Let the Games Begin
Transfer season is over, the players found their old/new clubs, and everything is ready for the games to start. Previous month, I wrote about the most important changes in the strongest teams, and this time, we will focus on the games.
Most of the national championships have already started or will start in the following weeks. But as you know, there are several different types of national and European competitions.
Basically all the teams play two competitions in their homeland. The basic is the national championship, which is usually divided into several categories, depending on the strength of the clubs. The number of clubs and the number of divisions of each national league can vary a lot. For example the first division of the Italian national league has 12 teams, Croatian 8 and Serbian and Montenegrin respectively only 6 top teams. This basically depends on the size of the country, financial and infrastructural possibilities of the clubs, and off course the popularity of the game of water polo itself. Normally, the biggest and the most developed areas for water polo, similarly o California in the USA, are the coastal areas on the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea. To give you the idea, about what I’m talking about, I’ll give you some examples.
Spain to begin with, has 8 out of 12 top clubs which are situated in or around the suburbs of Barcelona. Therefore we can say that Cataluña (region in where Barcelona is), represents the heart of the Spanish water polo. To continue a little further to the east, in France, the best 4 clubs (Sete, Montpellier, Marseille and Nice), are also based on the banks of the Mediterranean. Italy has probably the biggest number of registered clubs in all of Europe, but we can again say that the quality is based on the north western coast, so called the Ligurian coast, concentrated around the city of Genoa (Pro Recco, Savona, Nervi, Sori, Imperia, Bogliasco…). But the most productive place for water polo talents is without doubt the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea (Croatia and Montenegro). The number of quality players and currently the strength of the clubs are really impressive. Just to name some of the clubs – Jug Dubrovnik, Mladost Zagreb, Sibenik, Primorje, Primorac Kotor, Jadran Herceg Novi, Budva, Cattaro, all of them being among the top 10 of the European water polo.
Also, there are always exceptions to the rule, which in this case represent the successes and traditions of Serbia and Hungary, which are interestingly, the countries that have no access to the sea! But regarding this, we should mention that water polo in Hungary is the number one national sport. In Hungary, practically every city and village country has a swimming pool or spa, and a great tradition in water sports. Serbia, on the other hand has a lot of problems with infrastructure, and to be more precise with swimming pools – there’s only 7 or 8 which are covered and available for training throughout all year. But having an exceptional talent and skills for team sports (basketball, football, volleyball, handball), the Serbian men still manage to stay on the top.
The second national competition is the national Cup competition, where all the teams participate, regardless of the strength or division in which they play. In this competition it is normal for a European club champion to play against some low division club, so we can say that the beginning phases of the Cup competition are usually less competitive. In recent years, in the most of national leagues, the Cup is played at the beginning of the season, and it serves as a sort of preparation for the start of the National league, and in some countries, like in Serbia, it is a filter for the best six teams to play in the national championship.
As for the other club competitions, there are also the European competitions, which are played across Europe by the most successful clubs – Euroleague and LEN Cup. In some of my previous columns I have already explained how these competitions work, but just to remind you, the Euroleague is the league where the best teams from all national championships play, and fight for the title of the best European club. It includes a qualification and group stage, and in the end, the Final Four. Similarly, the LEN Cup is the international competition where the clubs who were placed between third and fifth place in the national championships, play against each other. This gives them the possibility to play a lot of tough games competing for the international trophy, and to gather more media and crowd attention and experience for the players. The LEN Cup also has qualification rounds, but when the competitions comes to the final 16, than the play off system starts all way until the final matches, which are played home and away.
This year’s edition of Euroleague and LEN Cup, have already begun, and some of the qualification rounds have been played with more or less predictable results.
After the second qualification round for Euroleague, for the first time in the history of this competition, Serbia will have two representatives in the strongest European competition. Besides the national champion, Partizan Belgrade, the other Serbian representative for this year will be the team of Vojvodina from Novi Sad, who managed to get through the 16 best European clubs through the qualification round which took place in Greece. This is actually the only real surprise of the qualification. In the decisive match, on the last day of the tournament, Vojvodina managed to beat the host team of Vouliagmeni 11-8, and with two victories to enter in the elite competition, together with the Hungarian Honved Domino. Vojvodina won the match by heart and courage. Throughout the first half they were chasing the lead, but the decision came in the third quarter, which the Serbian team won 4-2, and successfully defended the lead until the final whistle.
Once again, we’ll be seeing three Montenegrin teams in the competition. Besides the national champion Jadran from Herceg Novi, the qualification round were successfully passed by the title defender Primorac from Kotor and Budvanska Rivijera from Budva. There will be two teams from Croatia – Jug Dubrovnik and Mladost from Zagreb, three teams from Hungary – Vasas, Honved and Eger, two teams from Greece – Olympiacos and Panionios from Athens and one from Spain – Barcelonetta. Italian club Possilipo from Naples, which was in the qualification club with Primorac and Sintez from Russia, once again won’t be playing the Euroleague, and with a setback of another Italian club Brescia, Italy will have only one representative in the European cream – Pro Recco. Also Russia will have two representatives – Sturm and Sintez. The draw for this year’s edition will be held in Zagreb on the 15th of November. For all of the qualification results of Euroleague and 1st round of LEN Cup qualifiers check out these links:
For all of you who are interested in seeing the goals and the actions from some of the matches here are some links:
BUDVANSKA RIVIJERA – SPANDAU 04 7-5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jrn3_3AIQaM
HONVED BUDAPEST – VOULIAGMENI 6-5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Khl90Vb5TJQ
BUDVANSKA RIVIJERA – MLADOST 9-9 http://www.youtube.com/user/Namorwp#p/a/u/0/bwaoM4O7hAw
EGER - BRESCIA 8-7 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMWcmClwCb0
[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]