The stage is set, but who can stop Recco?

LEN/Istvan Derencsenyi

Ten-time LEN Champions League winners Pro Recco are three games away from becoming the first team since 1970 to win three titles in a row. However, there are some strong candidates who may prevent the Italians’ Belgrade Triple. The LEN Champions League Final Eight tournament kicks off on Wednesday in the Serbian capital.

Winning the last two editions held in Belgrade, Recco are well set to retain their title and achieve the triple that only Mladost Zagreb were able to secure in the past, between 1968 and 1970.

The first roadblock on the Italian sides’ road to the three-peat is Ferencvaros – the Hungarians met Recco in the 2021 final and the 2022 semi-final, Recco beat them convincingly on both occasions. Now the Magyars need to step up in case they want to continue their medal winning streak as they were 3/3 in the previous three editions.

Provided Recco passes the first test, they would most probably face their old foe Brescia. They could take down their home arch-rival in the Italian final, though in one game anything can happen. This is exactly what Vouliagmeni is hoping for as they face Brescia in the quarters – though many think that among the Day 1 fixtures, this might become a one-sided contest. Brescia won their group and is determined not to wait so long for their first final – earlier, they had four failed attempts in the quarters. Then, in the past two editions, they managed to make the semis but couldn’t reach the final. Now they have other plans in their minds.

LEN/Istvan Derencsenyi

The other half of the bracket promises thrilling battles as well. Host Novi Beograd has a mounting task of overcoming Olympiacos, led by Igor Milanovic who had coached NBG last season to the final where they had lost in a shootout to Recco. Playing the F8 at home for the last time is a big chance for the Serbs, but Olympiacos is one of the strongest sides here with the potential to win the trophy.

Barceloneta could finally top their group in the prelims, but the reward – a game against Jug in the quarters – looks anything but an easy match-up. Indeed, the Croats, despite falling in the quarters on the last three occasions, always gave a hard time to their respective rivals, and even without a couple of injured players, they are considered a really tough opponent. Barceloneta posted the best result sheet in the prelims, with 13 wins and one loss, and now they need to peak in order to reach the final – a feat they had achieved first and, to date, the last time in 2014.

Champions League, Final Eight, Quarter-finals

15.30 Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (ESP) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)

17.00 Novi Beograd (SRB) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE)

18.30 AN Brescia (ITA) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE)

20.00 Pro Recco (ITA) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN)