venerdì 3 ottobre 2014

Who can stop Pro Recco?

This weekend the 96th edition of the Italian Serie A1 league will be kicked off with a nationally televised match featuring Posillipo and newcomer Sport Management Verona. In another year with a weekly match, to be played on Friday, shown nationwide, and a revised play-off set-up (quarterfinals, semifinals and 5th and 3rd place battle in best-of-3 format while the finals got their much desired best-of-5 series, the league in Italy is set for another season with relatively good conditions. The question however lies in another factor; the competition. Who will stop Pro Recco in their quest for an incredible 10th straight Italian championship? A daunting task, even more when considering the changes their roster has undergone this summer. Three players that were a key part of the national team that won every major international competition this summer were acquired by the already defending champions of Italy. And although due to the foreigner-rule which allowes just 2 per team we'll see just one of the trio in the Serie A1 this season (being Andrija Prlainovic), the list of players ready to got all the way this season remains impressive and everything but the title will be experienced a dissapointment in the province of Genoa. Leading the players for this season is another sensational acquisition as Serbian legend Igor Milanovic was appointed after Brescia coach Alessandro Bovo withdrew from his earlier commitment to switch sides from last year's runners-up Brescia to the champions so he will remain coaching what could be the main play-offs finals contenders.

The two foreign players that will compete in the Italian Serie A1 for Pro Recco:
Aleksandar Ivovic and Andrija Prlainovic.

So who will emerge as main contender in Italy this season? Although another busy transfer market was recorded the main thing that can be expected is that the group of teams battling for the second finals spot of the play-offs could have become larger.

Igor Milanovic.

One of the main contenders is likely to be Brescia who experienced their share of trouble but managed to keep the core of players that fuelled their success last year together, although with one major change. Young gun Francesco di Fulvio made the controversial switch to Recco but with Deni Fiorentini going the opposite direction Brescia got a nice replacement in return. And with Federico Pagani new on the roster for this season, and French sensation Mickaël Bodegas extending his contract Brescia, one of the Champions League wild card holders who defeated Recco in the battle for 5th place at last year's Champions League Final Six tournament in Barcelona, could again become the main rival for Pro Recco.

Brescia's top shooter: Valerio Rizzo.
Photograph: Marcel ter Bals.

But there's a more. What to expect of the Naples-based sides? Who will finish on top of that group and what will that team be capable of? Acquachiara was probably the busiest in terms of transfers and got several more than useful additions to their already talented squad despite the leaving of several key players last season. Montenegrin Olympian Dragan Draskovic, Italian left-hander Luigi di Costanzo and centre-forward Olexandr Sadovyy, among others, have signed elsewhere with Di Costanzo and Sadovyy remaining in the Serie A1 so that Acquachiara president Frano Porzio was forced to react this summer. And he did by signing no less than 8 players including Croatian centre-forward Fran Paskvalin, Brescia's Giusseppe Valentino, Matteo Astarita (Promogest) and Florentia's Matteo Gitto. With so many new players the team will be needing time to adjust and get the best out of each other but when ready could be a legitimate 'subtop' squad.

And Canottieri Napoli? There's no clear favorite in the Naples derbies this season and Canottieri last season proved to be just on the level of either Acquachiara or Posillipo. A new but familiar face is Luigi di Costanzo who left Acquachiara for his former club while staying in Naples and will be just another offensive threat in the side that saw Montenegrin international Darko Brguljan emerging as their top scorer last season. He will be focus point of their attack once again but will be glad to learn to have a talented and skilled left-hander on the right side able to assist.

Luigi di Costanzo.

Not to forget Posillipo. The team that already acted in the Champions League opening round last weekend, finishing 5th in their group, are well adjusted to one another. They still hold the well-known offensive targets with Montenegrin scorer Aleksandar Radovic, who comes off a summer without international water polo, left-hander Valentino Gallo and fellow Montenegrin, centre-forward Filip Klikovac, backed by guys such as Vincenzo Renzuto Iodice and Paride Saccoia, are a dangerous outsider on every occasion. The side finished 3rd in the regular season last year and knocked CC Napoli out of the play-offs in the quarterfinals winning 10-8 and 11-5 before Brescia proved too strong in the semis. Are they ready for more this season?

Apart from Savona, last year's regular season number 4 who could be suffering from the leaving of top shooter Marko Elez (to Primorje) and starting centre-forward Arnaldo Deserti (Bogliasco), the league's newcomer could go for that spot this season. Sport Management is the driving company behind Verona, promoted to Italy's highest-level competition and ready to make waves. The first signs of that ambition were to be recorded this summer as the team was almost totally renewed with a couple of interesting additions. What to think of guys like Alessandro Di Fulvio (Florentia), Djordje Filipovic (Radnicki), earlier mentioned Sadovyy (Acquachiara), veteran goalie Goran Volarevic (Promogest), his team-mate Davide Steardo and veteran Predrag Zimonjic (Civitaveacchia, Serie A2). Still theoretical but it will be interesting to see what this team will prove to be capable of this season. The signs showed in the Italian cup first round, with Michele Luongo (10 goals) as top scorer, were more than promising as the team won all three matches defeating CC Napoli, Bogliasco and Como over the weekend now full of confidence looking forward to the 2nd round.

