Champions League, Final Eight, Belgrade (SRB), Day 1 – Summary

Recco, Ferencvaros survive thrillers, Novi Beograd, Brescia enjoy easy cruises

Last season’s finalists survived thrillers to reach the semis once again. Title-holder Recco did it for the 7th time in a row after downing Barceloneta 11-10, while Ferencvaros won its 3rd quarter-final in as many appearances, coming back from two goals down in the fourth against Jug. Brescia also made the top four like in 2021, with an easy win over Hannover, while host Novi Beograd crushed Marseille to reach the semis right on their first try.

Quarter-finals: AN Brescia (ITA) v Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) 12-5, Pro Recco (ITA) v Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) 10-11, Olympique Marseille (FRA) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 10-16, FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 14-13.

Schedule for Saturday – Semi-finals, 18.30: Brescia v Novi Beograd, 20.30: Recco v FTC. For 5-8th: 14.30: Hannover v Marseille, 16.30: Barceloneta v Jug

Barceloneta pushed Recco to the edge and missed three man-ups in a row at 10-10 in the fourth period, but the Italian defence withstood the pressure, denied all and Hungarian leftie Gergo Zalanki scored the game-winner for the title-holders with 1:16 from time.

Earlier in the game Recco fell behind after 4-3 and chased the Spaniards basically for three periods. Changing their goalie and some fine defending saved them at 5-7 and they really stepped up in the fourth to pass their toughest test in the season and reach the semis for the 7th time in a row.

2019 champion and last year’s runner-up Ferencvaros was flying high in the first half of the game against Jug, but a four-minute scoreless period, followed by a six-minute drought turned the game into a thriller (they scored 8 in the first half, and only one in the third). The Croats came back from three goals down and early in the fourth they led 10-12 before Denes Varga started his magics. His double in 35 seconds brought the Magyars back to life and they edged out Jug – just like in 2019 – for another semi-final appearance. It’s due against Recco, so the 2021 final shall be replayed in the top four.

As for the lop-sided matches, Brescia’s trouncing of Hannover came as no surprise, the Italians delivered the win with ease, as a favourite should do. A 7-0 run in the first half did enough damage to enjoy a calmer second half.

They will face Novi Beograd in the semi-final as the hosts breathed through the game against Marseille. The French enjoyed an amazing 11-game winning streak in the prelims but lost their last two matches and their sinking didn’t seem to stop here. They conceded 16 goals, the most in the season. The Serbs were in the mood – as their legendary coach Igor Milanovic said –, they produced a series of brilliant goals and made the semis right on their first appearance in the F8. In the group they already met Brescia, played an 11-11 tie in this pool before handing Brescia its first defeat in the prelims in Italy (13-16).

Game recaps

Brescia v Hannover 12-5

The Germans would have needed a perfectly executed game-plan in order to have a chance against the hotly favoured Italians – brilliant defending and effective offense.

They lacked both, especially their attacks seemed to be weak though here the credits went to the Brescia defence which were as aggressive as ever and Petar Tesanovic also did a splendid job in the goal.

Though Hannover opened the scoring, Brescia hit back quickly then added three more in the last three minutes of the opening period, including one with one second remaining on the clock.

The trend didn’t change in the following quarter, it happened for the second time in the first half that Hannover played a 6 on 5, missed it and Brescia scored from the ensuing one-on-one counter, the worst-case scenario according to the coaches’ handbook… Hannover was 7-1 down when they could score again in the dying seconds, indeed they had a scoreless phase of 14:19 minutes when Brescia scored seven unanswered goals and that decided the match by halftime.

In the third, after an early exchange of goals the pace of the game slowed down, Brescia didn’t push that hard while the Germans were unable to penetrate their defence seriously. Shortly before the last break the Italians netted two in a minute, though, while Hannover pulled one back from a penalty, but the 10-4 lead set up a calm finish for the Italians.

