Five talking points from Quarter Final Stage Day 3

Photo: Miodrag Todorovic / European Aquatics

Here are five takeaways from the third day of the Quarter Final Stage in the men’s water polo Champions League.

1. Beating Recco and/or Ferencvaros, anyone?

Pro Recco, winners of the last three editions of the Champions League, and Ferencvaros, the 2019 champions, are yet to lose a match this season – across all competitions.

Recco were on the edge in Belgrade on Tuesday, but their classy players kept their calm, despite blowing a six-goal lead, and beat Novi Beograd in the shootout.

That’s still a win, though the first match in 26 encounters where Recco didn’t finish off their rivals in regular time.

Ferencvaros’ victory count stands at 30 in as many matches (both sides amassed 17 wins in the respective domestic leagues and nine apiece in the Champions League – the Hungarians already ticked the domestic cup victory where they had the upper hand in four matches; Recco will go for that title in the coming weeks).

Just like Recco, Fradi also had a shootout win, back in the Group Stage, when they defeated Jadran on the last day in Split.

In the Quarter Final Stage, they clinched three clean victories in a row, beating their rivals by two goals in each encounter.

Their two away wins are kind of historical too as they could never beat Brescia and Barceloneta in previous years as the visitors.

This spring they managed to stage really strong fourth periods in both matches – scoring five goals in Brescia and four in Barcelona in the last eight minutes and thanks to that they are edging ever closer to Malta, where the Final Four will take place in June.

Photo: Miodrag Todorovic / European Aquatics

2. Comeback of the season?

Novi Beograd perhaps staged the biggest comeback of the season so far.

Saving a match to a draw after being six goals down is a great feat in any water polo match – to do it in the Champions League, it’s sensational.

To achieve it against Recco, the 11-time champions, is like completing a mission impossible.

NBG somehow did just that – they fell 2-8 behind early in the third, but produced an astonishing 8-2 run in the remaining 14:25 minutes, including a 5-1 rush in the fourth period.

They needed some extraordinary moments, like two penalty saves from Francesco de Michelis, who stunned his fellow Italians with a couple of more crucial stops.

Remember, De Michelis was relatively unkown when NBG brought him from Roma (9th in the Italian Championship) for the role of reserve goalie, but he did a splendid job this time when he was picked as a starter for this mammoth match.

Photo: Jordi López / European Aquatics

3. Golden oldies

If anyone thinks their heyday is long gone, they should take a look at the brilliant vintage performances of Andrija Prlainovic, Denes Varga and Felipe Perrone.

Prlainovic will turn 37 in a few weeks, Varga recently celebrated his 37th and Perrone had to blow out 38 candles on his birthday cake on 27 February.

Still, these three are capable of delivering something extraordinary in any key match, and have a decisive impact on the outcome.

On Day 3, Prlainovic was instrumental to Marseille’s first win, which keeps the French side in the hunt for a Final Four spot.

The Serbian Olympic champion hit five goals, including two of his side’s last three, which helped secure three points for Marseille and some hope to make it to Malta.

Denes Varga, returning to the CL after a long injury break, added a couple more out-of-this-world hits to his infinity list of majestic goals.

And he scored those two sublime action goals from the perimeter when Ferencvaros needed them the most, in a crucial phase of the match as Barceloneta were on the comeback trail.

He then made a perfect assist in a man-up which ultimately secured the Hungarians’ win.

In Barceloneta, King Felipe scored another sensational goal from a counter, freeing himself from Dusan Mandic’s ‘marking’, which alone is a great feat, knowing the Serb’s physical abilities.

Though this time the Brazilian-born genius wasn’t as outstanding as on Day 1, when he hit three against Brescia, he is still the main lethal weapon for the Spanish champions.

Photo: @OlympiacosSFP/ / European Aquatics

4. Lethal left

Brescia and Olympiacos played a toe-to-toe match up until the last minute in the third period, then Marton Vamos graced the scene and stole the show – and ultimately won the match for the Greeks.

The giant Hungarian leftie – who has a towering presence of 2m – hit a classic hat-trick after 10-10 and that gave Olympiacos a 10-13 lead in a match where the gap between the two sides was never larger than a single goal until that point.

Vamos’ third from 8m was a sensational and powerful strike, with the ball smashing in off the crossbar.

In the post-game interviews, even Brescia’s legendary head coach Sandro Bovo had to say this: ‘It was a great game, a close game, but the quality of Vamos made the difference at the end.’

Photo: Miodrag Todorovic / European Aquatics

5. Stunning penalty misses

Sometimes even the best penalty-takers can miss their respective shots – however, it’s a rarity that five of them are unable to bury their attempts in a single round.

Three came from Recco’s master-shooters, which almost cost the title-holders the game.

Gergo Zalanki dropped the ball, Andrea Fondelli and Giacomo Cannella couldn’t beat NBG’s Italian goalie de Michelis (as described and pictured above) – though credit should go to these three aces as they all lined up for the shootout and sent the ball home when it mattered the most.

There was also a rare scenario in Barcelona where Alberto Munarriz blasted the ball wide.

Barceloneta’s magnificent shooter was not even on target from the 5m line, though when you’re facing the best penalty killer goalie in the world, Soma Vogel, you may wish to be too precise with your shot.

The Spaniard left those bad memories behind and scored his third a bit later, though in the end he couldn’t save his side from defeat.

And not long before his miss, Dusan Mandic was also unable to make his shot – again, it’s a rarity that the Serbian leftie’s penalty is denied by a two-handed save, which Unai Aguirre did to demonstrate he was fully aware where Mandic’s ball would be directed.

The Champions League Men’s Water Polo Quarter Final Stage resumes on the 23rd and 24th of April with day four, and you can follow all the action and results live on the dedicated European Aquatics Champions League website.