The CEV WOMEN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE 2018-2019 is finally starting its group stage. So the wait is over. This year there will be a great competition as there are some of the best players in world involved in all the matches. I will try to make a short review of each group and also a prediction of who the winner of the competition will be.
The first thing you have to know is that the format of the competition has dramatically changed. No more Final Four Tournament. More about the new format you can find on the CEV WEB SITE.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at the groups. But before that I have to express my sadness that last year’s vice champions, CSM Volei Alba Blaj didn’t manage to qualify for the group stages. As a friend of mine so poetically put it: „this was the night when the vice champions of Europe returned at only being the vice champions of Romania„. Sad but true but it is also true that in the second leg played in Germany, the Romanian team played extremely poor . With no further ado, let’s see each group.
Group A is dominated by Vakifbank Istanbul, the winner of the past season’s Champions League. With a team very similar to last year’s roster, Vakifbank is one of the main contenders for this season’s trophy too. I see no problem for them as the group also includes Beziers VB from France, Maritza Plovdiv from Bulgaria and Allianz MTV Stuttgart from Germany. For the second position I believe there will be a hard fought battle between Beziers and Stuttgart.
Group B is the one where we find another important team: Eczacibasi Vitra Istanbul. Having a very strong roster, featuring the best player in the world right now (at least in my opinion) Tijana Boskovic (the MVP of the recent World Championship) and also the USA national team members Lauren Gibbemeyer and Jordan Larson plus the incredible Kim Yeon-Koung, guided by Marco Motta as head coach, Eczacibasi is one of the most important contenders for this year’s Champions League trophy. The other teams in the group are Uralochka Ekaterinburg, Dinamo Kazan and Hameenlinna from Finland. I believe the two Russian teams will fight for the second place.
Group C is a very close one in my opinion as all of the teams have a good chance of going further in the competition. Of course, at first glance, Igor Gorgonzola Novara seem to be the big favorites of this group and I also think they will win it as their roster is better. But there is also a question mark as in my opinion, Novara is dependent on the form of Paola Egonu and this amazing player has moments when she is not present in the match. RC Cannes, Minchanka Minsk and Budowlani Lodz are the other teams and I really cannot put my finger on any of them right now. There will be a very interesting fight in this group.
Group D is the pool where my favorite team is. And I am sure they will be the winners of the group. Imoco Volley Conegliano, the Champions of Italy and the fresh winners of the Italian SuperCup are the main contenders of this group. The incredible italian team is also one of the main contenders for winning the CEV Champions League as they have an incredible roster this year also. They will have a tough opponent in Savino Del Bene Scandicci, the other italian team in this pool but there will also be some challenges when playing the poles of LKS Commercecons Lodz and the strong german side of SSC Palmberg Schwerin. But my bet is that the beautiful Imoco will win the group and Lodz and Scandicci will fight for the second place.
Group E is the one that Romanians expect very, very much because the Romanian Champions of CSM Bucharest play in this pool. Unfortunately for them, the group is a very tough one and I am afraid that CSM’s first Champions League experience will be a little bit tricky. Dinamo Moscow and Fenerbahce Istanbul are the main contenders, having the money and the rosters to back this statement. Fenerbahce is led by Zoran Terzic, the head coach of the European and World champions, Serbia. In Fenerbahce plays one of my favorite players, the mexican Samantha Bricio and I am really looking forward for the match in Bucharest so I can see her in action again. Dinamo Moscow have some great players also as Maja Ognjenovic, the setter of the world champions, plays there. Chemik Police from Poland will also have something to say in this group as they are also a strong squad. But, let’s not yet say that CSM is hopeless as they also have some interesting players, with some of them playing in the Final Six round of the World Championships in Japan and being coached by an incredible manager, Ferhat Akbas. All in one, the group will be very interesting with Fenerbahce and Dinamo strong contenders for the first two places.
*photo credit: CEV Offical Website