April 2023

Favourites deliver, Vouliagmeni are to join them

Barceloneta and Recco both scored 16 goals in their respective away matches while Olympiacos downed Jadran in a fine battle to offer crucial support to fellow Greek side Vouliagmeni’s F8 campaign. Vouliagmeni claimed a great win in Tbilisi and now they are well set to travel to Belgrade. Group A: Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) 9-14, Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (ESP) 7-16, Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Jadran Split (CRO) 10-7, Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) v Pro Recco (ITA) 8-16 Standings: 1. Barceloneta 33, 2. Recco 30, 3. Olympiacos 28, 4. Vouliagmeni 17, 5. Jadran 14, 6. Radnicki 9, 7. Dinamo 6, 8. Hannover 3 Few questions remained open in this group – only major upsets would stir up the ranks and this day saw none. The first four all claimed convincing wins over their respective rivals and that means that Barceloneta are one win away from securing the top spot and Vouliagmeni may not even need any more points to make the cut for Belgrade. Vouliagmeni just had to beat Dinamo and they could handle the pressure well in Tbilisi. The Greeks survived minor scares during the adventure and with some heroics from Dimitrios Nikolaidis – who scored five goals, four from the centre – they bagged all three points. That became the gap once more between them and Jadran, which couldn’t make any surprise in Piraeus. Once Olympiacos jumped to a 6-2 lead, the Croats were forced into a chasing game, and they could only halve that gap but never reduced it to a single goal at any stage. Jadran travel to Recco on Day 13 and their predictable loss would seal Vouliagmeni’s berth in the Final Eight, whatever they achieve in the last two rounds. As for the top-flight, after a sloppy start, Barceloneta staged a 0-6 rush in the third to tick the next box in Hannover, while Recco had a 0-5 blast in the first period, then they needed another 0-6 run to suppress Radnicki’s five-goal surge. The Spaniards are all set to keep their top rank, need one more win and since they have two more home matches, against Vouliagmeni and Dinamo, sky should come down to prevent them from advancing in the first place. Recco and Olympiacos are to have a last clash on Day 14 for the runner-up position.

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Jadran is lost in the Greek mountains

Day 12, Group A – Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Jadran Split (CRO) 10-7 After Vouliagmeni’s win in Tbilisi, Jadran had a mountain to climb, a Greek one – not the Olympus, but another giant, Olympiacos. It would have required something very special from the Croats to make a miracle. Jerko Marinic-Kragic opened the scoring, but Olympiacos hit back with a double in 74 seconds, though they failed to deliver in their following two extras. Jadran did, though Marton Vamos replied immediately from a fine action goal to put the hosts ahead for 3-2. Konstantinos Genidounias’ blast from the perimeter kicked off the second quarter, then, after a missed man-up, Andro Buslje hit the next 6 on 5 against his fellow Croats for 5-2. Another Croatian made Jadran’s life even more difficult as Marko Bijac stopped Andelo Setka’s penalty and 23 seconds later Vamos netted his third so the Greeks enjoyed a massive 6-2 lead. Jadran wasted another extra before Luka Bukic made one 51 seconds before the break. Then 29 seconds into the third, he added an action goal to halve the distance at 6-4. Konstantinos Mourikis had an easy put-away in a 6 on 5, then the following minutes were dominated by Jadran. They forced four exclusions while managed to keep the Greeks away from their goal – still, they could score only once in this almost six-minute period and that hit back as Nikolaos Gkillas halted Olympiacos’ scoreless run for 8-5. Again, Bukic gave some hope for his side by hitting his third, from action, before the final break. Defences dominated early in the fourth, killed man-ups followed each other at both ends before Vamos sent the ball home from an extra to reset the three-goal difference. Marinic-Kragic buried a penalty soon for 9-7 and there were 3:50 minutes to play. The Croats defended well in a 6 on 4 but they were unable to come closer. The clock was ticking down, Jadran couldn’t create real danger, while Ioannis Fountoulis put an end to the contest – with some luck, a rebound in a man-up found him and he sent the ball back to the net for 10-7 with 1:07 remaining. This loss may end Jadran’s dreams of the F8 – Vouliagmeni need to beat Radnicki at home to secure its berth and even if they fail to deliver that match, Jadran would still need to earn a point or more in Recco.

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A six-goal blast in the third secures another easy win for CNAB

Day 12, Group A – Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (ESP) 7-16 Back on Day 3, Hannover went through the first real embarrassment of the season as their newly shaped young side were thrashed by the Spaniards. Based on the previous years, such a weak resistance was surprising from Waspo but it turned out that this transition period might bring some unusually tough moments, like a 7-1 opening period and a 20-5 loss. Nine rounds later something changed, though the difference between the teams were mirrored by their ranks – the leader met the bottom ranked side – and in the game too. At least Hannover held on in the first half, a definite improvement compared to the game in Barceloneta, though it started the same way as the Spaniards rushed to a 0-3 lead in four minutes. Now the hosts pulled two back from man-ups and trailed 2-4 after the opening eight minutes. They kept on going in the second, Barceloneta needed some good defending in man-downs to keep at least the two-goal gap till halftime.  Then in the third they geared up and galloped away with the win. It was a blast, not a run – after two minutes of battling the Spaniards turned themselves into a scoring machine and netted five goals in 3:02 minutes. Added a sixth one 35 seconds before the last break to lead 4-12, Aleksandar Radovic managed to score a bit sooner, to avoid a bad-looking 0-6 as a partial result but the game was over. The fourth was a bit more balanced but the Spaniards still netted four more and recorded a compulsory victory to keep their three-point lead and now they need one more win to secure the top spot. On contrary, Hannover is yet to win a home game in this season – though last season they earned most of the points in their pool which sent them to the F8…   How they saw it Karsten Seehafer, coach, Hannover “It was an expected result. The first half was very good from our side, if we don’t miss some chances in man-up we could have reached more in this period. Then came a very bad third quarter, but again, it was not that surprising as we played against Barceloneta. Everyone could see that game by game we play a bit better, our focus is on the Germans finals in three weeks.” Elvis Fatovic, coach, Barceloneta “We knew before the match that we are the stronger team, still, we lost our focus a bit in defence in the second period. Once we reset ourselves in defence, we controlled the match again. Though let me add that Hannover played much better this time than in our first game.”

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A 0-5 opening, then a 0-6 blast secures Recco’s win

Day 12, Group A – Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) v Pro Recco (ITA) 8-16 The Serbs woke up this morning knowing that their last slim hopes were already gone – Vouliagmeni’s win in Tbilisi on Tuesday pushed them off the track in the race for the F8. Not as if a still living mathematical chance had made them favourites against the title-holders. Still, how the game unfolded, especially the first half, was a kind of explanation for the strange order of events. For seven minutes, Radnicki were missing from the pool – Recco outclassed and outplayed them in every square-centimetres of the field and took a 0-5 lead. The hosts needed back-to-back man-ups to find the back of the net 67 seconds before the first break and trailed 2-6 after the opening sequence. During the break they kind of woke up for the second time this day and started playing in a way teams do when they have nothing to lose. By the middle of the second, the young Serbs came back to 5-7, while the Italians looked a bit surprised as they thought this game had already been won. Though on their level it was just a matter of time to switch themselves back to ‘combat mood’ and Aleksandar Ivovic and Luka Loncar put away two man-ups before halftime to calm down the crowd and their rivals in the water. Loncar added another one from Recco’s first possession in the third, a bit later Gergo Zalanki converted a penalty, then a 6 on 4 to suppress Radnicki’s surge with a 0-6 rush this time, capped by Ben Hallock’s centre-shot for 5-13 before the last quarter. There the hosts could finally score after 13:10 minutes but Recco responded with a double in 47 seconds. The Serbs could score two more to have a modest defeat at the end – considering the number of shots (21-34) and especially those on target (12-26) they brought out the maximum from this encounter. How they saw it Uros Stevanovic, coach, Radnicki Was not available for comment. Sandro Sukno, coach, Recco “I’m satisfied with the game, we started well, took a 0-4 lead right away and also kept the high intensity in the entire match. We want to take six points in the remaining two rounds.”

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Vouliagmeni deliver – set to go to Belgrade

Day 12, Group A – Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) 9-14 Though Jadran caught up with Vouliagmeni in the ranks on Day 11, it was still inevitable that only the Greeks could screw this chance of making the F8 if they couldn’t deliver the expected wins. Like the one in Tbilisi. It all started according to their plans, they jumped to a 0-2 lead, only to see Dinamo catching a wave and scoring three in a row still in the first period, including two inside the last 50 seconds to go 3-2 up. A killed man-down early in the second helped the Greeks to recover from the minor shock and soon they could equalise from action. Andrija Vlahovic netted his second though for 4-3, then came Dimitrios Nikolaidis with two goals from the centre in 1:40 minutes and that put Vouliagmeni back on track. Two more blasts from the perimeter, the second one with 0:04 on the clock, gave them a calming 4-7 lead and that was all the Greeks needed. Though Dinamo pulled one back in the third, great defending helped Vouliagmeni to survive minor scares – they shut their rivals out for four more minutes, added two goals in that phase to make it 5-9. Giorgi Magrakvelidze was on fire, though, he netted two to halve the distance and to give Dinamo some hope for the final period. But the Greeks claimed a penalty in the dying seconds of their first possession and buried it for 7-10, then Nikolaidis scored two more from action, and at 7-12 it was all over, though there were five more minutes to play. Back-to-back exchanges of goals closed the party – fittingly, Nikolaidis hit his fifth goal, again from the centre, and the Greeks also denied Dinamo in a 6 on 4 and in another man-down to bag these crucial points. Now the Greeks need one more win to book their spot in the Final Eight – if they need that at all as their direct rival Jadran travel to Recco in the next round (the Greeks visit Barceloneta) and Recco’s predictable win over the Croats would seal Vouliagmeni’s F8 berth, before Day 14 would commence. 

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OSC saved their best to very late

Day 12, Group B – Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) v Genesys OSC Budapest (HUN) 7-11 From time to time, OSC showed some potential – like playing a draw with Brescia after coming back from four goals down –, what they were missing was winning matches. They had a single victory in 11 rounds (and four draws) – while Spandau could catch Jug in Dubrovnik, Marseille at home, and after Jug’s draw with NBG, the Germans could have cut the gap to two points with a win. However, they were not even close. OSC took the lead early on and never let Spandau go in front. The Magyars led 2-3 after eight minutes, then scored twice deep into the second to gain a three-goal lead which they kept till halftime (4-7). Then in the third they produced another great spell, killed man-downs then scored from action immediately, they could even afford to miss a penalty, still led 4-9. This 12-minute phase produced a 1-5 rush from OSC and that ultimately decided the outcome. Vince Vigvari’s man-up goal 47 seconds into the fourth gave a 5-10 lead to the visitors and even though Roman Shepelev pulled two back from man-ups, Vigvari netted his 6th with 2:17 to go to secure OSC’s first away win of the season. This also made the lower ‘house’ as tight as possible, Spandau have 11 points, the other three teams, Sabadell, Marseille and OSC are all at 10 – still, there is no such scenario which would see the Hungarians go to Belgrade. There is one for Spandau: to beat Sabadell at home (not the biggest challenge), then Novi Beograd in Belgrade (the biggest of all) – and Jug also need to lose their remaining two matches. Sounds miraculous – and it would be indeed miraculous if Spandau make the cut. How they saw it Athanasios Kechagias, coach, Spandau “As usual, I have to review the video to make a well-founded recap of this game. What I can tell now that we had the chance to come back many times, but our shots were not good at all. This was our main problem, but I cannot see any special reason for that, we weren’t nervous or something similar. We just need to analyse what happened and why it happened this way.” Daniel Varga, coach, OSC “We can be satisfied with the three points since we beat a very good Spandau. Our defence was great, we had a fantastic performance from our goalie, we had blocks and steals, these were the key for our victory. But now all we have to do is looking forwards to the next really important matches, especially at home.”

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Marseille finally showed something from the usual stuff