Recco v Barceloneta 11-10

It was as thrilling as it could be – the clash of the 9-time champion and the team which can be considered a regular semi-final participant (and won the title in 2014).

Recco seemed to gain control in the first period, took the lead three times but the Spaniards managed to equalise thrice. Even though initially they struggled to find their rhythm but a 6 on 4 helped them to score their first after three minutes and did some fine defending as well. Still, Recco was in front after the first period as five seconds were enough for Aleksandar Ivovic to put away a man-up in last second for 4-3.

The first twist came at the beginning of the second when the Spaniards netted two within a minute, both from action to put Recco to the chaser’s position. Aaron Younger levelled the score from an extra and then came more than four minutes of brilliant battling, one man-up was missed at both ends, defences worked well and we seemed to have a tied first half but Felipe Perrone sent the ball to the top left corner from the perimeter for 5-6.

Barceloneta looked more focused, 13 out of their 14 shots were on target while Recco had 7 out of 18. As far as concentration is concerned, the opening scene in the third showed nothing different when Marc Larumbe’s ball, coming from almost zero angle in the last second of the possession, bounced in from Marco de Luongo’s hand, leading to the substitution of the Italian national team’s goalie.

Incoming netminder Tommaso Negri did his utmost, his team-mates also put extra efforts to defending and that prevented Barceloneta from adding any more for six full minutes. That was crucial as this allowed Recco to come back to 7-7 from 5-7, a rather worrying phase from the Italian’s perspective. They managed to kill two man-downs before Alvaro Granados finally broke Negri’s magic for 7-8 but even they survived Benjamin’s Hallock’s close-range shot from Recco’s next man-up, the American was more precise in the last possession when he hit the back of the net after a nicely played 6 on 5 for 8-8.

Barceloneta kicked off the last period with a goal, Granados could send the ball home even though the excluded Italian could already return. Ivovic made no mistake from a penalty, then Larumbe scored a beautiful one from the distance, but Francesco Cannella finished off an extra with a fine shot from the wing for 10-10 with 4:36 to go.

In the coming minutes Barceloneta had all the chances to take the lead once more, had back-to-back man-ups in one possession, missed both (one saved, one blocked), then a third one inside the last two minutes but Martin Famera was also blocked in the wing. 

Recco also earned a man-up, called for a time-out (just like the Spaniards at the previous one) but they did make the difference: Gergo Zalanki, who was far from his best during the entire match, came up with a perfect shot with just 2 seconds on the shotclock for 11-10. For the first time after the first break Recco was in the lead and did not let its rivals to create any more danger in the remaining 76 seconds. 

NOTE: Alvaro Granados of Barceloneta was suspended for one game after the VAR review revealed an act of brutality, committed by the player in the 4th period.

Marseille v Novi Beograd 10-16

The most awaited match kicked off with an action-packed first period with nine goals. The hosts took a dream start, scored two right away but Marseille settled soon and came back to 2-2. The Serbs pushed on, first retook the lead, then hit two in 54 seconds for 5-3 but a fine goal from the distance by Andrija Prlainovic, one of Serbia’s Olympic legends, halved the gap before the first break.

Dusan Mandic’s trademark blast opened the second period, followed by some fine defending and an extraman goal by Strahinja Rasovic so Novi Beograd led by three for the first time at 4-7. Marseille didn’t look like the same team which delivered 11 straight wins in the prelims, especially their defence looked a bit off-balanced from time to time. Their Montenegrin goalie Dejan Lazovic stood with 1/8, leaving his coach – and predecessor – Milan Scepanovic a bit unhappy perhaps. On contrary, NBG started with its young Brazilian goalie Joao Coimbra who came up with a series of excellent saves.

After a disputed disallowed goal in a 6 on 4 (though the refs made the right call), the French stepped up and scored two from action for 6-7 and even had a possession to go even but couldn’t carry on their momentum. Even worse, that Radomir Drasovic put away a 6 on 5 from the wing and then a wonderfully played last-second action, finished by Vasilije Martinovic, gave back the hosts the three-goal lead at halftime.

