Champions League, Main Round, Day 7 – Preview

Italians are set to keep the top ranks at the halfway mark 

The first half of the main round is to be concluded this week when Champions League action  resumes after the Christmas break. Nothing seems to prevent the Italian teams from topping the  respective groups after seven rounds and the other favourites can further strengthen their  positions too. At the same time, the new wave of the pandemic might have an effect on the  outcome of several matches while LEN tightens the Covid measures to be applied before and  during the games. 

The highly contagious Omicron variant already hit other team sports hard and water polo also faces a  huge challenge these days. However, at this stage postponing matches is not an option, according to  LEN Operational Manager Marco Birri. “Never ever we had such a busy calendar, the postponed World  Championships don’t give us any room for rescheduling matches since we also want to respect the  national competitions and the preparations of the national teams” Mr Birri said. “Now it is a common  responsibility of the teams and the officials to ensure that the games go ahead amidst fair circumstances  and only healthy players and staff members enter the pool. We tighten our measures, besides the  mandatory PCR tests 48 hours before the matches, rapid tests must also be conducted on game day, and  we also want to see everyone keeping the usual measures. Also, hosts must ensure that if spectators are  allowed to the stands, only people with green passes should enter and all of them have to wear masks at  all times and sanitasation and social distancing are also respected.” 

We all hope that water polo itself will prevail once more as the race for the Final Eight is as exciting as  ever, especially in Group A. Here the key game is to be played in Barcelona where Zodiac meets F8  host Novi Beograd. The ‘mirroring’ playing schedule means that the two sides will also meet in two  weeks in Belgrade – for the Spaniards it’s going to be crucial to cash as many points as possible.  Though the Serbs have a guaranteed spot, they cannot afford losing streaks in the team-building process  either, so the upcoming clashes have some weight for them too, especially after they shockingly lost the  domestic cup final to Radnicki. 

Top ranked Brescia beat Olympiacos shortly before the holidays so downing Radnicki looks to be an  easy task, however, Serbs can cause surprises at any time and Radnicki recently did upset Novi Beograd  as mentioned above. Also, the Italians’ well-organised line-up was hit by positive Covid-tests and that  put them to a challenging situation. 

Olympiacos needs to bounce back against Jadran which was soundly beaten by Ferencvaros just days  after winning the Croatian Cup. While the Croats might be fresher both physically and mentally, their  Covid-problems keep them the underdogs anyway. And if they bag zero points from the two  Olympiacos matches, Jadran, already trailing by four points to the others, might be out of the hunt by  February. On the contrary, Ferencvaros is ready to add six points from its two matches against winless  Dinamo which will boost their F8 campaign significantly.

In group B, a five-point gap is already there between the top four and the rest. Now the big  game may be Recco’s encounter with Jug, though this might not offer the same thrills as the 2016 and  2017 semi-finals. While Recco was flying high in the first six rounds, Jug had a bad run in late  December, another home defeat to OSC clearly showed that the Croats were vulnerable and now they  need something special to halt Recco’s run. 

Marseille is in a five-game winning streak and it’s hard to see that Zvezda – losing in Bucharest a bit  surprisingly on Day 6 – will derail the French. OSC came up big in Dubrovnik, now a home win against  Spandau would reinforce the Hungarians’ status among the top contenders. As Zvezda fell in the Steaua  pool, Hannover cannot take anything granted there either – but anything less than three points would be  a serious blow for the Germans’ ambitions to return to the F8. 

Champions League, Day 7 

(all times are local) 

Group A (Tuesday) 

19.15 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) 

19.00 Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) 

20.15 Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 

20.30 AN Brescia (ITA) v Jadran Split (CRO) 

Standings: 1. Brescia 14, 2. Olympiacos 13, 3. Barceloneta 10, 4. Novi Beograd 10, 5. Ferencvaros 10,  6. Jadran 6, 7. Radnicki 4, 8. Dinamo 0 

Group B (Wednesday) 

21.00 Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Pro Recco (ITA) 

19.00 OSC Budapest (HUN) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) 

20.00 Steaua Bucharest (ROU) v Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) 

19.00 CN Marseille (FRA) v Crvena Zvezda (SRB) 

Standings: 1. Recco 18, 2. Marseille 15, 3. Jug 12, 4. OSC 10, 5. Hannover 5, 6. Spandau 4, 8. Steaua  3, 7. Zvezda 3