Day 12, Group B – CN Marseille (FRA) v FTC Telekom Budapest (HUN) 13-7 Marseille produced an awkward series of results this season – they had four narrow defeats in away matches where they could have won with some luck and better concentration but also suffered heavy losses (were beaten 6/6 away matches) and that did not leave them too much chance to repeat their quests from the previous two seasons which brought them to the Final Eight. Still, they had and have the potential and just proved that against Ferencvaros, medallists in the last three editions. For one and a half quarters it was as even as it had been expected, however, after 3-3, three saves by Dejan Lazovic and three goals by the hosts at the other end in 1:44 minutes put the game in a different track. By halftime Marseille were 7-4 up but the real rush came in the third. Almost a minute into that period, Andrija Prlainovic netted one from close, in 70 seconds Hannes Daube added another one from a 6 on 5 while the Hungarians were unable to set up clear chances, their offence lacked the usual composure. When the home side netted two more in 45 seconds, a minor catastrophe was looming from FTC’s perspective as the 2019 champions were barely seen to trail by seven in the third period in any matches in recent years. On contrary, Marseille played like they had done in the previous seasons, and the capacity crowd were really excited to watch their 8-1 rush from 3-3 to 11-4.  Ugo Crousillat’s fourth hit with 0:05 on the clock made it 12-5 before the last break – then the French ran out of steam a bit for the fourth, added only one, though the Magyars couldn’t come much closer – they couldn’t find the motive to gear up for this game, seemed to have been settled for the third place. Marseille still have a slim chance, they need two wins, including a minimum 6-goal beating of Jug next round.  How they saw it Milos Scepanovic, coach, Marseille “We wanted to have a great game after playing many even matches but losing almost all. We were seeking one great game and in front of this amazing audience we could do it. The pool was full, and it gave us confidence.” Zsolt Varga, coach, Ferencvaros “I want to congratulate to Marseille. We didn’t have a good reaction for this hard and physical game and there was no real reason to lose this game in the way we did.  We have to learn from this in order to achieve our goals. I thought before that we might have motivation problems for this game – and I can tell you now that maybe my players were not ready for this battle.”

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From 6-9, with five goals in the fourth, Jug come back and almost win it

Day 12, Group B – Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 11-11 The sides played a 12-12 tie on Day 3, then another one a couple of weeks ago in the semis of the Regional League (Jug won on penalties) and they managed to produce another draw. For quite a while, sharing the points was never in the picture as Novi Beograd were the dominant force from the beginning. However, Jug kept coming back, again and again. The Serbs stormed to a 0-3 lead, Jug could score their first only one minute before the first break. They pulled another one back in the second, still, NBG held on for 3-5 deep into the second quarter. However, it was even by halftime as Loren Fatovic netted a man-up, then a counter in the last 48 seconds for 5-5. That looked to a fine booster, instead the hosts found themselves three goals down late in the third as the Serbs staged another 0-3 rush. Strahinja Rasovic hit one from action, then in a 6 on 5, Alvaro Granados also buried an extra for 5-8. Matias Biljaka’s nice action goal ended Jug’s drought after almost five minutes, but Angelos Vlachopoulos was precise in a man-up so Novi Beograd enjoyed a fine 6-9 lead with one period remaining.  Rasovic’s next shot in extra was well saved by Toni Popadic – it could have been four between the sides, soon the gap was down to one as Jug scored two from action in a span of 46 seconds. They were back and further 45 seconds later Maro Jokovic put the ball away from a 6 on 5 to make it 9-9 and there were a lot to play with 4:48 to go. An emergency timeout seemed to have helped the Serbs as they forced an exclusion and Rasovic was on target this time. But a penalty, buried by Jokovic, levelled the score once more at 10-10, with 3:56 on the clock. NBG had two extras, a centre shot in between but they were unable to score, and it was inevitable that Jug would find the way to score. Indeed, Franko Lazic hit one from a man-up so Jug led for the first time in the entire match with 21 seconds remaining. The Serbs went for a 7 on 6 and it worked – they could set up Nikola Jaksic whose one-timer hit the back of the net with 0:02 on the clock. Three weeks ago, Jug saved the game against Ferencvaros to a tie in the same way – so they may not feel that they dropped two points in this match. This draw still hasn’t secured their F8 berth but can be worth a lot, while Novi Beograd almost surely lost their chance to finish atop. How they saw it Vjekoslav Kobescak, coach, Jug It was a very tough match. For most part of the game, they were better in the pool, we were constantly behind them. We have a very bad start but managed to come back for a draw and we even led towards the end. We gave all we have – if you have a third draw with NBG in a season, that shows the character of your team.” Zivko Gocic, coach, Novi Beograd “Congrats for both teams, it was a big fight from the very beginning to the end, to last second so to say. We were the better team in most of the game but in the last quarter we had problems to organise our attack to beat Jug’s defence. Still, this draw is really important for us.”

