Since the upcoming season is the busiest ever with two major events for the national teams in the calendar (Europeans in January, Worlds in February, both qualifying for the Olympics), the Champions League qualifications had to be curtailed. Unlike in the previous years – with the exception of the Covid-hit 2020-21 – when the four qualifying teams emerged after three rounds, this time it’s going to be a single-stage bonanza where only the four group-winners shall qualify from the 14-team strong field.
With six clubs from last year’s group stage, three of them F8 participants, and only four spots up for grabs, a series of tough battles are guaranteed for the coming weekend.
Hannover will host Group A and the German side – making the F8 on their own right in 2021 and 2022 – cannot take anything for granted in the company of Serbian championship runner-up Crvena Zvezda and the respective bronze medallists of the Spanish and Hungarian leagues, CN Barcelona and Honved, plus Challenger Cup winner Apollon Smyrnis of Greece.
While Brescia, semi-finalists in 2021 and 2022, might look a sure bet in Group A, the Italians – after losing a couple of key-players in the summer – should be on top of their game against Radnicki as the Serbs will play at home. And don’t count out Noisy Le Sec as the French team brought in a couple of fine players to further improve their roster.
F8 sensation Vouliagmeni – the Greeks upset Brescia in the quarters and lost by penalties to Barceloneta in the bronze medal match – needs to dig deep as they face a tough challenge from Italy’s Ortigia and host Oradea of Romania, besides, Primorje of Croatia can cause some headaches as well.
Last season Jug Dubrovnik and OSC Budapest were entangled to a couple of outstanding matches in their group – now the Croatians and the Hungarians have one clash to decide who can continue in the Champions League. Provided they could beat Tourcoing of France which also caused some troubles against top sides in the qualifications in recent years.
Teams finishing behind the winners will continue their journey in the Euro Cup – the draw for the qualification round in that cup (as well as for the other club competitions) shall be held on 11 September in Netanya, site of the European Water Polo Championships draw, scheduled for 12 September.
Champions League Men, Qualification Round (7-10 September)
Group A (Hannover)
Waspo 98 Hannover (GER), CN Barcelona (ESP), BVK Crvena Zvezda (SRB), Endo Plus Service Honved (HUN), GS Apollon Smyrnis (GRE)
Group B (Kragujevac)
AN Brescia (ITA), SPD Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB), VPK Primorac Kotor (MNE), ASD Duisburg (GER), CN Noisy Le Sec (FRA)
Group C (Oradea)
Vouliagmeni NC (GRE), CC Ortigia (ITA), CSM Oradea (ROU), Primorje Erste Bank Rijeka (CRO)
Group D (Dubrovnik)
Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO), OSC Budapest (HUN), EN Tourcoing (FRA), CS Dinamo Bucharest (ROU)