Novi Beograd ends Brescia’s unbeaten run, Barceloneta knocks out Ferencvaros
Novi Beograd ended Brescia’s unbeaten run and reduced the Italians’ lead to three points so the race for the top spot has reopened. Barceloneta destroyed last season’s runner-up Ferencvaros in Budapest, their huge, 7-17 away win earned them a crucial advantage in the race for the Final Eight. Olympiacos bounced back from its two-game losing streak as they sank Jadran in Split. Water polo fans were entertained for sure: the four matches produced 111 goals, a 27.75 per game average.
Group A: FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) 7-17, Jadran Split (CRO) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 12-16, AN Brescia (ITA) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 13-16, Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) 13-17
Standings: 1. Brescia 23, 2. Novi Beograd 20, 3. Olympiacos 19, 4. Barceloneta 17, 5. Ferencvaros 16, 6. Radnicki 10, 7. Jadran 9, 8. Dinamo 0
Novi Beograd handed Brescia its first defeat, so the last unbeaten side fell this season. For almost three periods, the Italians were always in front, in the third they kept a two-goal lead for long before the Serbs netted two in the last 68 seconds for 11-11. The storm continued in the fourth when they added three more from connecting possessions, so after 11-9 they went 11-14 up and bagged all three points at the end. It was an action-packed match with 38 major fouls, but also an entertaining game which reduced Brescia’s lead to three points so the Serbs will have a shot at the top spot in the remaining rounds for sure.
Ferencvaros staged an unbeaten run of eight matches, though it included four draws, but now the Hungarians face a mountain to climb after losing their second match in as many rounds. The second one happened in a shocking way as Barceloneta simply demolished them in Budapest. The Spaniards reproduced their miraculous opening period performance from Day 9 when they had netted 7 goals in Kragujevac in eight minutes – now they led 3-7 after the first period and soon they went 3-10 up and never looked back. It was a crucial game in the race for the F8 spots so such a big difference in the crucial stats was a bit astonishing, the number of shots on target was 15-24, the shooting percentage was 25% versus 53%, an amazing offensive display from Barceloneta. Also, the other results even reinforce how bad day the Magyars had as even the other losing sides could produce at least 12 goals, while the master shooters had only 7.
Olympiacos arrived to Split under enormous pressure: the back-to-back defeats in the previous rounds meant that the Greeks’ star-studded line-up might need to deal with the possibility of missing the cut for the finals. But the 2018 champions responded well, lift their game and with an early 0-4 rush they took firm control of the proceedings and never let the Croats back to the game. Though Jadran had some hopes before this match as they upset Ferencvaros two weeks ago, but this defeat put them out of contest. The game pattern was similar in Tbilisi, where Radnicki built a three-goal lead early on and maintained that gap till the end.
Brescia v Novi Beograd 13-16
Brescia converted its first man-up right after 29 seconds – then, within a minute or so, the visitors lost their key man, 2021 F8 MVP Dusan Mandic who was fouled out, so the beginning looked not the best for the Serbs. Though it did not disturb them too much as they went on keeping up with the hosts who were also on fire and with a fourth man-up goal they took a 4-3 lead by the end of the first.
The scoring parade continued in the second, the defences and the goalies couldn’t really have a say, one blast followed the other, Brescia took the lead, the visitors replied, it happened four times in this period, so it stood 8-7 at halftime. Djordje Lazic put away an extra, for the first time the hosts enjoyed a two goal advantage and for a while they seem to dominate the game as they always had the answer to Novi Beograd’s hits. The big turning point came after 11-9, Dusko Pijetlovic scored a brilliant one from the centre and 5 seconds from time Strahinja Rasovic also sent the ball home from a man-up for 11-11.
And the Serbs came back strong for the fourth, they scored three from as many possessions, killed two man-downs en route and in a span of 1:52 minutes they sailed away with the game as they staged a 0-5 rush altogether and led 11-14. Vincenzo Renzuto buried a 6 on 4 to end the hosts’ miseries but the home defence couldn’t find any solution to prevent the Serbs from finishing off their man-ups from the 2m line, Pijetlovic and Nikola Jaksic scored five times from these setups during the game, so at the end the Belgrade side pulled off a great win as well as ended Brescia’s unbeaten run in the Champions League. It was one of the toughest matches of the season, the refs called 38 personal fouls (17-21), but it also offered premium entertainment for the water polo fans – and perhaps a preview for the last part of the season as Novi Beograd seems to have caught the wave.
