Champions League, Final Eight, Belgrade, 2-4 June – Preview

Recco goes for a double and a 10th crown  Recco is looking for retaining its title, which would be the first double since 2008 when also the  Italians had managed to win back-to-back editions. However, six other freshly crowned national  champion teams and their fellow Italian arch-rival Brescia all line up to prevent Recco from a  record-breaking 10th victory. Belgrade is ready for another three-day show, starting this  Thursday.  Since the reshaped format of the Champions League has been introduced in 2014 (preliminary with two  groups, a Final Six, then Eight at the end), the first six editions saw six different teams from six  different countries lifting the trophy. Last season Recco halted that trend and managed to clinch the title  for a second time after 2015 – of course, that was also the Italians’ record-breaking 9th victory in the  competition.  Now Recco can raise the stakes as the favourite team may achieve a title-defence for the first time since  2008. Indeed, they were the last one till date to retain their gold medal 14 years ago. It’s not an easy feat  – it happened only 8 times in history (the competition started in the 1963-64 season), and only one team  (Mladost, CRO, then YUG) could make a treble in 1968-1970.  This also demonstrates that going all the way in the Champions League has been anything but easy – and even if Recco dominated the prelims as usual, the Italian champions could take nothing for granted  in Belgrade.  First of all, there will be seven freshly crowned champions in the field – all but one qualified team  managed to win its respective domestic league, Brescia is the only exception for obvious reasons as they  lost to Recco in Italy. This already adds some extra flavour to the three thrilling days – so this edition  will lack the irony we had a year ago when the two sides reaching the final, Recco and Ferencvaros, had  fallen short before the F8 in their countries (Recco got silver in Italy, Ferencvaros got bronze in  Hungary).  The quarter-finals on Thursday already offer a series of exciting clashes. Only Brescia seems to face a  bit easier task – this might be their reward for finishing atop in the group considered the toughest ever –,  still, Hannover might cause them some headaches in a single game.  Despite losing only one game in 14 rounds, Recco will need to pass a crucial test right on Day 1 against  Barceloneta. The Spaniards were on the rise in the spring and this match is something all water polo  lovers are poised to see. It’s going to be interesting for another aspect too: both teams are led by a  Croatian head-coach. Sandro Sukno is in charge in Recco, Elvis Fatovic is the boss in Barceloneta – both of them spend their first season in this job at the clubs. Add: when Croatia won the Olympic gold  in 2012, Fatovic was the assistant coach of the national team where Sukno was a key player. When Ferencvaros won the trophy in 2019, they downed Jug in the quarters to put an end to the Croats’  big run as the Dubrovnik-based side always reached the semis in the previous four editions. This year,  the Hungarians were in trouble in early March but bounced back spectacularly and Jug also had some  great matches lately – and don’t forget, the Croats are the only team having beaten Recco in the group stage.  Last but not least, host Novi Beograd, the only new participant compared to the 2021 field, will have a  showdown with Marseille which showed some tremendous improvement during these years. The  French first won the Euro Cup in 2019, qualified for the F8 last year and staged a 11-game winning  streak in the prelims this season. With a great mix of French and foreign players, mostly from  Montenegro and Croatia, led by a Montenegrin coach, they know the ways to put up a great fight  against a Serbian team. However, Novi Beograd was put together to win this title in its home pool,  preferably right on their first try. During the season, his majesty Igor Milinovic entered the scene to take  over the team as the head coach. The legendary player already proved that, as a coach, he knew how to  win the title against all odds when he led Partizan to a stunning victory against top favourite Recco in  2011 in the Foro Italico in Rome.  All matches can be followed via a live stream on our dedicated website with on-site English  commentary (though in some countries geo-blocking may occur) – and the live-scoring site shall offer  all the stats and video-clips of each goal scored in Belgrade.  Champions League, Final Eight – Schedule  Quarter-finals, 2 June  14.30 AN Brescia (ITA) v Waspo 98 Hannover (GER)  16.30 Pro Recco (ITA) v Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP)  18.30 CN Marseille (FRA) v Novi Beograd (SRB)  20.30 FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)  Semi-finals, 3 June  14.30 Crossover for 5-8th places  16.30 Crossover for 5-8th places  18.30 Semi-final: Brescia/Hannover v Marseille/Novi B.  20.30 Semi-final: Recco/Barceloneta v FTC/Jug  Final Round, 4 June  12.00 For the 7-8th place  14.00 For the 5-6th place  17.00 Bronze medal match  19.30 Champions League Final 

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