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2021 Champions League ready for take-off

Lukas Kampa sets for Jastrzebski Wegiel in a 2020 Champions League game at Greenyard Maaseik
Lausanne, Switzerland, September 22, 2020 – CEV Champions League Volley 2021 is ready to get underway in both genders with a total of four matches scheduled on Tuesday and another 12 to be held later this week.

The 2020 European Cups were interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and no new titleholders emerged, so 2019 winners Cucine Lube Civitanova (men) and Igor Gorgonzola Novara (women), both from Italy, are still the defending continental champions.

In each of the two prestigious competitions, 20 teams will contest the pool stage, dubbed fourth round, with 18 men’s and 17 women’s clubs seeded directly into the pools. In the earlier stages of the Champions League, 18 men’s and 12 women’s sides will battle it out for the remaining vacancies.

For the first round of the men’s Champions League, the 18 teams are split into six pools of three, with the winners advancing to the second round, where the two available pool stage spots will be contested in two pools of three.

The season opener will take place at 18:00 local time on Tuesday in Romania in Pool B, where national champions Arcada Galati entertain Croatia’s Ribola Kastela and Finland’s Ford Levoranta Sastamala, featuring one of the most successful Finnish players of all time Mikko Esko.

Pool A is set to get going an hour later in Croatia, where hosts Mladost Zagreb will welcome Albania’s Erzeni Shijakut and Hungary’s Fino Kapsovar. This pool will feature a second round robin tournament to be held in Hungary from September 29 through October 1.

Pool C is the third one ready to start on Tuesday with heavy favourites Jastrzebski Wegiel of Poland hosting Belarus’s Stroitel Minsk and the Netherlands’ Draisma Dynamo Apeldoorn for a single round robin in Jastrzebie-Zdroj. The home side is built around German setter Lukas Kampa and features international stars like France’s Yacine Louati, Ukraine’s Jurii Gladyr and Poland’s Tomasz Fornal.

Dinamo Moscow are also among the top four contenders for the two pool stage vacancies. During the transfer period, the Russian powerhouse attracted high-calibre international stars like Bulgarian opposite Tsvetan Sokolov, Finnish libero Lauri Kerminen and Russian national team player Yaroslav Podlesnykh, who joined the likes of Belgium’s Sam Deroo and Russia’s Pavel Pankov and Ilia Vlasov to form a bright constellation ready to aim not only at making the pool stage, but also at the continental title in May.

Dinamo will be challenged by Bulgarian champs Neftochimik Burgas, featuring a number of national team standouts like Nikolay Nikolov and brothers Georgi Bratoev and Valentin Bratoev, and Pool D hosts Zadruga Aich/Dob in a double round-robin scheduled from September 27 through October 2.

The Italian town of Trento will set the stage for the three matches in Pool F from September 29 through October 1, where another big contender for the Champions League title, hosts Trentino Itas, will entertain England’s IBB Polonia London and Serbia’s Vojvodina Seme Novi Sad. The most decorated team in the history of the FIVB Volleyball Club World Championships can rely on the services of a stellar roster containing top-level players like Serbian middles Marko Podrascanin and Srecko Lisinac, Brazilian outside Ricardo Lucarelli, Dutch opposite Nimir Abdel-Aziz and Italian setter Simone Giannelli.

Pool E is the last one to determine its winner as it takes place in a three-game format from October 6 through 8 in Switzerland. Belgium’s Greenyard Maaseik, with the likes of national team players Pieter Verhees, Jolan Cox and experienced Dutchman Jelte Maan in the squad, may be the favourites in that pool, but Shakhtior Soligorsk from Belarus and hosts Lindaren Volley Amriswil, with Austrian scoring machine Thomas Zass, are certainly not to be discounted.

Teams from Russia, Italy and Poland seem to be the top contenders for the three vacancies in the pool stage on the women’s side. The 12 candidates have been distributed into a two-round bracket to determine the three second-round winners, who will advance in the competition.

In fact, one of the three main favourites, Poland’s LKS Commercecon Lodz, have already secured a spot in the second round without playing, after their first rivals of Israel’s Hapoel Kfar Saba were not able to travel to Poland due to pandemic related restrictions. Which means that Dutch international Britt Bongaerts, Polish stars Katarzyna Zaroslinska-Krol and Klaudia Alagierska, and the rest of their teammates in coach Giuseppe Cuccarini’s squad already await their next opponent.

The duel between Germany’s Allianz MTV Stuttgart, with setter Pia Kastner, American opposite Krystal Rivers and middle blockers Mira Todorova of Bulgaria and Juliet Lohuis of the Netherlands on the roster, and Belarus’s Minchanka Minsk should have been resolved in one match at a neutral venue in Lodz, Poland on Wednesday. However, the game will not take place because of a positive coronavirus case in the Minchanka side, and Allianz MTV are also through to the second round.

Play should get underway in Italy at 18:00 local time on Tuesday with the season opener between hosts Savino Del Bene Scandicci and Serbia’s TENT Obrenovac. With names like those of Italian stars Ofelia Malinov and Lucia Bosetti and Polish international Magdalena Stysiak, coach Massimo Barbolini’s team looks almost certain to push through to the pool stage. The second-leg game between these two sides will take place on Wednesday, also in Scandicci.

The single match between Russia’s Dinamo Moscow and hosts Vasas Obuda Budapest of Hungary is set to take place on Wednesday, after the two sides agreed to reduce travel during these times. Despite the role of visiting team, with stars like Nataliya Goncharova, Tatiana Romanova and Irina Fetisova of Russia, and Natalia Pereira of Brazil, the most decorated club in the history of the competition are the clear favourites in this clash.

In the remaining two first-round fixtures, Croatia’s Mladost Zagreb host Slovenia’s Calcit Volley Kamnik, while Prometey Kamyanske, with Bulgarian national team setter Lora Kitipova, welcome Ukrainian compatriots Khimik Yuzhny on Wednesday, with the return matches scheduled on September 30.

Watch all Champions League matches live on EuroVolley TV. For more information, visit the official CEV website.

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