Day 8, Group A – Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 10-10
A year ago, Olympiacos’ miseries started here in Kragujevac as the Greeks suffered a stunning defeat and that sent them to a downward spiral and at the end they failed to qualify for the Final Eight. Now their F8 spot is not in danger – beat Recco, lost only once in the first seven rounds –, and even have a fine chance to finish atop but dropping two precious points in Kragujevac may also have a long-lasting impact on that race.
In the first half it all looked easy for the Greeks – scored five in the first period, and even though the hosts came back to 4-6, two action goals in the last minute of the first half put Olympiacos 4-8 ahead. Few if any foresaw what was coming, the enthusiastic home crowd may have dreamt of it but might not believe in that.
Aleksa Ukropina pulled one back in 25 seconds, but soon Marko Bijac stopped a penalty to calm down the locals. However, of a greater importance, Lazar Dobozanov made three saves in a row at the other end and that triggered something big. Ukropina hit another one in the middle of this quarter for 6-8, then the Greeks wasted an extra. Radnicki had a 6 on 5 after a time-out but missed it badly, Pljevancic got a red card on his way back, but this time a block denied Olympiacos’ extra. With 3:01 to go till the last break, Nikola Lukic scored the third action goal in a row and at 7-8 it was no longer hope but belief in the home camp. Dobozanov made a huge save in a man-down – though Bijac also had a catch when Radnicki could go for the equaliser in a 6 on 5 late in the third.
Missing that extra seemed to have been crucial in the wake of the first minutes in the fourth. Radnicki couldn’t penetrate the Greek defence, they were forced to distant shots while the pressure Olympiacos imposed was mounting. However, the Serbs had Dobozanov who showed an amazing steal as he pushed the ball away from the centre’s hand in a man-down, then made three saves in 54 seconds when their rivals took four shots within one lengthy possession (the fourth hit the post). Four minutes to go, Dobozanov stopped another shot in a man-down and after such heroics it was inevitable that the home side would find the way to score. Finally Lukic’s shot from the perimeter beat Bijac – with 3:38 on the clock it was even at 8-8.
Dobozanov delivered his 10th straight save, Radnicki earned a man-up and even though the first shot was blocked, the Serbs got the rebound and Ukropina’s fantastic blast sent the crowd in a frenzy as the home side led 9-8 with 2:31 remaining. The next Greek shot hit the post, soon arrived another man-up for the home side, after a time-out. Ukropina’s ball bounced back from the woodwork, but again, the Serbs regained the ball and this time it was Lukic’s turn to put the ball behind Bijac from 6m. (He and Ukropine both finished this amazing match with 4 goals apiece.)
At this point, having staged a 6-0 run, a two-goal lead in hand and only 77 seconds to play, Radnicki had it by all means. Still – it’s gone.
All they needed was to survive the next possession – didn’t seem a big deal as the Greeks were yet to score in the second half. However, after 15:02 minutes, they made it, Konstantinos Mourikis managed to outmanoeuvre his defender and scored from the centre for 10-9. Uros Stevanovic blew up at the Kragujevac bench in anger as the coach knew this goal came too early and too easily – with 58 seconds remaining, Olympiacos would have one more possession. And they killed Radnicki’s last attempt with ease, and went for a 7 on 6 after a time-out, with Bijac in front of the goal. Despite all their miseries since the middle break, the Greeks used all their experience to play this last possession with precision, set up Filip Filipovic who had always been famous for making the most important shots even when he had a not-so-great day. Like this evening: it was a masterpiece how the big leftie beat his young fellow Serbs, the blocking defender and Dobozanov from the perimeter, to save the game to a tie, 7 seconds from time.
How they saw it
Uros Stevanovic, coach, Radnicki
“Once again, we lost two points the same way we had done against Jadran. The result was also the same, we led 10-8 with a minute to go, still finished 10-10. It’s four points, too much to lose for this team if we want to make the Final Eight. You may say we took a point from Olympiacos, but I’d say we rather lost two. Our roster is changing in the middle of the season, so it’s already a new team and have time to grow and play better and better.”
Igor Milanovic, coach, Olympiacos
“Congratulations for Uros and Radnicki for this effort. We had a pretty nice first half but after that I’d say my players were like almost refused to play. We were rushing our attacks, lacked the precision in our defence. That’s life, at the end of the day we can be happy for not losing despite we led 8-4.”