The very best of water polo is back
284 days after the last matches having taken place, Champions League returns to the pools. Back on March 3-‐4, Round 10 was held in the main round but the season was never finished due to the ensuing pandemic. This new series will be different, however, as the group stage shall be played in three phases at two venues. Group A action kicks off on Monday in Ostia (ITA), while Group B starts on Tuesday in Budapest (HUN), both sites will host three rounds in as many days.
Since the pandemic is still forcing extraordinary measures in Europe (and around the world), LEN had to reshape the field of the main round to have 12 teams instead of 16. The 10 rounds will be played in tournament format: both groups will come together at two different venues in December, in March and in April to play 3, 4 and 3 rounds respectively. The Final Eight is scheduled for 3-‐5 June in Hannover.
Making predictions is even harder now. Though water polo fans can easily enlist the favourite sides, but due to the very different landscapes of the applied measures in the different countries, expectations cannot be the same as in normal times. For example, 2018 winner and 2019 runner-‐up Olympiacos has been facing a 45-‐day lockdown in Greece, which hit water polo too as it is listed as an amateur sport there. That prevented the Greeks from playing matches in recent weeks – and the same applies to the two Germans sides as their local league has not even begun.
On the contrary, title-‐holder Ferencvaros plays regularly – though the Hungarians had a couple of unusually bad encounters, losing at home to Szolnok and this weekend to OSC, conceding embarrassingly high number of goals (14-‐15 and 12-‐16).
Perhaps the two Italian qualifiers, Ortigia and Brescia can be considered the teams already on fire as they advanced after winning extremely tough matches in a row in November. The opening rounds will offer some highlighted encounters. In Group A, Jug (CRO) and Olympiacos will have another face-‐off (they played the final in 2016) and the Italian derby between Recco and Ortigia is due on Tuesday. In Budapest, where the magnificent Duna Arena will welcome back water polo after the grand success of the Europeans in January (though this time no fans can enter), Ferencvaros and Barceloneta (ESP) will have some hard time while taking on Brescia on Day 2 and Day 3 respectively.
But whatever difficulties the teams had to go through and however tough measures they must respect during the upcoming tournaments to be held in ‘bubbles’, coaches and players all praise the opportunity to play top level water polo again. And we can all be sure that Champions League will continue to entertain water polo fans next week and in 2021 all the way.
As usual, LEN offers free live streaming from each game – this time with English commentary – and matches can also be followed in the dedicated live-‐scoring website. For more, visit: http://len.microplustiming.com/lenchampionsleague/
Group A – Ostia (ITA)
Round 1 (14 Dec): 15.15 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v CC Ortigia (ITA), 17.45 Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO), 20.15 Pro Recco (ITA) v CN Marseille (FRA)
Round 2 (15 Dec): 15.15 Jug v Marseille, 17.45 Spandau v Olympiacos, 20.15 Ortigia v Recco
Round 3 (16 Dec): 15.15 Marseille v Ortigia, 17.45 Olympiacos v Jug, 20.15 Recco v Spandau
Group B – Budapest (HUN)
Round 1 (15 Dec): 14.00 Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v AN Brescia (ITA), 16.30 Jadran Herceg Novi (MNE) v FTC-‐Telekom Budapest (HUN), 19.00 Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Zodiac CN Atletic Barceloneta (ESP)
Round 2 (16 Dec): 14.00 Barceloneta v Dinamo, 16.30 Ferencvaros v Brescia, 19.00 Jadran v Waspo
Round 3 (17 Dec): 14.00 Dinamo v Jadran, 16.30 Waspo v Ferencvaros, 19.00 Brescia v Barceloneta