Soon it was four at the beginning of the third, Dusan Mandic beat Lazovic once more with a 6m shot and at 6-10 all the Serbs had to do was defending firmly which they did pretty well, killing three man-downs in a row. What’s more, Mandic went on scoring from the perimeter, he added two more and stood with a perfect 5/5 shooting record before the last break – but importantly, the home side led 7-12.

The French had one more better spell early in the fourth, scored one quickly, denied a man-down, got a man-up but wasted it and soon the hosts settled the bill with two quick goals in 29 seconds for 8-14. This killed the party, or rather kicked it in as the home crowd could enjoy a tense-free finish which brought more goals and smiles.

This convincing performance sent Novi Beograd to the semis right on their first try, while Marseille suffered another big defeat in the quarters, in a somewhat similar way as in last year when Ferencvaros left them no chance on the first day.

FTC v Jug 14-13

An entertaining quarter opened the last game of the session, 10 goals were scored, the most in eight minutes today. The Hungarians stormed to a 3-0 lead, Vjeko Kobescak had to call an emergency time-out to calm down his team, which slowly gained ground. They scored after 4:18 minutes and managed to add three more till the first break. Though the Magyars were also busy in front, Toni Popadic couldn’t do much with their blasts as he was beaten six times.

Nemanja Ubovic scored a nice one from the centre, but Jug could reply from a man-up – and this pattern continued as Daniil Merkulov joined the Hungarian scorers’ circle (man-up), but the Croats kept on finishing their 6 on 5s well from the right wing so it stood 8-6. Then the Croats came even closer with Marko Zuvela’s goal from a fine counter, and they had a 6 on 5 to go even but missed two shots. The Magyars’ level in offence dropped significantly, in the first one and a half periods they were 8 for 10 in shooting, but their goals dried up in the last four minutes. Merkulov broke the ice 23 seconds from time but again Jug had the last laugh as Zuvela’s pinpoint shot found the bottom left corner for 9-8.

So far it wasn’t the goalies’ evening, Soma Vogel had 3 saves, Popadic 1 – so either of them were to contribute a bit more, it would have meant a decisive push for his team. Vogel came up with two right away, one in a man-down but the Magyars went on struggling in front, they were unable to create any danger. And that hit back when Alexandros Papanastasiou scored from a counter-like action goal to level the score at 9-9 with 4:45 to go in the third. 

Jug’s toughening defence didn’t leave too much breathing space for the Magyars and soon the Croats grabbed the lead for the first time with a fine lob from Stylianos Argyropoulos. Ferencvaros levelled the score immediately, Denes Varga put away a 6 on 4 to net his team’s first in this period after 6:12 minutes. Still, Jug scored a third action goal in this quarter, Maro Jokovic’s legendary left let the ball fly from the distance for 10-11. The simple man-up was not enough for FTC to equalise so Jug turned onto the final period with a single-goal advantage.

Popadic delivered another crucial save in a man-down early in the fourth and soon Jug doubled its lead as Argyropoulos had an easy-looking finish from the left wing in their man-up for 10-12. Before the trouble became too deep, Denes Varga showed something special, a fine 7m shot, followed by another one of his traditional bouncer, so he single-handedly equalised in 35 seconds. Papanastasiou made water polo look like easy as well, with a fine finish from a man-up, but the 2019 champions also kept up, Merkulov scored from action for 13-13 with 3:52 on the clock.

The thriller continued with a Croatian man-up, after a time-out, but Vogel and the defence denied it, then Popadic came up big in a centre-action, however, the Magyars took the rebound and Jansik’s shot from the perimeter found the back of the net for 14-13. Jug got one last man-up for the last 20 seconds, but Jokovic’s shot went wide and that was it: Ferencvaros kept its perfect record for the F8 quarter-finals (3/3), while Jug lost its third straight QF since 2019 (earlier they were 4/4 between 2015 and 2018), and they went down for the second time against FTC.