Olympiacos came back from 4-9 to win in the shootout

Image courtesy of Olympiacos Piraeus

Group B: Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje (CRO) 12-12, pen: 4-3

What a game to start the Group Stage off with! The big clash of the round offered everything water polo and the Champions League are loved for.

Jug took a flying start, gained a 0-2 lead, and kept the hosts scoreless for more than four minutes. Then Alexandros Papanastasiou – spending a couple of seasons in Dubrovnik before returning home – managed to net one from the centre, then Rino Buric replied to it with a classic backhander for 1-3. The Greeks hit the post twice from their man-up while Franko Lazic made it 1-4 from action just four seconds before the first break.

And Jug went on stunning the Greeks, finding the way to score from time to time. After 3-5, they added three connecting action goals for 3-8 so it was anything but promising from Olympiacos’ perspective. Ioannis Fountoulis pulled one back 26 seconds from time, but they still trailed 4-8 at halftime.

Luka Loncar hit the post during the Greeks’ first man-up opportunity against his compatriots and soon Goran Grgurevic reset the five-goal gap. Olympiacos had a better spell, but veteran leftie Maro Jokovic seemed to kill their momentum while burying a 6 on 5 for 6-10, four minutes into the third. What followed perhaps no one saw coming. Netting one in a man-up by Ioannis Fountoulis was in the cards – then a steal, an exclusion, and a one-on-one goal from Nikolaos Gkillas 14 seconds later halved the distance and set the pool on fire. Another 32 seconds gone and another lost ball from the Croats, and Fountoulis hit another one from an extra to make it 9-10 – within 1:44 minutes Olympiacos was very much back in the match. What’s more, they killed a man-down and Fountoulis equalised from another 6 on 5 (they converted the last four) for 10-10, with 0:04 on the clock.

And Fountoulis carried on, buried a penalty to put his team ahead for the first time in the game. Again, it was Jokovic who lifted the Croats and halted his side’s disastrous run and scored after five minutes, after conceding five in a row. As ‘money time’ was commencing, tensions started to grow, mirrored by the less precise finishes. Soon came the first missed Greek man-up and Rino Buric blasted an astonishing one from 8m to retake the lead at 11-12 with 3:21 to go. The Greeks replied immediately, Papanastasiou put away a 6 on 5 – then Jug missed two shots in a man-up but Marton Vamos was also denied by a blocking hand 1:18min from time – so the decision came down to the penalties, according to the new regulations in place for tied matches.

Toni Popadic opened with a save but in the fourth round Marko Zuvela hit the post, then Marko Bijac, who had been substituted at halftime but returned for the shootout after three rounds, made a great save. Dimitrios Nikolaidis should have won it for the Greeks but hit the post, then Bijac denied US star Hanne Daube, and Konstantinos Genidounias, who had missed his first attempt, ended the contest with a fierce shot to secure two points for Olympiacos.

How the coaches saw it:

Hrvoje Koljanin, coach, Olympiacos

“I was a bit afraid as we didn’t have any tough game until now and that put us under some stress. The game showed why I was right – Jug came from a series of tough official matches, they have a strong roster and were much more ready for this match. Then in the third period, when they were leading by five goals, our guys understood they didn’t have anything to lose anymore, and started playing more aggressively and that helped. It is very important that we won in the end – this is the only thing that matters. I think we’ll improve game by game from now on.

Vjekoslav Kobescak, coach, Jug

“It was a great game, we started it really well then in the third period we lost a few balls early in the outside positions and allowed Olympiacos to score quick and cheap goals to come back. Well, it’s not easy to keep that level we had from the beginning for four periods against Olympiacos – so it was good that we could have a draw at the end. I’m a little bit satisfied but disappointed too at the same time – two or three points here would have meant an excellent start – now I should say it’s just OK.”