Michele Luongo.

In the background several other changes were made as the teams will try their upmost to avoid the 11th and 12 spot which will mean relegation from the Serie A1. Como, who did a nice job last season and eventually finished 7th in the regular season, presented a new head coach in former Croatian great Ratko Stritof and could become very happy with their main signing in Croatian scorer Kristijan Milakovic from Mladost Zagreb. Bogliasco has also made quite some changes and now hold a nice talented squad that certainly hopes to top last year when the squad finished the regular season in 10th position. Now with Arnaldo Deserti, and American leftie Matthew De Trane (from Budva), among a total of 6 new players, the new faces will not only have to forget the absence of some nice young talents as Lorenzo Bruni (Brescia), Luca Marziali, Giacomo Lanzoni (both Acquachiara) and Lorenzo Vespa (Lazio) but also try to improve in the league's rankings.
Florentia was last year's surprising final play-offs participating squad but could be the victim of the changing of personnel this summer while Lazio hopes to make it to the play-offs this year after falling short just a point to 8th place and Florentia on the regular season final day last season. USA's Josh Samuels, coming off a nice international summer where he proved as one of the key offensive players of the young Team USA in both the World League Super Final as well as the World Cup will have to help them in realising that ambition.

Josh Samuels while signing his contract to play for Lazio this season.
Photograph: Josh Samuels Instagram.

96th Italian 'Serie A1' championship

1st round schedule

Friday, 3 October (televised)

C.N. Posillipo vs. Sport Management Verona

Saturday, 4 October

R.N. Savona vs. C.C. Napoli
A.N. Brescia vs. SS Lazio
Como Nuoto vs. R.N. Florentia
Pro Recco vs. R.N. Bogliasco
Carpisa Yamamay Acquachiara vs. Roma Vis Nova

Previous national champions:

1911/12 Genova, 1912/13 Genova, 1913/14 Genova, 1918/19 Genova, 1919/20 RN Milano, 1920/21 Andrea Doria, 1921/22 Andrea Doria, 1922/23 S. Sturla, 1924/25 Andrea Doria, 1925/26 Andrea Doria, 1926/27 Andrea Doria, 1927/28 Andrea Doria, 1928/29 Triestina, 1929/30 Andrea Doria, 1930/31 Andrea Doria, 1931/32 RN Milano, 1932/33 RN Florentia, 1933/34 RN Florentia, 1934/35 RN Camogli, 1935/36 RN Florentia, 1936/37 RN Florentia, 1937/38 RN Florentia, 1938/39 RN Napoli, 1939/40 RN Florentia, 1940/41 Guf RN Napoli, 1941/42 Guf RN Napoli, 1945/46 RN Camogli, 1946/47 Canottieri Olona, 1947/48 RN Florentia, 1948/49 RN Napoli, 1949/50 RN Napoli, 1950/51 Can. Napoli, 1951/52 RN Camogli, 1952/53 RN Camogli, 1953/54 Roma, 1954/55 RN Camogli, 1955/56 Lazio, 1956/57 RN Camogli, 1957/58 Can. Napoli, 1958/59 Pro Recco, 1959/60 Pro Recco, 1960/61 Pro Recco, 1961/62 Pro Recco, 1962/63 Canottieri Napoli, 1963/64 Pro Recco, 1964/65 Pro Recco, 1965/66 Pro Recco, 1966/67 Pro Recco, 1967/68 Pro Recco, 1968/69 Pro Recco, 1969/70 Pro Recco, 1970/71 Pro Recco, 1971/72 Pro Recco, 1972/73 Can. Napoli, 1973/74 Pro Recco, 1974/75 Can. Napoli, 1975/76 RN Florentia, 1976/77 Can. Napoli, 1977/78 Pro Recco, 1978/79 Can. Napoli, 1979/80 RN Florentia, 1980/81 RN Bogliasco, 1981/82 Pro Recco, 1982/83 Pro Recco, 1983/84 Pro Recco, 1984/85 Posillipo, 1985/86 Posillipo, 1986/87 Pescara, 1987/88 Posillipo, 1988/89 Posillipo, 1989/90 Can. Napoli, 1990/91 RN Savona, 1991/92 RN Savona, 1992/93 Posillipo, 1993/94 Posillipo, 1994/95 Posillipo, 1995/96 Posillipo, 1996/97 Pescara, 1997/98 Pescara, 1998/99 Roma, 1999/00 Posillipo, 2000/01 Posillipo, 2001/02 Pro Recco, 2002/03 Brescia, 2003/04 Posillipo, 2004/05 RN Savona, 2005/06 Pro Recco, 2006/07 Pro Recco, 2007/08 Pro Recco, 2008/09 Pro Recco, 2009/10 Pro Recco, 2010/11 Pro Recco, 2011/12 Pro Recco, 2012/13 Pro Recco, 2013/14 Pro Recco.

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