Five talking points from Quarter Final Stage Day 4

Photo: @OlympiacosSFP/ www.eurokinissi.gr

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

1. Two Final Four spots taken, and a three-horse race in full swing

Before the start of the Quarter Final Stage – which might be considered as an ‘expanded’ Final Eight, staged across six thrilling rounds – it was clear the four winners in the Group Stage would be the top contenders for the Final Four spots.

Plus, Olympiacos among the runners-up, as the Greeks had to settle for second place in Group B behind title-holders Recco.

Now, after four rounds, the finalists of the last two editions, Recco and Novi Beograd fulfilled those expectations by already booking their respective spots in the Final Four from Group A.

At the same time, Ferencvaros, Barceloneta – the other two group stage winners – and Olympiacos are entangled in a three-horse race in Group B, where the outcome is unpredictable with two rounds remaining.

Olympiacos just overtook Fradi in the race and sits on top, however, it’s still a likely scenario that all three sides will finish with 12 points.

In that case, the rule for a three-way tie shall apply, where only the results obtained against each other shall be considered, but once the first ranked team is picked, only the two results between the remaining sides will count to decide second place.

Just to show how tight the race is, Olympiacos is ranked first by virtue of scoring more goals in total than Ferencvaros (42 to 40) as the results between the two won’t decide anything (both won by two at home) and the goal-difference is the same, as of now.

So, stay tuned for the last two rounds!

Photo: @OlympiacosSFP/ www.eurokinissi.gr

2. Late surges put Olympiacos and Fradi on even

When dicussing Olympiacos and Ferencvaros being locked on nine points in Group B, it’s worth noting that in both their head-to-head matches in the Quarter Final Stage, the winning side held a four-goal lead approaching the finish, but it was halved by late surges.

Fradi, on Day 1, led 11-7 with 1:25 remaining, but the Greeks could pull back two, thanks to back-to-back goals in a span of 47 seconds.

Just two days ago, Olympiacos were in full command in the fourth, leading 10-6 with 2:26 on the clock, but the Hungarians hit two in 29 seconds to get back to level at least on ‘aggregate’.

So, if these two teams finish on equal points, then the total goals scored shall decide the rankings.

Note, that Fradi, losing for the first time after 33 matches in the season, have two home matches remaining (v Brescia, then Barceloneta), while Olympiacos are away to Barceloneta next – in a do-or-die game – before hosting Brescia on the final day.

Photo: Miodrag Todorovic

3. Ben Hallock, The Winning Man

What insiders have been talking about for a while, that Ben Hallock has become arguably the best centre-forward on the planet, was highlighted once more this week, as Recco managed to take down Marseille in an extremely hard-fought contest.

Scoring from the centre, against defenders with equal or more strength, is always special in today’s game.

Hallock did that not once, not twice, but three times in Marseille, and each of his goals was a tremendous boost for Recco, as they otherwise struggled in attack.

His first gave the title-holders the lead four seconds from time in the first period.

The second, while it was somewhat lucky as the American hit it from a rebound, came in a crucial phase when Marseille led 5-4 and had a man-up to double their lead – Recco killed that and Hallock was on target in the next possession to level the score.

Then came the third, a mighty backhander, in the most heated moment of the fourth quarter, when the hosts had just come back from two goals down and equalised by scoring two in 32 seconds.

After levelling at 10-10, the crowd erupted, the French smelled blood – but then came Hallock, and within 13 seconds he hit that magnificent goal which silenced the stands and put Recco back on track, and ultimately sent the team to the Final Four.

Photo: damnjanovicfoto

4. Bouncing back, a Novi Beograd habit

Though among the four Group Stage winners, Novi Beograd were perhaps the least convincing, as even their progression to the Quarter Final Stage was in question at times, especially after they suffered a shock home defeat against Sabadell.

But the Serbs – fuelled by extremely talented foreign aces, like Alvaro Granados and Angelos Vlachopoulos – have an amazing ability to bounce back and deliver wins in crucial moments.

That landed them on top of their group in December and this secured their ticket to Malta in the current stage.

Downing Marseille in a nail-biter was the key as they were trailing by two early in the fourth, but scored two in the last four minutes while conceding none to win 13-14.

Also, overcoming a six-goal deficit against Recco and gaining at least a point at home was the other big result which opened the gate for them to book their ticket to Malta in June.

Handling Jadran Split seems to be a routine job for the Serbs – they hit 15 against the Croats both at home and now in Split as well.

Photo: @OlympiacosSFP/ www.eurokinissi.gr

5. Big rush, big win

When a team can gain some steam and stage a big rush, it can prove to be decisive at this level.

Not every time, but on Day 4, three matches were decided by great surges of the eventual winners.

Barceloneta had a mighty 0-7 rush in Brescia, as they completely outplayed the Italians while galloping to a 3-12 lead after 3-5 and shutting out the hosts for 14:29 minutes.

Novi Beograd smashed Jadran with a 0-5 blast in the third period.

It took only 3:31 minutes to decide the match in Split – here the Croats even went for a goalie change, but it didn’t help as Vlachopoulos&Co were riding the wave.

In Piraeus, Olympiacos’ 3-0 run in the second period seems moderate compared to the previous two rushes, still, it turned out to be decisive as Ferencvaros couldn’t come back to even in the remaining two quarters.

The fourth match didn’t see anything similar, but Marseille need to devote some thought to their fourth-period showings in their last two home matches.

While they did really well against Novi Beograd and Recco for three periods, they conceded four and five goals in the last period (nine goals in the second half of both matches, after conceding only five and three respectively in the first), which put them out of each contest.

You can follow all the Champions League Men’s Water Polo Quarter Final Stage action and results – which resumes on Day 5 (Friday/Saturday 3rd/4th May) – live on the dedicated European Aquatics Champions League website.