Big time, big games, big money
Six of the eight competing sides are already in the history book by winning the most prestigious trophy at least once, though host Pro Recco is targeting a record 9th triumph in the Final Eight tournament in Genoa. LEN offers €381,000 in prize money for the world’s best clubs, the winner will cash in €52,000.
The next three days will see the best eight clubs of the world going for the title, featuring the greatest stars of present day water polo. The quarterfinals on Thursday promise brilliant clashes already. Just as last year, the final of the previous season shall be replayed in the quarters as 4-time Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) and title-holder Szolnok (HUN) will have another face-off (last May Jug clashed with Olympiacos as rematch of the 2016 final). Both teams, reshaped after last season, had ups and downs in the prelims, and here only one can continue the quest for glory.
The in-house battle of Italy, between 8-time winner Recco and Brescia, will offer another exciting chapter of the two sides’ rich history. Recco beat Brescia 7-5 in the Italian league final for the 4th time this season a week ago, however, it’s Brescia which managed to beat Recco for the last time in Italy, though it happened a year ago, last May (that ended Recco’s all-Italian record of unbeaten runs, halted at 73 matches).
After missing last year’s F6, 2014 winner Barceloneta (ESP) is back but they face a tough team, Eger (HUN). Both teams had a sluggish start but a brilliant 7-game winning run from both in the middle of the season secured the qualification for them. 2002 champion and 2016 runner-up Olympiacos (GRE) is one of the top favourites and their first match seems to be an easy one against Spandau (GER) as the Germans are not the same as they were in the 80s when they clinched the trophy for four times. Still, Spandau claimed a couple of big wins in this season, beat title-holder Szolnok and Eger and lost narrowly to Recco, so on a given day they can be a threat to anyone.
For the first time, a Final Eight tournament is to be contested in the Champions League. After the round-robin finals with four teams in the first decades, then the clashes played on home-and-away basis, LEN introduced the Final Four format in 1997 and switched to Final Six in 2014. As the Champions League hit unprecedented heights recently, there was a need for further expansion, thus a 16-team preliminary was staged which turned out to be an instant success. 2080 goals were scored in the main round, a 24.76 goals per game average, guaranteeing outstanding entertainment for the water polo fans.
As usual, LEN offers free live stream from each game on its website, as well as live-scoring on the dedicated Champions League website.