in Regional League and hope we will perform on the same high level in the Champions League.“
Lovre Milos, player, Mladost:
„They are a very good team with some great individuals and we expect a hard battle. We had a couple of easy games in the Regional League which we used as a preparation for this match. That said, we have to take into account that this is the start of the season and we got a couple of great new players in the team and we’re still getting used to playing together.“
20.30 CN Marseille (FRA) v Pro Recco (ITA)
Marseille: winner of Euro Cup
Recco: 3rd (F8) – Prelims: 1st in Group A, 14W, 0D, 0L, 191-91
Marc Amardeilh, head coach, Marseille:
“First and foremost, we are very happy to participate in the Champions League this year. This wild card will allow us to play a lot of top level matches throughout the season to continue to progress. This first match is a ‘gala’ match in the sense that Pro Recco is the ‘Real Madrid’ of water polo. We are very happy and proud to receive them in Marseille and we will do our best to bother them as long as possible during the match.”
Igor Kovacevic, captain, Marseille:
“We will approach this game as every game we play. First, we are more focused on doing hundred per cent what we agreed to do and after we adapted to our opponents. The match against Pro Recco, one of the best teams in the world, will be an excellent opportunity for our fans and for the whole city to see a water polo of very high level and I hope that our pool will be full.”
Ratko Rudic, coach, Pro Recco:
“Our goals have not changed since last year, I hope we will have the same spirit as the Italian national team winner in Gwangju last July. We have to face each team with the utmost seriousness and concentration”.
Stefano Luongo, player, Pro Recco:
“A tough match against a competitive team for our European debut. We need matches like these to amalgamate at best, improving schemes and physical condition”