Champions League, Preliminaries, Day 5 – Summary
Recco is simply unstoppable
Just as it happened last year, the two groups follow different paths: in Group A the race couldn’t be any tighter while in Group B the three potential Final Six participants are ‘clearly visible’ already at the half-way mark.
Besides host Barceloneta, officials at four other clubs can start to arrange the respective teams’ travel to Barcelona, venue of the Final Six in May. Recco, the two Croats, Jug and Primorje and Hungary’s new star team Szolnok are all on their way to beautiful Catalonian city.
Recco (ITA) seems not only a sure bet to reach the last stage but it’s hard to see which rival can endanger their top spot in Group A. The Italians remained the only unbeaten side in the prelims after five rounds and enjoy a substantial 8-point lead ahead of the others. After a series of one-sided matches Recco faced its toughest test on Day 5 against fellow Italian side Brescia, but they managed to take revenge for their only loss of the season (it happened in the Italian league) and earned their 5th win in a hard-fought battle.
If we consider that five berths of the six are almost surely taken, one might say that the second half of the prelims will not be too exciting. But this is definitely not the case. The hunt for the single remaining spot in Group A promises fantastic fights for the spring: four teams run for that berth with almost equal chances. As of now Eger has a small step advantage but Radnicki (SRB) proved on Wednesday that even their weakened side was capable to catch any rival among the ‘hunters’. With a 5-1 rush in the third period the Serbs downed Eger and now they look for an away win to improve their chances.
Barceloneta, despite enjoying an automatic berth, play with full commitment and desire to prove their quality. Though the title-holders couldn’t win any of their first four matches, they were determined to show their real character and they did in Piraeus at the cost of Olympiakos. Barceloneta was 7-2 and 9-3 up during the game so it became an unexpectedly easy ride for them. After a fine start in the prelims the Greeks fell behind by now as they lost three straight games which might end their dreams of reaching the Final Six. However, the race is too tight to declare any side ousted at this point.
In Group B Spandau (GER) upset Partizan (SRB) again, just as in the last season when the Germans earned their lonely win against the Serbian team. And again, their Hungarian goalie, Laszlo Baksa did a tremendous job – and this time he and his team-mates put Partizan out of contest: the Serbs may bid farewell to go to Barcelona again (they finished 4th last May) since the gap between them and the leaders extended to 9 points.
Deciding the rankings among the top three will provide the biggest excitements in this group. On Day 5 Rijeka ended Jug’s unbeaten run in the all-Croatian derby. Primorje didn’t let their domestic arch-rivals enter the game, they led 8-3 at halftime and now top the group, though only by goal-difference.
Hungary’s current top side, Szolnok limited the usual show-time for eight minutes this time: after an embarrassing first half which saw Galatasaray (TUR) leading all the way, the hosts hit back with a 7-1 demolishing in the third period which was enough to secure their victory. We might see the top spot decided only on the very last day when Szolnok faces off Rijeka at the Adriatic See.
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. CN Barceloneta (ESP) 7-9
Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) vs. ZF Eger (HUN) 12-11
Pro Recco (ITA) vs. AN Brescia (ITA) 8-5
1. Recco 18, 2. Eger 7, 3. Radnicki 6, 4. Brescia 5, 5. Barceloneta 5, 6. Olympiacos 3
Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO) vs. Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 10-5
Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) vs. Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB) 8-6
Szolnoki Dózsa-Közgép (HUN) vs. Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR) 15-11
1. Primorje 12, 2. Szolnok 12, 3. Jug 12, 4. Partizan 3, 5. Galatasaray 3, 6. Spandau 3
Next round: 4 March