Barceloneta sinks Olympiacos, Ferencvaros comes back to life
Brescia, winning easily against Dinamo, broke six points clear once more as Ferencvaros came back to life and claimed a sound away win against future F8 host Novi Beograd. This has set up a do-or-die clash with Olympiacos for the next round as the Greeks were sunk by Barceloneta. The Spanish defence was tremendous once more – so now we see two teams with 20 points and another two with 19 in the ranks, which promises sheer excitements for the remaining three rounds.
Group A: Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 9-5, Novi Beograd (SRB) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) 11-14, Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) v Jadran Split (CRO) 13-10, AN Brescia (ITA) v Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) 16-8
Standings: 1. Brescia 26, 2. Novi Beograd 20, 3. Barceloneta 20, 4. Olympiacos 19, 5. Ferencvaros 19, 6. Radnicki 13, 7. Jadran 9, 8. Dinamo 0
Barceloneta found the right rhythm in February and was able to carry on that after one month: the Spaniards’ defence worked brilliantly in the last three rounds, keeping Radnicki on 3, Ferencvaros on 7 and now Olympiacos on 5 goals. Indeed, after their dominant performance against the Greeks it’s hard to see them not making the Final Eight.
On contrary, Ferencvaros bounced back spectacularly after miserable back-to-back defeats in February. The Magyars did a splendid job in Belgrade, they had a tremendous run when they rushed to a 3-8 lead after 2-2, holding the Serbian scoring machine on a single goal for almost 14 minutes. Later they always had the answers when Novi Beograd managed to reduce the gap to two goals a couple of times. Now they are on level in points with Olympiacos – and these two face off in Piraeus next Saturday; it’s a rematch of the 2019 final but now the F8 appearance is at stake.
Brescia’s undefeated run came to an and one month ago as Novi Beograd caught them in their own pool but with the Serbs’ setback, the Italians had a clear chance to double their lead as they met bottom ranked Dinamo. And they didn’t make any mistake, after a slow start a 6-1 storm in the third was more than enough to secure the win and to rebuild the six-point lead ahead of the others.
In the ‘lower house’ Radnicki came back from 5-8 down with a remarkable second half against Jadran – they have an extremely slim hope of making the cut, but this would rather belong to the category of miracles.
Barceloneta v Olympiacos 9-5
Barceloneta seems to be the team in this group which managed to maintain its brilliant form from February. The Spaniards went through some struggles around the turn of the year, but a great win in Kragujevac and an even bigger in Budapest marked a great transformation – and they just carried on with that against Olympiacos. Indeed, their defence reached a fantastic level: they conceded 3 in Kragujevac, 7 in Budapest and now held the Greeks on 5 goals, the fewest Olympiacos scored in a game this season (for the second time, they also netted 5 upon losing at home to Brescia).
The Spaniards forced the visitors’ top shooters to outside attempts, their vibrant defending style left only a handful of occasions when the top guns of Olympiacos saw a clear view of the goal. Altogether only 13 shots were on target from the Greek camp, out of 28, their best scorers’ shooting percentage was anything but: Genidounias 2/8, Fountoulis 0/3, Filipovic 2/8 – 4/19 combined, a full appraisal of the Spanish defence.
The Greeks could score at 2-0, after 6:51 minutes, then Barceloneta started extending the gap to go 5-2 up in the second – Filipovic hit his second 13 seconds from time, though few would have guessed that the 2021 LEN Award winner Olympic champion would not add any more in the remaining of the game.
Olympiacos virtually sank in the third as the Spaniards shut them out in the entire period, while Luke Pavillard netted from action from their first possession, then 33 seconds to go Felipe Perrone buried a man-up for 7-3 and it was clear that this evening there would be no way back for the Greeks.
They needed almost four more minutes to come a bit closer, Genidounias buried a penalty to halt their 11:51 minute-long scoreless run but Oscar Asenso’s great centre-shot put an end to the contest with 3:39 to go. Two more goals, one apiece, were scored in the remaining time, so Barceloneta is very much back in business and since they have a home game with Dinamo and an away match in Split, their F8 appearance is very much in sight now. At the same time, Olympiacos faces Ferencvaros in a do-or-die game in a little more than a week and the Greeks need a tremendous lift in form to keep their F8 hopes alive.