FTC v Barceloneta 7-17
If someone had any doubts whether Barceloneta’s amazing first period in Kragujevac was a one-time wonder, the Spaniards offered a very straight answer – no, they have just hit a brilliant form in recent weeks. After storming to a 0-7 lead against Radnicki – which had beaten Olympiacos in the previous round –, Barceloneta downed Ferencvaros in Budapest in the first period, netting seven goals once
more. The Hungarians managed to stay a bit closer, they trailed 3-7, but even substituting goalie Soma Vogel and denying Barceloneta in its first two possessions in the second didn’t help much – as they missed back-to-back man-ups in front. Soon it was over as the visitors added three more in 2:04 minutes to go 3-10 up and Ferencvaros was facing an unknown challenge: to avoid its heaviest defeat in years.
The hosts, still without their captain and chief playmaker Denes Varga, tried in desperation but this evening nothing worked at their end, they fell apart in defence – and their offense also went down as a consequence. It stood 5-12 at halftime – never in the Champions League FTC conceded a dozen goals in two periods. The Spaniards were dominating in all areas and scored in all possible ways, though their shots from the perimeter did the biggest damage perhaps.
They had put their feet on the brake after 0-7 in Kragujevac two weeks ago when the remaining three periods had seen only two more goals from them – now they slowed down gradually, netting three in the third and two in the fourth, so only five more followed the 12 goals they had hit in the first half (Alvaro Granados led the charge with five goals). Still, the gap grew as the Hungarians never recovered from the initial shock and were able to score only two more, so at the end they lost by ten, a humiliating defeat at home in such a crucial match.
Ferencvaros played back-to-back finals (won in 2019, finished runner-up in 2021), but now their F8 participation came under a serious threat. Despite keeping an unbeaten run for eight matches, now the two straight losses pushed them back to the fifth place and they need some serious regrouping to have a chance to make the cut – their away matches in Belgrade and in Piraeus look much more challenging tasks, altogether. On the contrary, Barceloneta managed to bag six points on the road, regaining control on its own fate.
Jadran v Olympiacos 12-16
The Croats managed to upset Ferencvaros in the previous round and beat arch-rival Jug in the domestic league – while Olympiacos had back-to-back defeats (lost in Kragujevac, then at home to Brescia), so Jadran could approach the encounter with pretty high hopes – but the Greeks really stepped up and showed their class once again.
After three and a half minutes of battling, Jadran opened the scoring from a man-up – Olympiacos needed 4:03 minutes to hit its first but once they were on the scoreboard, they added three more in 1:44 minutes, all from action to storm to a 1-4 lead. The hosts should have recovered from this – but as it turned out, they couldn’t achieve it.
At certain stages they got close, early in the second they managed to climb back to 4-5 with a double in 52 seconds, but Olympiacos managed to offer immediate responses, so Jadran never had a shot at going even at least. At this phase, the Greeks weren’t flying, missed a 6 on 4, but their defence worked well, the ‘Croatian cement’ in their wall, goalie Marko Bijac and 2m defender Andro Buslje, did a splendid job in denying their fellow Croats together with their teammates.
Forcing Jadran to miss two-man-ups late in the second was crucial as Nikolaos Gkillas was the first to score in the third. Even if the reply came within 18 seconds for 6-8, that was the last time the home side stayed within visible distance. In the middle of the period Konstantinos Gedounias converted a man-up and 43 seconds later his blast from action practically floored the hosts at 6-10. Jadran could pull one back, but just as in the second period, Olympiacos never let them feel any chance to come closer as the Greeks scored from their next possessions twice – and this time it meant they could maintain the four goal gap before the last period. There was no way back from here for Jadran, the fourth period turned into a shooting parade with four goals apiece. Still, the difference in the number of shots, especially those on target was significant at the end: 16-24, a huge factor in a game like this. Thus, Olympiacos left the bad memories behind while the Croats bowed out from the race for the F8 as they trail by eight points while sliding back to the 7th place.
Dinamo v Radnicki 13-17
The teams already produced a ’full-time’ result by the middle break when Radnicki led 8-11. This somewhat mirrors the defences’ weaknesses, especially at the hosts’ side. Radnicki managed to build a massive three goal-lead early on – thanks to a double in 36 seconds which gave them a 2-5 advantage – and from that point the Serbs just maintained the gap.
Dinamo never had the chance to force a tighter game, though a couple of times they reduced the gap to two early in the second, but once the Serbs scored back-to-back goals to go 6-10 up, they could not come closer than three goals. Credit to them, they fought hard and avoided a bigger defeat and played their best home game in the season while tying their own scoring record by netting 13 goals.