The last stage of the big quest

OSC, Brescia and Jadran Split are all set to repeat last year’s feat when they had qualified for the main round in the Champions League, while Noisy le Sec and Vouliagmeni are going for a historic first appearance on the big stage.

A year ago. the No. 2 teams of Hungary, Italy and Croatia all cleared the last hurdle with ease: OSC, Brescia and Jadran didn’t have any problem to claim convincing wins in the first leg which already secured them a spot in the main round.

This time their tasks may not seem similarly easy, though these three sides are the favourites again to advance. OSC already passed a ‘Greek test’ in the second round with a fine 13-9 win over Vouliagmeni – now the Hungarians face Panionios which earned a hard-fought 7-6 victory over Mladost (CRO) in the previous round to book their place in the play-offs.

Brescia is considered the best side in the qualifications – both their line-up and their results in the past two years (reached the semi-finals in 2021 and 2022) make them favourites in any match-ups. Still, their current rival Vasas might pose some threat in a home-and-away battle as the Hungarians – once a major force at the European stage – have been gradually strengthened in recent years and now they are ready to eye some bigger things.

Perhaps Jadran Split’s task looks the easiest: the Croats, led by the hero of the European Championship final Jerko Marinic-Kragic, face the surprise qualifier CSM Oradea. The Romanians earned a stunning 12-6 win over CN Barcelona which sent them through (the Spanish had reached the play-offs last year) – that can be an alerting sign for the Jadran players not to underestimate their rivals.

The fourth duel is the exception, featuring two teams which have never made the big stage since the newly shaped Champions League had started in 2013/14. France’s emerging side Noisy le Sec would be an ‘absolute’ rookie in the group stage, while its opponent Vouliagmeni has some historical experience, though their quarter-final appearance dates back to 2013. (A year ago Serbia’s Crvena Zvezda was the fourth qualifier, this season they play in the Euro Cup.)

Champions League, Qualification Play-offs, Leg 1

19.00 Genesys-OSC Budapest (HUN) v Panionios GSS (GRE) – Game A

18.00 CN Noisy le Sec (FRA) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) – Game B

19.00 A HID Vasas-Plaket (HUN) v AN Brescia (ITA) – Game C

19.00 Jadran Split (CRO) v CSM Oradea (ROU) – Game D

Leg 2: 5 November