Water Polo Champions League Men: Novi Beograd sends Brescia to the brink of elimination

Credit: Jovo Karanovic

Brescia, semi-finalists in 2021 and 2022, are on the verge of an early exit after suffering a heavy defeat in Belgrade. Two-times runners-up Novi Beograd staged a powerful 8-0 run in the second half to book their spot in the quarters, meaning the Italians’ fate is no longer in their own hands. In the other group, the favourites delivered, as Recco secured the top spot and Olympiacos also marched to the best eight.

Group A: Astralpool Sabadell (ESP) v Steaua Bucharest (ROU) 13-6, Novi Beograd (SRB) v AN Brescia (ITA)13-5. Standings: 1. NBG 12, 2. Sabadell 10, 3. Brescia 8, 4. Steaua 0

Group B: Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) 16-8, Pro Recco (ITA) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)13-9. Standings: 1. Recco 15, 2. Olympiacos 11, 3. Jug 4, 4. Dinamo 0

In the most crucial match of the day, rather the round, Novi Beograd and Brescia staged a huge battle in Group A, though it wasn’t reminiscent of their thriller from the 2022 semi-final, played in the same pool, where the decision came only in the last seconds.

For a while on Wednesday night, this game threatened to be a similar even contest, but from the third period NBG put their foot down and took full control, while Brescia faded.

Defences dominated the opening period, as for more than seven minutes only a penalty shot from each side could do some damage, before Nikola Lukic’s missile from distance put the home side ahead 33 seconds before the first break.

Seven man-ups were missed in the first period (4-3), then this pattern slightly improved in the second.

Brescia were yet to score a ‘clean’ six on five goal, but they buried two second attempts twice, while Radomir Drasovic put one away ‘cleanly’ for the hosts.

This period ended in a similar vein, with another rocket by Lukic from the perimeter, so the Serbs retained a 4-3 lead at halftime.

The tide started changing in the third, after 5-5, when the Serbs managed to hit three unanswered goals that broke their rivals.

The Italians were unable to beat Lazar Dobozanov again in NBG’s goal, as the young goalie had an exceptional night, delivering a series of crucial stops (finishing the evening with 16/21, 76.2%, truly outstanding), and was instrumental to hold Brescia 0 for 12 on man-up.

On contrary, the hosts put away two six on fives early in the fourth and closed down the contest.

Brescia have rarely been shut out in such a way – they were unable to score in the last 13:43 minutes, while NBG enjoyed a magnificent 8-0 run after 5-5 to book their spot in the top eight.

At the same time, Brescia, semi-finalists in 2021 and 2022 are now on the brink of elimination.

Elsewhere in Group A, Sabadell did a professional job at home against bottom-ranked Steaua.

The Spaniards, who are very much in the race for a quarter-final berth, opened the match with a 5-0 run and that set the tone.

After scoring just a single goal in the entire first half, the Romanians netted three in the third, but Sabadell’s lead was never in any danger.

All the Spaniards need now is a win against Novi Beograd at home in the last round – a mammoth task, but they did beat the favourites in Belgrade (10-12) on day three.

In Group B, Olympiacos bagged three points with ease at home against Dinamo.

The Greeks had some early struggles, as the underdogs jumped to a surprise 0-2 lead, but they soon hit back and were 4-3 ahead at the end of the first period.

This led to the abrupt substitution of Marko Bijac after eight minutes, something that rarely happens to the classy Croatian goalie, but this also woke up his team-mates, who then staged a 6-1 rush to decide the game by halftime.

After another sluggish third quarter, won by Dinamo (1-2), the Greeks geared up once more and fired in five more goals to add a little more gloss to the scoreline and march into the quarter-finals.

Wednesday night’s other encounter in Group B – Recco at home against Jug – didn’t spring any surprises.

The Croats knew they were already eliminated following Olympiacos’ earlier victory, and they never looked like troubling the hosts’ perfect record.

Recco was always in charge, leading 5-3 after the first period, then 7-4 at halftime, and although the down-and-out visitors kept briefly in touch, the result was never in doubt.

As the Italians celebrated a fifth successive victory, left behind in the pool was the broken Jug, who miss out on the quarter-finals for the first time since 2014.  

Catch all the live action from the Champions League here: https://lenchampionsleague.eurovisionsports.tv/event/14/group-stage-2023-24

And keep up with all the results, including video replays of all the key moments, here: https://championsleague.len.eu/calendar/