Jug halts Olympiacos unbeaten run, Recco breaks 5 points clear
The last unbeaten team in the prelims Olympiacos (GRE) fell in Dubrovnik (CRO), so Group A cannot be any more balanced, especially after Dynamo’s (RUS) surprising home draw against struggling OSC (HUN). Recco (ITA) earned a five-point advantage with another win over Spandau (GER) and thanks to Eger’s second victory against title-holder Szolnok in the all-Hungarian clash. Jadran’s (MNE) chances suffered a big blow after the stunning away win of Sabadell (ESP).
Two weeks ago Olympiacos showed some brilliant defending while beating Jug in the rematch of the 2016 final. They held the Croats on six goals, four after three periods. As a sharp contrast, Jug netted four right in the first period and with a series of great hits from its lefties, Maro Jokovic and Javier Garcia (the two got five altogether), the host Croatians rushed to an 8-4 lead with 3:50 remaining from the third. However, Olympiacos showed why the team was regarded one of the favourites and early in the fourth they were back at 8-7. Soon they had chances to go even, also after 9-8, but missed all and Luka Lozina finished the match from a counter (10-8). This means that Olympiacos’ unbeaten run ended here while Jug managed to stay close to the other rivals.
It was a crucial win for the Croats as Barceloneta (ESP) and Brescia (ITA) both collected the three points as expected. The Spaniards enjoyed an easier cruise in Hannover (GER) which was somewhat surprising as they could clinch a last-grasp win over the Germans a fortnight ago. Now Hannover could keep up with the Spanish until 5-7, then two goals in 64 seconds secured a 5-9 lead for Barceloneta and three more in the third settled the outcome. The visitors scored 13, just as at home in Barcelona, but Hannover had five less this time (7).
Brescia went through some difficulties in Belgrade as the young Partizan (SRB) players fought really hard – while the Italians decided the previous match with a 7-0 rush in the first period now they barely took the lead by half-time (1-2). In the second half they managed to build a safe gap, but the Serbs didn’t give that match for free (3-8). Anyway, Brescia jumped to the second place, something perhaps not even the Italians dreamt of before the start of the season.
The changing of the head-coach had a positive effect on OSC: while the Hungarians suffered their fifth straight defeat as Dynamo beat them easily on Day 7, in Moscow the OSC players showed their strength and earned a well deserved point (despite arriving on the day of the match because of flight cancellations due to the heavy snowfalls). They could have won the game as they led 2-5 early in the third while shutting out the Russians for 10:47 minutes. But Dynamo hit back, soon they staged a 4-0 rush and this time OSC was forced to a 9:10 minute-long silence in front. The finish was thrilling, the Hungarians equalised with a bit lucky man-up goals twice, then managed to kill back-to-back man-downs in the last 90 seconds – their goalie, David Bisztritsanyi finished the match with 11 saves –, what’s more, they had a 6 on 5 in the last couple of seconds but the final shot didn’t win them the match. They trail now by six points which looks too much at this stage – for Dynamo this draw might be a smaller setback in the extremely tight race for the qualifying spots.
In Group B Eger did what no other teams could achieve in recent years: beat Szolnok in two consecutive matches. Last season their head-to-head showed a totally different landscape, Szolnok beat them 8 times in 9 occasions (for the last time in the semis in the Final Six), but the title-holder side seemed to have lost some gear during the winter break. It turned out to be the worst ever performance of Szolnok in the Champions League: despite their tremendous offensive potential they could score a single goal in three periods and finished the match with three – their lowest ever since their first appearance four years ago. Eger did some great job in defence but their opponents were visibly off their peak – though this does not diminish the victors’ merits, in fact, this 6-3 win lift them to the second position.
Szolnok could have sunk lower if Jadran had repeated its performance from two weeks ago. But the young Montenegrins were unable to excel this time despite playing at home. Sabadell, virtually out of the contest for the F8 berths, played a disciplined, patient game and punished the mistakes of Jadran and earned a bit surprising 7-8 win. That was great news for the other four greats as their most dangerous chaser lost three really valuable points.
Contrasting performances didn’t finish there: Steaua (ROU) claimed a big 11-goal win in Alphen (NED), at one stage they led 0-13. Now the start was similar (4-0) but the match took a totally different direction as the Dutch caught a wave, climbed back by halftime (5-4) and stayed close for the remaining part. With 4:50 to go, their hero Jacopo Mandolini scored his fourth for 9-8 but the remaining time didn’t bring more goals so the Romanians could celebrate their first home win which also kept their mathematical chances alive.
In the last encounter of the day the world-class players of Recco didn’t commit the same mistake they had done in Berlin. There they almost blew their fine win away after letting back Spandau into the game, the Germans even had a shot at a tie at the end (9-10). Now in Novara – where Recco played this match to promote the sport and the Final Eight, to be held in Genova on 6-8 June – the Italians built a four-goal cushion towards the end of the third (7-3), just like two weeks ago. Unlike in Germany, Recco rolled on in the fourth, the partial result was 4-1, in Berlin it was 3-0 to Spandau. Thus the home side is set to clinch the top spot in this group: they enjoy a five-point advantage and will entertain both their toughest rivals, the two Hungarian clubs at home in the remaining rounds.
Champions League, Day 8
Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 10-8
Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) 7-13
Partizan Belgrade (SRB) v AN Brescia (ITA) 3-8
Dynamo Moscow (RUS) v A Hid-OSC (HUN) 7-7
- Olympiacos 19, 2. Brescia 16, 3. Barceloneta 15, 4. Dynamo 15, 5. Jug 13, 6. OSC 7, 7. Hannover 6, 8. Partizan 0
Jadran Carine Herceg Novi (MNE) v Astralpool Sabadell (ESP) 7-8
ZF Eger (HUN) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN) 6-3
Pro Recco (ITA) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) 12-4
Steaua Bucharest (ROU) v AZC Alphen (NED) 9-8
1. Recco 21, 2. Eger 16, 3. Szolnok 15, 4. Spandau 15, 5. Jadran 13, 6. Steaua 9, 7. Sabadell 6, 8. Alphen 0