Champions League, Prelims, Day 2 – preview
Clash of the titans: Partizan (SRB) vs. Jug (CRO)
The opening day saw most of the games decided in the very last minutes if not seconds (if decided at all as two ended in a tie) – and the second day of action promises the same on Wednesday. The highlights of the day include the battle of the Hungarian and Italian champion (Eger vs. Recco) in Group A, while Group B will see one of the greatest rivalries if the Yugoslavian era reloaded when Partizan (SRB) and Jug (CRO) will clash in Belgrade.
17.00 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB)
Olympiacos had the better start as the Greeks managed to grab a point in Brescia (9-9), scoring twice in a span of 52 seconds for a late comeback. Radnicki, on the other hand, opened with a devastating loss to Recco at home (5-12), the Serbs were shut out for almost the entire second half. In this group, where only two spots available for the Final Six (Barceloneta holds a berth as the host of the event), two connecting defeats would put last season’s runner-up in a rather difficult situation. But the Serbs face another tough test as the Greeks are really strong at home – as it was mirrored by the words of Radnicki’s coach, Uros Stevanovic. “We respect Olympiacos. They are a strong team especially when they play in Athens. In fact, their side is almost equal with the Greek national team, strengthened with a Serbian defender Radjen and a left-handed Spanish player Mallarach. We have to bring the best of us to the pool and we’ll see whether this is enough.”
The Serbs’ goalie, Zdravko Radic said: “Olympiacos has a bunch of great players. With the new faces, Mylonakis and Radjen, they are one of the favourites for the third spot for the Final Six but we want to qualify for the final stage, too. We have our own weapons and we have to use them to get three points.“
19.00 ZF-Eger (HUN) vs. Pro Recco (ITA)
Recco got a flying start as they won the most one-sided encounter of the opening day, downing Radnicki 12-5 in Serbia. Eger earned a valuable point in the home of the title-holder, the Hungarian champion managed to equalise in the dying seconds against Barceloneta (7-7).
Last season Eger also clashed with Recco in its first home match (that time on Day 1), but the Italians, playing without their injured centre-forwards, gained a narrow 7-8 win with Aleksandar Ivovic netting three great goals in the crucial stages. Though only a year gone, now the two sides are led by new coaches, so it’s going to be a rather interesting clash.
Norbert Dabrowski, the coach of ZF-Eger expects even more from his players than in Barcelona: “One thing is certain: we have to play better than we did against Barceloneta. I still believe that our defense is working well, what worries me a bit is how we perform in attacks. And I feel this even though we came up with plenty of spectacular actions on Saturday against Ferencvaros when we scored 17 times in our league game. I am curious to see what we are capable of in our own pool, in front of our fans, against the very precise, amazingly strong team of Pro Recco.”
Branislav Mitrovic, the Serbian goalkeeper of ZF-Eger said: “We are in a quite difficult series of matches. We played against Barceloneta, then Szolnok, eight of us appeared in the World League games in the Hungarian, Serbian and Montenegrin national teams, and on Saturday we beat FTC. Freshness can be crucial. Pro Recco is the world’s best team with amazing Serbian water polo players and a coach who knows how to win the Champions League. It would be a huge step ahead if we could beat them, and that is what we are planning to do. Our side features big names too, and we are getting better together as a team day by day. I think Eger can be the jolly joker team of this year’s Champions League series.”
“Our days are difficult nowadays: we play one match right after the other and many of us had to perform in their national teams, too” said Balázs Erdélyi, who scored the equaliser in Barcelona 4 seconds before the end. “We’re working a lot, we even had practice on Sunday, despite the league game we had on Saturday. We are preparing ourselves against Recco, hoping that all these work we’ve done will not be in vain. When having a game here, at home, our goal is always victory, even if Pro Recco is the opponent. We are motivated enough, and aware of that our draw with Barceloneta will only worth something if we win on Wednesday.”
19.30 Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) vs. AN Brescia (ITA)
Both teams opened its Champions League campaign with a draw and their paths were a bit similar. The Spanish title-holders dropped points at home after Eger levelled the score with 4 seconds to go (7-7) while Brescia were two goals up against Olympiacos late in the fourth period but the Greeks hit back (9-9). Though Barceloneta has a secure birth in the Final Six as the hosts, their target is the same as in last season, to qualify on their own (which they achieved then). It’s going to be a huge clash, for sure.
“Second game in a row at home, we will see a great team like Brescia and a great coach” Barceloneta head coach Jesús Martin said. “I expect a very difficult game, they play very good in defence, they are tactically very disciplined, they’ve just won against Recco and become the leaders of the Italian League. The quarter-finals of the Final Six of last year was very competitive and difficult for us so we will need to make a very good game if we want to add our first three points.”
Team’s captain and goalie Dani López-Pinedo said: “We face Thursday’s game against Brescia as all games at this level: giving hundred percent in preparations to get the three points. Brescia is a competitive and very balanced team, even more than last year, with great players and that will make this one of the best games you can see in Europe. Hopefully we come out as winners.”