Novi Beograd v Ferencvaros 11-14
One month is a long time – and can turn everything upside down. Back in February Novi Beograd was on the rise, the team showed real signs of improvement and when they beat Brescia in Italy, they seemed to find the right track. On the contrary, Ferencvaros was miserable, a shocking defeat in Split, followed by a huge blow, a 10-goal thrashing against Barceloneta at home.
However, that was then – and this time the Hungarians produced a game very much reminiscent of their heydays. They were disciplined, still creative, and very much in control at both ends in the pool. Their first stunning run came in the first period after 2-2 when they scored three extraman goals from three connecting possessions within 2:05 minutes to go 2-5 up. One goal apiece was netted before the action packed, 9-goal opening period finished – to be followed by a giant battle, when defences tightened up and the net was found only once, by Szilard Jansik who netted a brilliant action goal for 3-7.
The hosts, featuring tremendous shooting power (and Olympic champion greats), were unable to find the right rhythm, their shots weren’t as sharp as in February, showed no consistency and the Hungarian defence also did an outstanding job (they marked Dusan Mandic spectacularly, leaving the Serb scoring machine on 0 for 3). Keeping the future F8 hosts on 3 goals in their own pool for 16 minutes is a huge feat in anybody’s language. Indeed, Ferencvaros was already 3-8 up when Dusko Pijetlovic could bury a man-up in the third – before that, since 2-2, the Serbs could score a single goal in 13:34 minutes.
Then they showed the first signs of life as they came back to 6-8 but before the heat would have turned on to the Magyars, Marton Vamos finished off a 6 on 5 after a time-out, quite calmly for 6- 9. Nikola Jaksic, who spent the previous two years with the current rivals, pulled one back form action to give some hope for the home side before the last break.
However, Gergo Fekete’s blast just 22 seconds into the fourth reset the three-goal gap, then it was Vamos again who sent the ball home from the perimeter after a Serb goal – and when youngster Erik Molnar brilliantly beat Dusan Mandic in a body-vs-body situation to score another one from action for 8-12, it sealed Ferencvaros’ return into the hunt for the F8 berths. More goals followed as the defences eased up, but the Magyars’ win was no longer in danger – now they got back to life and will travel to Piraeus to face Olympiacos in the rematch of the 2019 final, where nothing less is in stake than the chance for them to return to this pool in June.
Brescia v Dinamo 16-8
Since the outcome was inevitable in the encounter of the leader versus the bottom ranked side, the game did not offer real thrills – it was a bit slow as Brescia did not push really hard, they took only 23 shots in the match, had more emphasis on the defence and kept the Georgians on 15 shots.
Especially the start was slow as the Italians’ concentration level dropped from time to time, most significantly after 7-2 when Dinamo netted three connecting goals, so they trailed 7-5 at halftime. This was a kind of wake-up call for the hosts who grabbed themselves together for the next eight minutes, unleashed a 6-1 storm to kill any doubts, then switched back the gears for the fourth, bagged three points and thanks to Ferencvaros’ win in Belgrade, now they are leading by six points again.
With three rounds to go, it’s almost sure they keep the top rank at the end (something never happened to them in their Champions League campaigns), though the group is still too tight so the math does not allow us to declare them an F8 participant.
Radnicki v Jadran 13-10
It was a fine and entertaining match – not the usual defensive battle when a Serbian and a Croatian side collide. Since mostly pride was at stake – neither team has a realistic chance to catch the train to Belgrade –, they pressure was not the same.
In the first half Jadran ruled the field, the Croats were dominating and early in the second period they took an 5-8 lead. Then came a complete blackout – after scoring eight goals in 10:50 minutes, they managed to add only two more in the remaining 21:10. Radnicki pulled two back before the middle break, then, after 7-9, the Serbs staged a 4-0 rush in the third and scored another one for 12-9 before Konstantin Kharkov could find the back of the net again after 11:15 minutes. It was too few and too late, Marko Radulovic last-second man-up goal sealed Radnicki’s win – which also give an extremely slim hope for the Serbs to catch up the top teams, but they would need a miracle.