Volleyball Champions League undergoes a makeover
The CEV Volleyball Champions League has had a facelift. Announced back in May, a series of reforms for the 2018-19 season have significantly altered the shape of the competition: no more Final Four, no more priority for the host team, and a return to a more classic elimination format. The new-look tournament rewards consistency and looks set to guarantee no end of knock-out drama.
What’s new for 2018-19?
- The format, first and foremost. The group phase still features 20 clubs, but the rules of qualification to that stage have changed. Before, 12 teams qualified by right and 8 teams qualified following a preliminary round. From now on, 18 teams will qualify directly to the group stage in accordance with a new ranking system, the Champions League Ranking, calculated on the basis of their performances over the previous three seasons.
- The two remaining spots will be decided by three qualification rounds. For this latest edition of the tournament, Frankfurt and Chaumont claimed those all-important final two places. Meanwhile, the clubs eliminated over the course of the three qualification rounds go into the hat for the CEV Cup, the Champions League’s sister competition.
- Another change: once the group stage (5 groups of 4 teams) is complete, the 12- and 6-team playoffs are no more. The competition will revert to a more traditional knock-out format, with the first-placed teams and top runners-up competing in quarter-final and semi-final ties, each decided over two legs.
- The last major change is that there will be no more Final Four, with the host club automatically qualifying for the final showdown. This has been replaced by two-legged semi-finals and a one-off ‘grand finale’ on neutral ground.
In conclusion, the European Volleyball Confederation (CEV) is aiming for a fairer selection of teams in the competition. With the introduction of the ranking system, the CEV hopes that the most consistent clubs will be rewarded, with the vast majority qualifying on the basis of their results over the previous three years and no longer as a result of a their performances in the preliminary phase. The decisions both to withdraw the host country’s right to a representative in the Final Four and to hold the grand final on neutral territory are in keeping with this desire for a fairer competition.
Who are the favourites?
Who else? Winners of each of the last four editions, Zenit Kazan are once again clear favourites to defend their title. Champions of Russia in eight of the last nine years, the club from Tatarstan have been bolstered by the summer arrival of Earvin Ngapeth and now have their sights firmly set on a sixth continental title in eight years. The Russian side eased to a 3-0 win over Frankfurt in their opening match.
Last season’s beaten finalists, Civitanova are having to make do this season without their French libero Jenia Grebennikov, who has left to join Trentino. Nonetheless, the Italians appeared to have little difficulty in brushing aside Modena in the first round of matches. Currently fourth in Serie A1 with a game in hand, Brazilian star Bruno and his team-mates will once more be among the favourites for the title.
Another Italian pretender to the throne, Perugia strengthened considerably in the summer with the arrival of Cuba’s Wilfredo Leon from Kazan. The current leaders of Serie A comfortably disposed of Dynamo Moscow by three sets to love in the first round of matches. Having finished third last season, the Italian champions are desperate to claim that elusive first Champions League title.
11 matches, 11 wins. 33 sets won, 6 lost. In Poland’s PlusLiga, Kedzierzyn-Kozle are steamrolling everything in their path, and they fully intend to transfer that winning mentality to the Champions League. And while surviving a group that also includes Modena and Civitanova will be no easy task, the Poles have made an impressive start, disposing of Czech club Karlovarsko by three sets to love.
What about the British clubs?
No British club has ever qualified for either the men’s or women’s edition of the CEV Champions League. During her spell at Italian club side Yamamay Busto Arsizio between 2013 and 2015, Ciara Michel became the first British player to compete in the competition. She was even part of the team that came runners-up in the 2015 edition. Michel now plays for 2017 French champions ASPTT Mulhouse, who missed out on qualification for this season’s competition.
Despite the lack of Brits among the participants, fans in the United Kingdom are able to tune in to this year’s Champions League on EuroVolleyTV, an online television service broadcasting top level volleyball from around the continent.
- Second round of group matches: from 18 to 20 December 2018
- Quarter-finals: from 12 to 21 March 2019
- Semi-finals: from 02 to 11 April 2019
- Final: 19 May 2019