The Italians also hope for the best. “On the debut of Champions League both our team and Barceloneta drew, and both of us were caught up in the last seconds of the game” head coach Alessandro Bovo said. “So both teams will play to get back the lost points. They are the title-holders and they won the LEN Super Cup, too: it will be a very tough challenge for us. I think they are fully aware of their value but we are ready for the match. We have to pay attention to their speed, to their skill in counter-attacks; however, we go to Barcelona to get points and I want to see a firm determination from my team, we have to play strong.”
An additional taste for the game that Brescia has a Spanish player, Guillermo Molina, who is also ready for the big show: “I expect a great attendance with hot supporters: I think they are a little bit disappointed after the draw with Eger, so it’s going to be a tough match for us. Even if they’re already qualified to the Final Six, I’m sure they will give hundred percent. We have to concentrate on ourselves, we have to think only about the way we can play.”
19.00 Spandau 04 (GER) vs. Szolnoki Dózsa-Közgép (HUN)
Spandau was on the verge of causing the biggest upset of the opening round, they led by two against Jug Dubrovnik after three periods but the Croats came alive for the last period and with a 0-3 rush they turned the match in their favour. Now the Germans face an even higher mountain to climb as they clash with Szolnok which well can be labelled as the mix of the Hungarian and Serbian national teams, rulers of the international field. Szolnok is fresh from winning the Hungarian Cup and leads the domestic league with a clean sheet. Opening their Champions League march with a hard-fought win against Primorje Rijeka (CRO) gave them a huge push.
The Berliners’ task might be even harder as one of their key players, Moritz Oeler injured his ear recently and the medical team will announce shortly before the game whether he is cleared to play. Still, Mateo Cuk, Marko Stamm, Martin Famera all enjoyed great scoring form in the weekend against Cannstatt and the team expects some further miracles from their Hungarian goalie, Laszlo Baksa who knows the fellow Hungarians of Szolnok pretty well.
Captain Mirko Stamm had great hopes: “We pushed the favourite team, Jug to the edge of defeat in our first game and with same spirit we showed in that match we are going to give our best against the star team of the Szolnok as well. We are confident we are able to impress them with our power we usually have in our home games.”
The visitors are aware of Spandau’s abilities. “Every point has a great significance and away victories are even more appreciated” head coach Sándor Cseh said. “Our hosts will probably do their best in order to win this encounter. They have already proved against Dubrovnik that they could play superbly, they led by two goals but they messed up the last quarter. Still, in order to reach our goal we have to win in Berlin.”
Daniel Varga, Szolnok’s World and Olympic champion expects a really tough encounter: “The main frame of Spandau 04 is created by the players of the German national team and they have great Croatian and Serbian players as well. Moreover they have the great Laszlo Baksa, our Hungarian friend, who is their first goalkeeper. The head coach of Spandau 04 is the Montenegrin Petar Kovacevic so in their play they mix the German and Southern Slavish playing style. One thing is for sure: they will fight hard until the end and won’t give up. It’s going to be a hard test, especially playing away.”
20.00 Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR) vs. Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO)
After the postponement of their match in Belgrade, Galatasaray is to show their strength for the first time in the League. The Turks, featuring a handful of fine Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin players, caused a couple of surprises in the last season and they are ready to go for another one.
Rijeka, losing an enormous battle in Szolnok in November, has some problems to handle as Andelo Setka and Ivan Krapic are sidelined for this game. And, as head coach Ivan Asic admitted, the journey to Istanbul offers other excitements as well: “We have never played against Galatasaray, they are totally unknown team for us. Galatasaray is the team which has invested a lot in the last few years, so they deserve respect. We will face a strong opponent playing at home who will surely try to earn the points.“
20.00 Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB) vs. Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
With a couple of decades ago it was one of the most thrilling matches in the former Yugoslavia’s national league – now it’s probably the highlight of Day 2: whenever a top Serbian and Croatian side clash, it’s a mouthwatering encounter by any means.
Partizan players are yet to show themselves as their opening game was postponed – while Jug had to fight hard in Berlin to avoid an embarrassing defeat but with a brilliant closing eight minutes they saved the day and won 8-9.
In Dubrovnik they expect something extraordinary, again. “It will be difficult in Belgrade, especially for this is the first game of Partizan in the Champions League. They are young and insolent” head coach Miho Bobic said. “We have to be concentrated right from the beginning. I wouldn’t mind if the pool of Banjica are going to be full with their fans. Indeed, that’s why we train and play sports. I am convinced that the Jug players have enough experience to endure the pressure of such a match. I think that’s our advantage, because their young players are not used to play amid this kind of tension.”
Jug’s captain, Niksa Dobud was even more straightforward: “Any result than a victory would be a failure. They are good, but we know our quality. If we can stop (Dusan) Mandic we will make a good job. Our advantage is lying in the position of the centre-forward, but they form a highly mobile team and apply tactics like no other teams. After the experience in Berlin we have to be aware of how we start the match.”
All games can be followed on LEN’s new live scoring site, accessible through www.len.eu