Six spots taken, two up for grabs
With one round of games to go, the field for the quarter-final round is shaping up nicely, as six spots have been secured and three teams have their place as group winners.
Title-holders Recco, last season’s bronze medallists Barceloneta and 2019 champions Ferencvaros already made the cut on day four, and in round five they also made sure they’ll finish top of their respective groups.
Jadran Split, Olympiacos and Novi Beograd also joined them by passing their tests in the penultimate round.
In two-weeks’ time, Sabadell and Brescia will go for the second place in Group A, and Marseille and Spandau will fight for the other one in Group D.
These won’t be face-to-face clashes though, as their final ranks depend on the outcome of parallel matches (see below).
Brescia on the brink
Brescia is facing their earliest exit in the Champions League since 2016 – provided Sabadell get at least two points against Novi Beograd on the last day.
Since the Serbs have already qualified and were beaten by the Spaniards at home on day three, this is a realistic scenario (even if we take Brescia’s win against bottom-ranked Steaua for granted).
This would be a huge setback for the Italians, who have been part of the show in the Final Six/Eight for the last six editions.
After three failed quarter-final attempts, they finally made the semis in 2021 and 2022, even winning the bronze in 2021 – their best showing so far.
Last year they won their group, only to fall to fourth-placed Vouliagmeni in the quarters, which was the biggest shock of the past Champions League season.
Now, they don’t look that strong or complete as in previous seasons, for example their 13-5 loss in Belgrade on Wednesday was one of their heaviest in recent years.
Also, the way they were defeated was unusual, as they couldn’t score in the last (pretty much) 14 minutes, while Novi Beograd staged an astonishing 8-0 rout after 5-5.
And all this happened after the Serbs missed two penalties within 10 seconds (Alvaro Granados and Filip Filipovic, which was an extraordinary scene).
But still, Brescia could carry on, turn things around, and make the quarters again. All will be revealed.
Marseille: Fewer goals than hoped
Marseille looked to be edging towards the next round and would have done if they’d built on their three-goal lead against Spandau in the last period when they were 10-7 up.
Just one more unanswered strike would have given them a crucial head-to-head better goal difference, as the Germans won their first encounter 13-10 in Berlin on day two.
Spandau, however, reduced the deficit to two, so they remain in the hunt going into the final day.
The Germans face Vouliagmeni in Greece, where winning – which will also need to be in regular time – may prove to be a difficult challenge, as the hosts will not want to bow out with six straight defeats, especially just months after their miraculous run to the semis in last season’s Final Eight.
Still, a single point would be enough for Marseille to progress regardless, though claiming a positive result against Barceloneta… well, that’s even more challenging.
Playing at home, winning at home
Home sides ruled round five in a rare scene, winning all eight matches.
Though on day two, when the reverse match-ups were played, seven of this week’s victors won away, with Spandau the only team able to break that pattern by beating Marseille at home.
Back to day five, three winning sides – Jadran Split, Barceloneta and Olympiacos – all netted 16 goals, while four teams – Recco, Marseille, Novi Beograd and Sabadell – each scored 13, and one, FTC, set a new single-game scoring record for this season by hitting 20.
Lazar Dobozanov enjoyed an exceptional match in Novi Beograd’s goal – the young goalkeeper was instrumental in NBG’s crucial win as he produced a 76% saving percentage, making 16 stops from 21 shots.
Limiting Brescia to five goals is an outstanding feat – and holding the Italians 0 for 12 in man-ups is something one may have never seen before.
Two of Brescia’s goals also came after Dobozanov saves, with the Italians only managing to score at the second attempt.
Dobozanov also kept a clean sheet in the last 13:43 minutes, though by then the Italians were broken, as the young goalie made only five saves after 5-5, but his first 11 were the ones that made the difference.