The six best are ready to rock
Europe’s six best sides will take part in a three-day showcase in Barcelona to decide who captures this year’s Champions League title. Three teams are returning to the Final Six from last season (Barceloneta – ESP, Recco – ITA, Rijeka – CRO) while three are new (Jug – CRO, Eger – HUN, Szolnok – HUN), though only the two Hungarians are the real rookies in this tournament. Recco can go for a record-breaking 8th title.
At the opening press conference – held as usual in the magnificent Olympic Museum on the Montjuic – the city’s representative, Iolanda Latorre and Barceloneta’s President Julian Garcia welcomed all participants and the guests. They both emphasised how important this event is for Barcelona, the city, which is always happy to stage great aquatic competitions.
LEN Vice-President Dimitris Diathesopoulos paid thanks to the municipality of Barcelona and the club of Barceloneta to organise the Final Six for the second year and was also grateful for all sponsors supporting the most prestigious and important European water polo club competition. He added that Barcelona was always a brilliant host of outstanding aquatic festivals, including the World Championships in 2003 and 2013, a Final Four already in 2008, the first two editions of the Final Six and another huge show is in sight when the European Water Polo Championships will take place here in 2018.
LEN Sports&Office Manager Marco Birri proudly announced that LEN’s long-term plan with the Champions League had been executed really well so far, mostly thanks to the participating clubs who agreed to cooperate according to the new demands. “We’ve improved the level and the presentation of water polo a lot” Mr Birri acknowledged. “Now we have a credible product to be sold in the world’s sport market and we see the numbers growing constantly. Last season we had more than 1.2 million people staying tuned for the Champions League and we expect much higher number this year since we launched the new live-scoring system and a connecting application.”
Free live streaming is offered again through the LEN website (www.len.eu) and the most interesting clips – highlights, exclusive interviews – will be available on the LEN Channel at dailymotion.com.
The coaches of the participating teams also foresee an outstanding event running from Thursday to Saturday.
Igor Milanovic, head-coach of Recco (ITA) – he won the title as a player and as a coach already – says that while his team is considered the favourite, this tournament features the six best teams of the world. “All games are going to be tight, the quarters, the semis and the final as well, but of course, Recco has come here to win, but this is something everyone got used to in this club.” In fact, Recco can become the first club in history with 8 titles – now they are tied with 7 with Partizan (SRB) and Mladost (CRO).
The other group winning side, Rijeka (CRO) looks for the gold after earning a silver and a bronze on their first two tries, as their coach Ivan Asic puts it: “Recco is held the favourite but in these tournaments not always the favourites win. We are looking for making at least the final and preferably win this time. But as Igor said, the six best teams are here so everything is possible.”
Zoltan Kosz, assistant coach of Szolnok (HUN) thinks that even though the new Hungarian champion is a newcomer to the Final Six, “our players are very experienced, most of them play in the biggest tournaments at international level year by year. To start against the host and title-holder Barceloneta means just the same challenge as to play against anybody else, as all teams are outstanding here.”
Fellow Hungarian coach, Norbert Dabrowski of Eger says that even though the club and their city waited for ten years to reach the Final Six (they had 7 unsuccessful attempts beforehand), they don’t think that their target has been reached. “We want more, to go as far as possible here. After missing the championships final at home and finishing only bronze medallist, our fans would only be satisfied if here we earn at least the silver medal… But our goal has never changed in fact: we always try to win the next game.”
Vjekoslav Kobescak, head-coach of Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) agrees that their five-match league final against Rijeka was a good way to prepare for the tough matches in Barcelona. “Though the series were really demanding at the same time, first of all we had to recover from the mental and physical exhaustion but I hope we will be ready for the tournament. Jug has a destiny to win everywhere, this club has a great heritage so we are on a mission to achieve as much as we can.”
Chus Martin, the head-coach of Barceloneta (ESP) is well aware of the difficulties they face this edition. “We know very well that repeating our win from last year is an extremely tough task. However, we are at home, we are a good team so we cannot go for anything else than defending our title.”
Schedule – Final Six, Barcelona, Piscina Picornell
Thursday, 28 May
18.00 ZF Eger (HUN) vs. Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
19.30 CN Barceloneta (ESP) vs. Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)
Friday, 29 May
16.30 Game for the 5th place
18.00 Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO) vs. Eger/Jug
19.30 Pro Recco (ITA) vs. Barceloneta/Szolnok
Saturday, 30 May
18.00 Bronze medal game
19.30 Champions League Final
Live streaming and live scoring will be available through www.len.eu