Marseille almost completed the mission impossible

Day 13, Group B – CN Marseille (FRA) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 15-11

After a Euro Cup victory in 2019 and back-to-back Final Eight appearances in the last two editions, Marseille were considered a formidable side in the Champions League. However, the French side produced a highly disappointing run in this season – could snatch only a single win in the first half of the prelims, were bottom-ranked after Day 10, before they staged a big comeback. 

As Jug also started struggling and couldn’t win matches, the gap started disappearing and before this 13th round Marseille had some hope to make the cut though faced a mounting task: to beat Jug by six goals. That would set them up to complete their mission impossible successfully, then they should have beaten OSC on Day 14 and hoped to see Brescia downing Jug. The second part can still happen, but Marseille came up short – though got really close to create some miracles against the Croats. 

At the beginning, exciting scenarios were hard to expect – Jug led 3-4 after eight minutes and doubled their lead early in the second from a counter. Then the French produced their first great spell, a 4-0 rush gave them some hope as they led 7-5 but Loren Fatovic’s quick put-away from a man-up made it 7-6 with 0:02 on the clock.

And the hosts didn’t gain much ground in the third either despite scoring two fast goals in 61 seconds for 9-6 and holding on for 10-7 with four minutes left in the third. They couldn’t expand the gap further and the Croats, though missed two man-ups, managed to score once more in the dying seconds – this time Marko Zuvela netted a 6 on 5 for 10-8.

However, the fourth showed the French force – when they netted two from action in 67 seconds, at 12-8 the miracle was closer than ever. Franko Lazic pulled one back from an extra, but he committed a penalty foul soon, Ugo Crousillat buried it and 41 seconds later a rare action shot from Uros Cuckovic gave Marseille a five-goal lead at 14-9 and they had almost five minutes to complete their fantastic run.

Naturally, Vjeko Kobescak called for a time-out to halt Marseille’s big run and it worked, Jug claimed a man-up and Fatovic sent the ball home, while the French missed their next 6 on 5 which proved to be crucial. They seemed to have run out of steam, not even a time-out helped them. And when Matias Biljaka put away another extra with 1:37 to go for 14-11, it was over. Crousillat netted a man-up with 71 seconds left but they couldn’t add more – and the five-goal difference wouldn’t have been enough most probably as Jug had won 14-9 in their first match. In that case the total goal difference would have decided between the two sides (provided they had finished with equal points) and the Croats are 10 better as of now.

This four-goal loss sealed Jug’s F8 spot – while Marseille had to accept that making up everything in the last four rounds for all those what had gone wrong in the first 10 is not the way to make the finals in the Champions League.

How they saw it

Milos Scepanovic, coach, Marseille

“At the end, it’s all for nothing… We believed we could do this miracle as chasing a six-goal win against jug would be mission impossible for any teams in the world. We were still close. We had a really difficult season in the Champions League, but we also had an incredible last month. All I can say now is a big bravo to all my guys and I hope we’ll preserve this energy for the rest of the season. There are always regrets but I don’t want to complain and find excuses even though we had many problems with the roster, and we didn’t have the energy what we had today. But that’s normal as no one can play with the same energy for nine months.”

Vjekoslav Kobescak, coach, Jug

“I’m satisfied on one hand, as we made the Final Eight which was a big goal for us. On the other hand, it was a very tough and very physical game, I saw a lot of irregularities during the match… Anyway, Marseille were the much better side today, still, now we can concentrate on the national championship finals and then on the Final Eight.”