16.30 Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) vs. Atletic Barceloneta (ESP)
As a fixture, it’s the re-match of last season grand final – however, the line-ups are not similar, Radnicki has been weakened in the meantime. Barceloneta is the favourite of this clash though the title-holders are still seeking their first win in the prelims as their previous two matches ended in a tie. Radnicki couldn’t avoid heavy defeats against Recco and Olympiacos, if the Serbs wish to reserve any chance to reach the Final Six they should come up with something extra this Wednesday. This is echoed by their head coach, Uros Stevanovic: “We expect a very difficult game. Barcelona, like us, hasn’t had a win in its first two games and they will do everything to earn three points. Just like us.. This game is crucial for our team because in case of a loss it would be very difficult to reach the Final Six.”
20.30 AN Brescia (ITA) vs. ZF Eger (HUN)
Just as the teams playing in Kragujevac, both Brescia and Eger are looking for their first win respectively. Brescia has two draws, one at home against Olympiacos, the other they earned in Barcelona. Eger opened with a hard-fought tie also in Barcelona then they were soundly beaten by Recco, so mental recovery is the key for the Hungarian champions. At the home side the expectations are high – they are still unbeaten in this season, won all 11 league games in Italy. “Our next two matches are played at home, so the basic expectations are clear: if we want to continue competing for the Final Six, we have to gain three points on both occasions” head coach, Sandro Bovo said. “Certainly it will be a very hard task: Eger is a very good team, they are the Hungarian title-holders, so we have to play with great desire from the beginning.”
“After two draws we have to defeat Eger” Brescia’s center, Lorenzo Bruni added. “There’s no doubt, Wednesday’s match is very important. They are experienced and skilled, we are going to do our best: we’re in good condition and we have to think only about ourselves, only about the way we can play.”
At Eger they have good news, as their veteran captain, Peter Biros – three-time Olympic champion – is back after a long illness. Norbert Dabrowski, head coach of ZF-Eger: “We know where we’re heading to. Brescia is a very good team. They showed it not only last year in the final six, but in this season, too. We took all this in account when we were preparing for the game.” “I’ve never missed such a long time like I did this year because of my illness” Biros said. “I’ve already played in our last championship match, and it felt really good being in the water with my teammates. We’d like to make everybody to forget our previous games and the upcoming matches offer a fine opportunity for that. We respect Brescia’s achievements, beating Pro Recco anyhow is always an amazing accomplishment. Still, our goal cannot be other than victory. If we will be able to play as good as we did in Barcelona, then we would win in Brescia.” The goalie of the Hungarians, Serbian Branislav Mitrovic said: “We are aware of that a very strong opponent is waiting for us in Brescia. But since Péter Biros is back, we are going to be a lot more effective in offence. On the other hand, we hadn’t have any problem with our defence so far. I would accept a tie, because Brescia has been playing together for 3-4 years, they’re a good team. Still, our victory is not unthinkable either. We are going to do everything in order to win.”
19.00 Pro Recco (ITA) vs. Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE)
Recco couldn’t have wished for any better start: huge wins in two away games, 12- 5 in Kragujevac and 12-4 in Eger – their legendary strength, what’s more invincibility seems to be back. What makes this Thursday encounter really special that Olympiacos also enjoys a fine season so far: they saved their opening game to a draw in Brescia, then defeated Radnicki with ease, and in the Greek league they have seven wins out of seven games while scoring 130 goals. Since the first and second seeded sides collide, a win at this game might be a golden ticket to the Final Six and the Greeks travel to Italy with high hopes.
“Playing against Pro Recco in Italy is quite difficult. Recco is very strong team and I hope my players do their best in order to achieve a good result” head coach Theodoros Vlachos said.
“We know that we are playing against one of the strongest teams in Europe. We respect our opponent but we believe in our team and we will do our best” Nikola Radjen added.
1. Recco 6, 2. Olympiacos 4, 3. Brescia 2, 4. Barceloneta 2, 5. Eger 1, 6. Radnicki 0
18.50 Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO) vs. Spandau 04 Berlin
Primorje bounced back from their first round defeat in Szolnok and did a professional job in Istanbul, beating Galatasaray comfortably. Now they are the favourites at home: winning in Rijeka has become a mission impossible even for the strongest sides in recent seasons – so the Germans had to give their maximum in order to stay in the game. Still, despite their two losses, they had some positive memories against he Croats as they had three fine quarters against Jug in the opening round before going down in the fourth.
19.00 Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) vs. Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR)
Jug escaped with a magnificent 4th real thriller in Belgrade where their defending was so excellent that it even gave
Partizan’s coach Vlado Vujasinovic something to applause for. During this second tough win Jug had a painful loss as well: their captain, Niksa Dobud was ejected for 4mins for brutality and this earned him a 3-game suspension. Without one of the best centre-forwards in the world Jug faces some difficult moments, though clearing this hurdle against Galatasaray still belongs to the easier tasks.
“We noted that Galatasaray has eight players representing Serbia, Montenegro and the United States respectively, and we are aware that they form a very strong opponent” head coach Miho Bobić said. “In the first two rounds of the LEN Champions League we didn’t play well, but we have six points. We will try to earn three more on Wednesday. It will be a tough game, but we are looking for a victory.”
Goalkeeper Marko Bijac, who will be the captain next Wednesday, concluded: “We will need the help of our fans, but it all depends on us. We are aware of how important this game is.”
19.00 Szolnoki Dózsa-Közgép (HUN) vs. Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB)
Newcomer in the prelims, but thanks to the strengthened line-up Szolnok is among the best teams of Europe and they haven’t disappointed their fans so far. The Hungarians opened their march by winning a magnificent game against Rijeka, followed by an amazing display of attacking water polo in Berlin. The Wednesday match is going to be a tricky one as Szolnok has great Serbian players, Zivko Gocic, Stefan Mitrovic and Milan Aleksic, all three played for Partizan before joining the Hungarian side.
“Our rehearsal was very successful, since we defeated the team of Ferencváros with a big goal difference in the Hungarian league” head coach Sandor Cseh stated. “Still, Partizan is a stronger and different team than our last opponent. They are young, fast and play aggressive water polo. It will be hard playing against them. We want to continue our great winning series. I don’t really care about the goal difference, the main goal is to win this encounter.”
Leftie Nobert Madaras, who has tremendous experience in the Champions League as he spent ten years with Pro Recco, shares his coach’s view. “In my opinion Szolnok is a better team than Partizan Belgrade. It’s a young and keen team, basically they have nothing to lose. We would like to go on with our winning streak, and keep our positive balance. In order to reach our goal we must beat the Serbs
Even Partizan’s head coach, the former legendary player, Vlado Vujasinovic keeps the hosts a better side. “Szolnok is definitely the favourite, probably the strongest team in our group. Although we are playing with a young, inexperienced team, I’m sure the guys will do their best and that we will provide the audience a dynamic and interesting game.”
1. Szolnok 6, 2. Jug 6, 3. Primorje 3, 4. Partizan 0 (1 game), 5. Galatasaray 0 (1), 6. Spandau 0
For match reports, detailed stats, post-game quotes visit the Champions League dedicated website through www.len.eu