Champions League, Day 5 – preview
All-Italian and all-Croatian games in the focus
It’s always interesting to see the clash of teams from the same country in European competitions. Day 5 provides double joy in that sense since the two Italian and the two Croatian clubs will face off each other respectively – and both games are crucial.
17.00 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. CN Barceloneta (ESP)
Last year Barceloneta had a fine run in the prelims, they clinched three wins and a draw in their first four games – then came their first defeats. On Day 5 and 6, against Olympiacos. That time it was a bit surprising as the Greeks managed to win after four straight losses. This year the landscape is different: the title-holder Spaniards are looking for their first win while Olympiacos started the season well but lost their last two games (in Recco and in Eger) and in this tough group only a home win against Barceloneta can push them back to the right track.
Their lead-up for this encounter couldn’t have been any better as they beat 3rd placed Panathinaikos 16-9 with Giannis Fountoulis netting 6 goals – he leads the domestic league’s top scorers’ list with 42 hits in 12 games.
“This is our second game at home, we want to take the three points” Olympiacos head-coach Theodoros Vlachos said. “It’s a very important game for us, Barceloneta was the Champions League winner in last year. We are expecting a very difficult match but we hope everything will work for us.”
The Greeks have a great Spanish player in their line-up, so it’s interesting to see Blai Mallarach’s comment: “I think Barceloneta hasn’t good results but they will come here to fight for the three points. It will be a tough game, but Greece is very difficult place to play because the atmosphere and feelings are different. I think that my team Olympiacos will have a good game and we will fight until the end.”
Barceloneta’s head coach Chus Martín is optimistic: “Olympiakos is a great team and highly disciplined in terms of tactics, which is going to make this game very tough for us. They have the same line-up as last year but have strengthened their side with the addition of two great players, Radjen and Milonakis. The Greek team suffered a defeat in their last game so they will be all out for a win in their home pool where their fans will make them feel stronger, more comfortable and supported. We have to do our best to bring home those three points.”
18.00 Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) vs. ZF Eger (HUN)
Radnicki showed the first signs of a possible comeback a month ago when they earned a great win against title-holder Barceloneta. However, in Brescia they were downed again on Day 4 so the situation is the same for them as it was after their first two defeats: this home game is a kind of very last chance to stay in the hunt for the Final Six berths. Radnicki was really strong in their home pool, they managed to beat the other Hungarian giant, Szolnok in the qualification and was victorious against Barceloneta, only Recco could outplay them in the opening round.
Visiting Eger enjoys the best spell in recent years, they had connecting wins in Brescia and against Olympiakos and in the big match of the domestic league they managed to clinch a 10-10 draw in Szolnok in a magnificent battle. Currently sitting in the second position, another win would boost the Hungarians’ chances to reach the Final Six for the very first time in their history.
Uroš Stevanović, head coach of Radnicki knows exactly that they have a mount to climb this time as well: “Eger is in very good shape. They beat Brescia in Italy then they won again Olympiacos in Eger and after that they drew against Szolnok in an away game. For sure they come to win and make one more step towards Barcelona. In the other side we also played well in last few weeks and also expect to continue with good performance in Kragujevac.”
“We know that Radnicki is strong, especially when playing at home” Norbert Dabowski, head coach of ZF-Eger said. “It was shown several times: only Recco could win there, both Szolnok and Barceloneta lost here. It is going to be very difficult, though I believe if we are able to play as good as we did in Brescia, we would have a chance to win.”
Captain Peter Biros thinks that fielding a couple of Serbian players will add extra flavour to the match: “Everybody is in good condition and we hope it is going to stay like this until the match, no injuries or illness will hit us. We need to win against a strong team as our goal is to be in the final in Barcelona. It is going to be a really tight game because of the Serbian players we have on our team.”
One of them is Branislav Mitrovic, who is also the goalie of the Serbian national team: “A bunch of skilled players led by a great coach: that is what describes Radnicki the best. It is always a challenge to win in Kragujevac, but we are going to try our best to do so. We are aware of that the Serbian club faces some difficulties nowadays, but I know the players very well and this will not influence their performance at all.”
Centre-forward Krisztian Bedo said: “Since everybody is healthy in the team, we were able to prepare together and so we could do a totally different type of work compared to what we did before. It means a lot that Péter Biros is on his top again; and to me it is especially important that my fellow centerforward, Balázs Hárai is also back after his shoulder surgery, he is healthy again and strong like he was before. A Hungarian–Serbian encounter is always really hard for us and I can tell you it is not going to be an easy game either.”
20.30 Pro Recco (ITA) vs. AN Brescia (ITA)
Recco can go for revenge in their home pool as their only loss in the entire season so far came against Brescia in the Italian league. Today Recco seems invincible in the prelims, they destroyed all their rivals with 5+ goal wins. Another one would cement their massive lead and pave their way to the Final Six.
“I think that will be a beautiful match, Brescia is a very strong team but I think that we can win because we’re playing very well in this period and we want continue the good road we had taken” Recco head coach Igor Milanovic considered.