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Brescia had no mercy, set to finish atop

Day 12, Group B – Astralpool Sabadell (ESP) v AN Brescia (ITA) 10-14 After a quick exchange of goals, a lengthy and scoreless phase commenced which included an Italian possession with three straight saves from Sabadell goalie Edu Lorrio. He came up with two more stops, one in a man-down, but with three seconds to go he ran out of miracles as Edoardo di Somma sent the ball behind him for 1-2. Brescia’s defence worked brilliantly in the second period as well, the hosts couldn’t even force exclusions, let alone goals and it was obvious that the group leaders would build on that after a while. It happened soon, two action goals put Brescia 1-4 ahead, and a bit later they went 1-6 up, a penalty and Jacopo Alesiani’s counter-attack goal did the damage. The Italians could almost hold Sabadell on a single goal in the first half, but Francisco Valera broke the ice 51 seconds from time, from a 6 on 5, to halt his team’s almost 12-minute-long silence. Still, Stefano Luongo’s 6m blast reset the five-goal difference for halftime. Sabadell had a better spell in the third, managed to score three goals and come back to 5-8 but Brescia’s response was brutal – a 0-3 rush with two killed man-down and that put the game into bed at 5-11. The last quarter brought seven hits, four for the hosts to entertain the crowd, but Brescia’s win was never in danger. Di Somma finished the game with 5 goals – Lorrio posted 13 saves but not even this was enough to keep the encounter in balance. Since Novi Beograd couldn’t win in Dubrovnik, the Italians’ top position looks almost certain, while Sabadell is now out of the contest as even two more wins wouldn’t be enough for them – the results comparisons wouldn’t favour them in case of a potential two- or three-way tie. How they saw it Quim Colet, coach, Sabadell “The most important for us is to be competitive in the games. Today we played with the best team of the group, a strong and physical team and we saw that this time it was not possible to compete with them on the same level as we did in the previous matches against other rivals. Still, we are getting ready for the Spandau game and the home playoffs.” Alessandro Bovo, coach, Brescia “I’m very happy with our performance. We started very well, dictated the pace in the first part of the match, took a big lead. It was a great win.”

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Brescia breaks five points clear after Jug’s comeback against NBG

Brescia are all set to win Group B as the Italians did a clean job in Sabadell and now lead by five points. Runner-up Novi Beograd blew a three-goal lead away in the fourth period in Dubrovnik and needed a last-gasp hit to save the match to a tie against Jug. Marseille beat Ferencvaros soundly and reserved a very slim hope to make the Final Eight. With a brilliant comeback in the fourth period, Jug managed to grab a point against Novi Beograd. With some luck it could have been three as the Croats netted five in the last period after being down by three before the final quarter. They even took the lead in the finish, but the Serbs saved the game to a tie from a 7 on 6 with 0:02 on the clock.  This gave Brescia a fine chance to cement their first place which they just did by winning in Sabadell comfortably. They were cool, common and collected in the first half, built a 2-7 lead and sailed away with the win and now they enjoy a five-point lead with two rounds remaining. It’s almost certain that Novi Beograd will finish runner-up, while the Spaniards’ quest to a dream F8 appearance came to an end this evening. The bottom ranked sides staged a late surge, indeed way too late for OSC for example – Jug’s draw eliminated the Hungarians, despite of their downing of Spandau. It was a convincing performance, which saw a 6-goal blast from Vince Vigvari – but this was only the second win for OSC and their first away from home, too few to make the cut for the F8. Spandau can still make it but that would require not one but perhaps two miraculous matches from the Germans. Marseille came up with their best showing of the season so far as they blew away FTC which did not find the necessary motive for this evening to play at least a balanced game as they seemed to settle for the third place. After 3-3, Marseille staged an 8-1 rush which gave the French a very slim hope to go through – ‘all’ they need is two losses from Jug, including one in this pool in Marseille in the next round, by six goals.  Group B: Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 11-11, Astralpool Sabadell (ESP) v AN Brescia (ITA) 10-14, Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) v Genesys OSC Budapest (HUN) 7-11, CN Marseille (FRA) v FTC Telekom Budapest (HUN) 13-7 Standings: 1. Brescia 31, 2. Novi Beograd 26, 3. Ferencvaros 22, 4. Jug 16, 5. Spandau 11, 6. Sabadell 10, 7. Marseille 10, 8. OSC 10 Fixtures, Wednesday – Group A 19.00 (16.00 CET) Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) 19.00 Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (ESP) 19.30 (18.30 CET) Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Jadran Split (CRO) 20.30 Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) v Pro Recco (ITA) Standings: 1. Barceloneta 30, 2. Recco 27, 3. Olympiacos 25, 4. Vouliagmeni 14, 5. Jadran 14, 6. Radnicki 9, 7. Dinamo 6, 8. Hannover 3

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