Champions League, Qualification, Playoffs, 1st leg – Preview
The first big day of the season
The first really heated day of the water polo Champions League is right here: the first legs of the four playoffs are due on Wednesday. The winners of these duels will reach the preliminary round.
18.50: OSC Budapest (HUN) vs. Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)
The all-Hungarian clash is perhaps the highlight of the third round as the other three pairs feature clear favourites. This one is a tough call, though based on the line-ups Szolnok looks stronger, however, OSC seems to have reached a higher level in putting their team together so far. They are still unbeaten this season, had 7 wins and a draw in their 8 Champions League appearances and won 4 out of 4 in the domestic league. Szolnok also had a clean sheet in Hungary but lost to Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) in the previous qualification round.
20.30 Pro Recco (ITA) vs. HAVK Mladost Zagreb (CRO)
Recco ran a pretty strong campaign in the previous round, demolished all their three rivals including Euro Cup title-holder Spartak Volgorad (RUS) and the 2013 Champions League-winner Crvena Zvezda (SRB). The young Mladost side have to come up with their very best but the star-studded line-up of the Italians ought to prevail in this encounter.
19.00 Crvena Zvezda (SRB) vs. Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO)
The Serbs barely survived the second round, they lost to Hannover (GER) and to Recco but thanks to another side, Volgograd they went through by topping a three-way tie. Zvezda is no longer the same powerhouse which managed to clinch the Champions League trophy in 2013 at home soil. Their key-players left in that summer, later the team bowed out at this stage (in the playoffs) and they are definitely the underdogs in this duel. However, you can’t take anything for granted when Serbs and Croats battle in this sport so it might become an exciting match-up at the end.
18.00 Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) vs. CSM DiGi Oradea (ROM)
Radnicki was back in business in the second round after a relatively weaker showing in the first. Earlier in September they lost twice in five matches (to OSC and to Spartak Volgograd) but in the previous stage they won all three games, including a great triumph over Szolnok. The Serbs are the favourites, however, Oradea might cause an upset as the Romanians had also four Serbs in their team (including Gojko Pijetlovic, the best goalkeeper of the European Championships) and one at the poolside (their head coach), so this clash can also be labelled a mouth-watering one.
The second legs will be played on 12 November.