Pro Recco to swat away another major attack?

An impregnable fortress. That's what one could call the pool of home club RN Sori in Liguria, northern Italy this year. Reigning the area though are not Sori themselves but neighbours Pro Recco. On Wednesday local fans will again get to watch the star-filled squad of the Italian and European champion club dealing with major opposition. Challengers lined up but so far were quickly removed of any illusions when playing in Sori. Concluding the first half of the international season Jug Dubrovnik were the latest example. What was supposed to be one of the more challenging match-ups for the title holders went on to become a glorious victory (14-6) in front of a packed pool. Now on Wednesday another major outsider comes to town as Hungarian counterpart Szolnok will try to force an upset against the unbeaten home team.
A daunting, if not unsurmountable task. Facing the red-hot title favourites in their home pool has you trailing more or less from the start. But if there's any squad up for that battle at present, it should be Szolnok. About the only other team holding several world and European champions in the Serbian trio of Zivko Gocic, Milan Aleksic and Stefan Mitrovic, combined with Hungarian highlights Denes Varga, his brother Daniel and centre forward Gabor Kis, this is a squad that, at least on paper, can challenge with the all-star roster of Recco. Problem for Hungary's best however is performing in the Champions League. The trip to the Final Six in Barcelona last year went to to become a major dissapointment finishing 6th and last after falling to domestic rivals 8-7 in the classification match and this season the big meeting with fellow major contender in group B, Jug Dubrovnik, was lost 10-9 only thanks to a late comeback in the final period that forced the home team to score the winning goal from the hands of Maro Jokovic. But for 3 quarters, Jug was not endangered by the visitors from Hungary. On Wednesday however the team will get a chance to shine and convince everyone outside Hungary of their talents when the Champions League favourites await in Italy. For Szolnok, when living up to their potential the fans in the Piscina Comunale in Sori will be up for a terrific match.

Elsewhere interesting match-ups are on display, highlighted by the meeting in Rijeka where the current leaders of group A, Primorje and Barceloneta, square off.  Both have not yet shined like they probably wanted to ahead of this season's campaign with a surprising 9-9 draw in Berlin for Primorje, a 7-4 loss to Olympiacos in Piraeus and for Barceloneta, a narrow 6-5 loss at Eger and 7-7 draw with Olympiacos at home in the previous round. But in leading the group after 4 rounds of play, Wednesday's match-up could turn out to be vital for both team's ambitions to reach the Final Six. With ZF-Eger as technical hosts already qualified, just 2 spots are available in the group.

In group B Olympiacos hope to add 3 points to their total hosting Jadran Herceg Novi. The Montenegrins are coming in without veteran and captain Nikola Janovic, who last week surprisingly announced his immediate retirement from water polo, after having led the Montenegro national team to a silver medal at the 2016 European Championships in Belgrade. And he will be missed in the fellow Vladimir Gojkovic coached squad, especially in the Champions League. Now the young side will have to battle the current 3rd seed squad who are in desperate need of points in order to keep up with the top 2 teams and the only available spots for the Final Six.

Jug is another team that welcomes a young opposing squad as Partizan will travel to Dubrovnik for a match-up in group B on Wednesday. The Serbs are coming off a 7-7 draw with Radnicki in the Regional league on Sunday while Jug is still unbeaten in that league's A1 Division. Therefore the home team is the clear favourite in this one but Partizan have proved to be a tough squad to handle, either at home or away. And with Felipe Perrone still in native Brazil for family reasons, and Paulo Obradovic absent in last Friday's Regional league win over and at Mornar, things are not being made easier for coach Vjekoslav Kobescak and his men.

Eger has the chance of creating the first gap between the 4th and 5th position in group A hosting German champs Spandau on Wednesday. But it will be a tricky one as the Germans have created a few surprising results, most recently holding Primorje to a 9-9 draw in Berlin in round 4. And also Olympiacos could not win in Germany (round 2) while in Herceg Novi in round 3 Jadran were tied 9-9. So Eger is and should be warned. Their campaign so far is with ups and downs. Tieing Olympiacos (8-8) and falling to Primorje (8-7) were the first results before Barceloneta was defeated 6-5 at home in round. But as encouriging that win was, Jadran held the Hungarians to an 11-all draw in round 4 before the winter break so that the 4th position in the group is currently the spot for Eger. A win could have them stay close to the group's top sides while for Spandau a win more or less means the same while losing creates a gap that will be very difficult to make up in the remaining rounds of this preliminary phase.

The only teams still seeking points in this season's Champions League so far square off in Budapest as OSC welcomes Galatasaray. An interesting meeting, not so much for the standings but more since knowing both teams will be eager to get away from the '0' points that their ranking currently holds. OSC on paper hold the favourite-role for Wednesday's match-up. The Hungarians were already close to points in round 2 (8-7 loss to Szolnok) and round 4 (5-4 loss to Partizan) so will be eager to finally grab them this time. For the visiting squad veterans European champion Slobodan Nikic and the Montenegrin silver medal winning contingent of Mladjan Janovic, Nikola Vukcevic and Vjekoslav Paskovic are counted on to lead the opposition.

Champions League 2015-2016
Preliminary phase

Day 5

Wednesday, February 3

18.00: Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. Jadran Carine Herceg Novi (MNE)
18.00: Jug CO Dubrovnik (CRO) vs. Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB)
19.00: ZF-Eger (HUN) vs. Wasserfreunde Spandau Berlin (GER)
20.00: Primorje EB Rijeka (CRO) vs. CN Atletic-Barceloneta (ESP)
20.00: OSC (HUN) vs. Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR)
20.30: Pro Recco (ITA) vs. Szolnoki VSK (HUN)

Current standings

Group A:

1. CN Atletic-Barceloneta 4 - 7 pts
2. Primorje EB Rijeka 4 - 7
3. Olympiacos Piraeus 4 - 6
4. ZF-Eger 4 - 5
5. Wasserfreunde Spandau Berlin 4 - 3
6. Jadran Carine Herceg Novi 4 - 2

Group B:

1. Pro Recco 4 - 12 pts
2. Jug CO Dubrovnik 4 - 9
3. Szolnoki VSK 4 - 9
4. Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade 4 - 6
5. OSC 4 - 0
6. Galatasaray Istanbul 4 - 0

N.b.: time mentioned is local time.

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