Group A: the heat is turned on
The race for the F8 berths seems to have narrowed to five teams in Group A and four plus one in Group B. While the group leaders, Olympiacos (GRE) and Recco (ITA) enjoy a safe lead respectively, the heat is turned on in Group A especially after another tie between Brescia (ITA) and Dynamo (RUS) and wins from Barceloneta (ESP) and Jug (CRO). The top four sides began to move away from the others in Group B, though here Jadran (MNE) has a slim chance, even after they were defeated by Szolnok (HUN) but the Montenegrin youngsters showed outstanding braveness in the title-holder’s home.
The big game of the day turned into a thriller once again after the previous game of Brescia and Dynamo ended in a 9-9 tie. The Russians took a fine start and jumped to a 1-3 lead but they faded in offense in the following 8:13 minutes while Brescia started to ‘operate’ and deep into the second the hosts went 4-3 up. Dynamo came back to life with two fine goals within 100 seconds but Valerio Rizzo managed to beat the buzzer in a rare 6 on 3 situation before the middle break (5-5). The Presciutti brothers stepped up in the third, especially Christian’s curved lob was amazing which gave a 7-6 lead for Brescia. Still, the Russians responded with two fine action goals to take back the lead before the final eight minutes. The crazy match continued with an Italian double in 29 seconds but after a missed 6 on 5 at both ends Dmitri Kholod could equalise again. More man-ups came in the finish, Brescia had three, Dynamo had one, but all had gone thus the sides reproduced their 9-9 draw from Moscow. Looking at the tightness of the race for the F8 berths perhaps neither of them were absolutely happy with this result.
After losing its first game of the season three weeks ago in Dubrovnik, Olympiacos got back on the winning track with a fine win in Hannover (GER). The Germans didn’t give it for free, they pressed their rivals for quite a while, were just 5-7 down late in the third but quality and experience favoured Olympiacos. Two fine goals from Ioannis Fountoulis, one late in the third and another one early in the fourth virtually decided the outcome at 5-9. The Greeks sailed away with a 7-12 triumph while Hannover’s chances to reach the Final Eight seemed to come to an end this evening.
The same applies to OSC (HUN) which lost another home game, this time to last season’s runner-up Jug (CRO). The Hungarians held on for long but Jug’s fine defence slowly started the make the difference. OSC had some hopes late in the third when they came back to 4-6, then their goalie stopped a penalty and early in the fourth the Magyars had a 6 on 5 for 5-6 but missed it. At the other goal Maro Jokovic put away the visitors’ man-up soon, securing a crucial victory for the Croats (4-7). This also meant that the hunt for the F8 berths was narrowed to a five-horse race as Hannover and OSC bowed out – with four spots being available we can expect sheer excitements in the remaining five rounds.
One of the contenders, 2014 winner Barceloneta collected the three points after gearing up in the second half. After the first they led 6-4 against the young Partizan (SRB) side but they switched gears and produced a 10-1 run in the next two periods (16-5). Thanks to the draw in Brescia this win rocketed the Spaniards to the second place in the group.
In Group B the top four moved forward, as it was expected so the gap between them and the other sides started to widen. Fifth placed Jadran (MNE) is trailing by five points to Szolnok (HUN) and Spandau (GER) – though for a while the young Montenegrins caused some serious headaches for the title-holders. Szolnok beat them badly in Herceg Novi (6-14) and with three connecting goals in 79 seconds the Hungarians rushed to a 6-3 lead by the end of the opening period. What came next was a kind of mirror of what the host side had been going through in recent weeks (which had brought a series of losses for them): they fell apart in the middle two periods, with 4:05 to go in the third Jadran even took the lead at 7-8. The Serbian Olympic champs saved the host side, though, Andrija Prlainovic and Milan Aleksic started to score again (they netted seven goals altogether in the match) while Jadran seemed to run out of gas for the finish. After 11-10, only the hosts could add a couple of goals in the last three minutes (13-10) and avoided another embarrassment.
Though Spandau is one of the most surprising sides in the current season, even the Germans were aware that their clash with Steaua would be anything but easy cruising. They barely beat them in Bucharest and now in Berlin they were 2-4 down at halftime. However, the hosts began rolling in the third, with three fast goals in 1:24 minutes they set the stage for an amazing 7-3 run in this quarter. Steaua pulled one back for 9-8 and had a 6 on 5 a bit later but missed it and a double from Lucas Gielen secured Spandau’s win (11-9).
Recco didn’t have too much headaches in Sabadell (ESP). The Italians staged a 0-4 run in the second period to build a comfortable lead which they maintained until the end of the third quarter. Soon it turned out that heroic efforts of the Spanish lasted for three periods only, and Recco was merciless in the final eight minutes, added six more goals to secure another big win (9-18).
Eger wasn’t as overwhelming in Alphen (NED) as other visiting teams in the past as the Dutch could keep up until 21 minutes. With 2:58 to go in the third they scored for 4-8 but the remaining part saw only six goals from the Hungarians thus the encounter ended in another rout (4-14). It was Eger’s third straight win which kept them in the second position.
Champions League, Day 9
Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 7-12
Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) v Partizan Belgrade (SRB) 16-5
AN Brescia (ITA) v Dynamo Moscow (RUS) 9-9
A Hid-OSC Budapest v Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 4-7
- Olympiacos 22, 2. Barceloneta 18, 2. Brescia 17, 4. Dynamo 16, 5. Jug 16, 6. OSC 7, 7. Hannover 6, 8. Partizan 0
Astralpool Sabadell (ESP) v Pro Recco (ITA) 9-18
Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN) v Jadran Carine Herceg Novi (MNE) 13-10
Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) v Steaua Bucharest (ROU) 11-9
AZC Alphen (NED) v ZF Eger (HUN) 4-14
1. Recco 24, 2. Eger 19, 3. Spandau 18, 4. Szolnok 18, 5. Jadran 13, 6. Steaua 9, 7. Sabadell 6, 8. Alphen 0