Captain and goalie Stefano Tempesti said: “This match is very important for three reasons. The first: if we win this allows us to keep the first place in the group. The second: Brescia is a potential finalist in the Italian Cup. The third: they are potential finalists in the Italian league. And finally we should not forget our loss to Brescia in the regular season. We want revenge.”
Christian Napolitano, Brescia’s centre-forwards waits a tough test: “We are ready for Wednesday’s match, we’re aware of the unquestionable strength of Recco, a team full of champions. Obviously, it will be a very tough challenge, but we are calm and resolute and we’ll give 110 per cent to play our game and lead the dancing.”
Brescia’s head coach, Sandro Bovo added: “According to expectations Recco is the uncontested leader of the group, they stunned every opponent. The Ligurian team is on top level. We have to play fearlessly and with great desire, trying to do our best in every moment of the game.”
1. Recco 12, 2. Eger 7, 3. Brescia 5, 4. Olympiacos 4, 5. Radnicki 3, 6. Barceloneta 2
18.50 Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO) vs. Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
Jug stunned Szolnok in the last round but here is another tough test, if not tougher, a game against Rijeka, the top clash in Croatia by any means. A couple of years ago Jug was the foe of Primorje, they won all crucial matches – but this trend was halted in 2013, since then Rijeka rules the field. On Saturday it was clearly visible again as Rijeka earned a 12-8 win in Dubrovnik in the Regional League.
Still, it’s going to be a mouth-watering clash in the Champions League: last season they also were in the same group and their battle ended in a tie on both occasions (9-9 in Rijeka, 11-11 in Dubrovnik).
Since this group seems to be divided and the top three are on their way to the Final Six, this clash is crucial in determining the seedings – the top ranked side enjoys a bye in Barcelona which can be a real advantage during a three-day tournament.
Jug’s head coach Miho Bobic hopes this game will be different to the one they played on Saturday: “This is the Champions League and it is a totally different competition compared to the game we played on Saturday. In this game we can earn a lot, though Primorje is the outstanding favourite. We still have the problem to have less players in the rotation in the European matches because of the suspension of Niksa Dobud, but we have to deal with that and give our best. So far we did. Our goal is to leave a much better impression, primarily in the defence. In Rijeka, we have to be concentrated on specific tasks and if we adhere to the game plan and play as a team, we will have our chances.”
Jug’s player Nicolas Constantin Bicari shares his coach’s view. “We played against Primorje a few days ago in and we lost 12-8. The reason was that our defence wasn’t stable enough. We have to play more aggressively in man-downs, and I think if we play like this, we would have a chance to win. Primorje and Jug are two big teams, and we have to deliver we have to give 100 per cent in this battle if we want to get some good result.”
19.00 Szolnoki Dózsa-Közgép (HUN) vs. Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR)
Szolnok perhaps faces the easiest challenge so far – after wins against Primorje, Partizan and in Berlin. However, a loss in Dubrovnik and a draw at home against arch-rival Eger in the domestic league proved that they should fix some problems if they wish to travel the road they plan.
And Galatasaray, with a handful of Serbian and Montenegrin players in their line-up, also showed some strength recently, they almost caused an upset in Belgrade and finally earned their first win against Spandau a fortnight ago. Still, the Hungarian side – also featuring three fine Serbians – is huge favourite to win on Wednesday.
“We should not underrate the Galatasaray since they have eight southern Slavonic players in their team” Szolnok’s head coach Sandor Cseh said. “Since only two foreign players allowed to take part in their national championship games they are fresher and better conditioned in the Champions League matches. We have to pay attention to this fact, although by the end of the games they are usually getting tired which was the reason for losing three games earlier in the prelims. In the following three weeks we are playing against them twice and we cannot commit any mistake.”
Goalkeeper Attila Decker said: “We know it won’t be easy against Galatasaray but we must win. Our goal is to get into the Final Six and we would love to finish first in the group.”
19.00 Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) vs Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB)
Last season they met in the same rounds (Day 5 and 6) in reverse order, first in Belgrade then in Berlin. Their clash in the German capital ended in an upset: Spandau gained its first – and only – win in the prelims, beating Partizan 10-9. The game in Belgrade wasn’t an easy cruise for the Serbs either (7-5) so another tough battle is in sight again.
Spandau is looking for its first win in the prelims so far while Partizan couldn’t drop any more points if they wish to reserve a slight chance to keep up with the top three sides of the group. The Germans’ preparations were far from the ideal: several players had to battle with injuries and illness and few of them were even away in last week as the national team took part in a qualification tournament in Istanbul.
Nevertheless Spandau’s coach Kovacevic showed some optimism: “I expect my team performing well, showing fighting spirit and an absolute will, thus hoping for our first win against a strong opponent.”
1. Jug 12, 2. Szolnok 9, 3. Rijeka 9, 4. Partizan 3, 5. Galatasaray 3, 6. Spandau 0.