NBG complete thrilling comeback win in Marseille, while Recco roll on

Photo: Paun Paunović/European Aquatics

The finalists of the last two editions of the men’s water polo Champions League were celebrating on Tuesday night after winning their respective away matches in round two of the Quarter Final Stage. Title-holders Recco did a clean job in Split, while Novi Beograd had to dig deep and comeback from three goals down to beat Marseille in an absolute thriller – with the deciding goal coming just 38 seconds from time.

Group A

VK Jadran Split (CRO) 10-13 Pro Recco (ITA)
CN Marseille (FRA) 13-14 VK Novi Beograd (SRB)

Photo: Paun Paunović/European Aquatics

In the ‘club-version’ rematch of the World Championships final – both Jadran Split and Recco fielded seven players who were part of the gold medal show in Doha in February – it was the Italians who were dominating from the start.

But it was Recco’s foreign legion that was making the real difference – for example, Ben Hallock opened the scoring with a fine goal from the centre.

The American, alongside Kostantinos Kakaris (of Greece) delivered the exclusions and two were finished from the left wing after some patient play.

Between those goals, the Croats could score their first quite late, 43 seconds before the buzzer, and they trailed 1-3 after eight minutes.

By half-time, Recco doubled their lead – the performance wasn’t stellar, but very much effective, especially in defence.

After a couple of action goals from Gonzalo Echenique and Andrea Fondelli, they killed three man-downs in a row – though Jadran’s struggles were highlighted by a lost ball in one six on four.

Again, Jadran could score very late in the period, but once more an answer came immediately from Recco, with Aleksandar Ivovic hitting one after a nice set-up for 2-6.

When the Montenegrin copied his previous goal early in the third to extend Recco’s lead to five, Jadran seemed to be slipping towards a heavy defeat.

However, the hosts began to show some signs of life, scoring three connecting goals while Recco’s offence suddenly stalled, and with 46 seconds to go it was an open game at 5-7.

Then came Ivovic again, with another brilliant drive and another action goal from close range, with this strike having a calming effect 24 seconds before the last break.

If that halted Jadran’s momentum, then Fondelli’s blast 26 seconds into the fourth killed it at 5-9.

That also triggered an offensive roll at both ends of the pool.

Defences ceased to operate – after 13 goals in three periods, the final quarter produced 10, five apiece, including a fourth action goal from Ivovic, who was a real shining light for Recco this evening.

Photo: Paun Paunović/European Aquatics

The clash in Marseille brought the first real epic thriller of the Quarter Final Stage.

Initially, Novi Beograd took control and were in the lead till midway through the second period, though Marseille always managed to level.

After 5-5, the French had the better spell, shutting down two NGB man-ups, then Vladan Spaic’s fine centre shot and Ante Vukicevic’s distant rocket put Marseille 7-5 up at the turnaround.

When Vukicevic sent another one into the net from a six on five early in the third, the Serbs were in trouble at 8-5.

However, they raised their game and bounced back within two and half minutes.

After back-to-back man-up goals from Nikola Jaksic and Filip Filipovic, they killed a man-down and Alvaro Granados soon made it even (8-8) from a quick counter.

Though Krisztian Manhercz’s shot from the perimeter ended Marseille’s struggles in attack, at the other end the French couldn’t handle Granados, whose sparkling shooting skills prevailed in the next two six on fives.

Still, the hosts retook the lead as they could also penetrate NGB’s defence and Spaic’s hit from a nicely played extra made it 11-10 with six seconds to go in the third.

The Serbs’ goaltending problems continued at the start of the fourth, as Lazar Dobozanov – who sat out for a couple of minutes earlier, but was called back in – conceded another one from the perimeter, so the French were up by two at 12-10.

Granados (who else?) kept last season’s runners-up in the match with another pinpoint shot, then Jaksic was set up on 2m in the next six on five, which is plain dunking in his case, and NBG were level again at 12-12.

Marseille captain Ugo Crousillat buried a penalty in the next possession to edge the hosts back in front, but NGB’s Angelos Vlachopoulos’ precise shot on man-up tied the scores once again (13-13), and there was still a lot of time to play.

Either side could have won it, as they each had two man-ups in the remaining frantic 3:36 minutes.

The home fans were left frustrated as their side missed both, while the Serbs scored from their second attempt.

Granados came up with an unmissable assist and veteran Dusko Pijetlovic made no mistake from close range with 0:38 on the clock.

A steal ended Marseille’s final possession – and also their hopes to gain a point or two in this crucial home encounter.

Fixtures for Wednesday – Group B
(CET times shown)

18.30 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (ESP)
20.00 AN Brescia (ITA) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN)

Follow all the Champions League Men’s Water Polo Quarter Final Stage action and results live on the dedicated European Aquatics Champions League website.