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Champions League

Champions League, Prelims, Day 7 – Preview

It’s getting crucial

Another series of ‘live-or-die’ matches are scheduled in Group A, while in Group B all three qualifying berths can be decided on Wednesday, but the race for the top spot is wide open.

Group A

18.00 Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) vs. AN Brescia (ITA)

A real thriller is expected in Serbia: the hosts stand with 6 points, Brescia has 5 – anyone winning this contest will stay in the hunt for the remaining Final Six berth while the loser will fell behind and almost surely miss the chance to see Barcelona.

Radnicki was quite formidable at home: after losing to Recco (ITA) in the opening round they managed to beat title-holder Barceloneta (ESP) 12-7 and upended Eger (HUN) 12-11. At their first meeting on day 4, in Brescia, the Italians earned a hard-fought win, Radnicki held tight until the middle of the fourth period, but the hosts managed to score twice after 7-6 while the Serbs remained goalless in the last 7 minutes of the game.

“This match is very important to qualify for the Final Six” Radnicki’s head coach Uros Stevanovic said before the event. “The loser has certainly no chance, while the winner reserves a theoretical chance to go to Barcelona. Brescia, after losing four games against Pro Recco, gained strength to fight against us and this will be a very demanding and gruelling match.”

Brescia’s head coach, Alessandro Bovo: “For us, the match in Kragujevac is a crucial one: it will be a very tough challenge but we have demonstrated we could be on even terms against each rival in the group. During the game we have to impose a great rhythm, paying attention to their centre, Vrlic and defending stronger and stronger.”

Brescia’s player Michael Bodegas added: “Just as the other matches in the Champions League, this will be a hard task but we have to gain three points to keep on fighting for the qualification. We have to give hundred per cent and try to play the same game we had in Brescia.”

19.00 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. ZF Eger (HUN)

Though the Greeks are seeded last and lost four consecutive matches (including a 10-9 loss at Eger), one cannot say they have no chance to go through. Even it seems a mission impossible, still, a win in this tough and really tight group, with three more rounds remaining, would mean a slight hope of survival for Olympiacos. A loss would surely put them out of contest so the hosts will play with the utmost determination.

Eger, in the meantime, sits in the second position and a win would mean another huge step forward. However, the Hungarians arrive to Athens after an embarrassing defeat in the domestic league, they lost in Szeged against the weakened home side, causing the biggest surprise in the recent rounds. On the contrary, Olympiacos is dominating in Greece, won all their 18 games so far, building an astonishing goal-difference (317-68), their latest casualty was Panionios, which they beat 28-3.

Ioannis Fountoulis, netting 6 goals in the weekend, is optimistic: “This is a very important game for us. We need to give our best to take this win in order to have chance to qualify in the Final Six. We are well prepared and I think we can win this game.”

Olympiacos’ coach, Theodoros Vlachos knows what is at stake: “This game is our last chance if we want to participate in the Final Six in Barcelona. We will try to push Eger and make their life difficult in the pool, in order to earn the three points which are really crucial for us.”

“Since Olympiacos did not get any points in their last two games, this might be their last opportunity to stay in the competition” Norbert Dabrowski, head coach of ZF-Eger said. “Considering that, I’m expecting them being highly motivated. Greek teams are always difficult opponents, a very tough game is ahead of us.”

Peter Biros, captain of ZF-Eger: “If everything goes according to plan on Wednesday, beating Olympiacos would bring the Final Six within our reach. However, Olympiacos is basically the Greek national team, so it’s going to be a huge game.”

“Our opponent plays in a very unpleasant way with lots of actions, drifts” Eger’s centre-forward, Krisztian Bedo said. “Greek water polo represents fierce, high quality game-style with great individual solutions. We can’t let them dominate during the match, otherwise it’s going to be even more difficult to stop their attacks. We have to win and we are just going to do that.”

20.30 Pro Recco (ITA) vs. CN Barceloneta (ESP)

Recco can have it officially secured what already seems inevitable: a win would earn them a berth in the Final Six. Enjoying an 8-point lead, the Italian giant will almost surely finish atop in the group, too – but they won’t sit back, for sure. The current task looks challenging: the title-holder Spanish side managed to recover from their sluggish start and after earning only two points in the first four games they beat Olympiacos twice and jumped to the third place in the group. However, a journey to Recco is anything but an easy ride. Recco thrashed the Spaniards 15-7 in Barcelona at the end of January – it’s going to be interesting to see if Barceloneta could come closer.

In the Recco camp no signs of easing up are ‘detected’. According to their coach, Igor Milanovic: “For us it is a very important game, to win and get three more points in order to finish first is crucial. I expect a very difficult match in all areas of the game, but we are Pro Recco and we must win. We have one more motivating factor: we play at home and we want to do well in front of our fans.”

„We have to give our best, our team is strong and we have to show all our values in the water” Recco’s star player Aleksandar Ivovic added. “Earning another three points would consolidate the first place in the standings, ahead of the Final Six.”

„We will face one of the best sides in Europe and although we are the title-holders, we know we are the underdogs, especially after that huge loss in Barcelona” Barceloneta’s head coach Chus Martin said. “It will be difficult to get the three points, but as always we will leave the pool giving hundred percent during the game. For the young players it is a great opportunity to show themselves and compete at the highest level against the best players in our sport.”

Goalkeeper and team captain Lopez Pinedo shares this view: “Just as our first clash, this match will also be very difficult for us, they form a great team, they are the only unbeaten team, playing at home and they have already beat us heavily in Barcelona. But our intention is to give our best and try to give more playing time to our young people from the bench.”

Classification:
1. Recco 18, 2. Eger 10, 3. Barceloneta 8, 4. Radnicki 6, 5. Brescia 5, 6. Olympiacos 4

Group B

18.50 Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO) vs. Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB)

A decisive game is in sight: Rijeka’s win would end Partizan’s quest to reach the Final Six again. For the Serbs, the writing is already on the wall as they are 6 points behind the Croats and lost to them in Belgrade on Day 4. That time Rijeka was dominant, beating the young Belgrade-based side 11-7 – and the Croatian champion is regarded the overwhelming favourite of this encounter as well. Though Rijeka suffered a surprising defeat three weeks ago in Dubrovnik, their home, the famous Kandtrida is a fearful place for any visiting club as Primorje barely loses a game there.

19.00 Szolnoki Dózsa-Közgép (HUN) vs. Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)

Finishing first in the group means an automatic berth in the semis in the Final Six – so there is a lot at stake in this encounter. The Hungarian-Serbian mix of the hosts are ready to rock as their only loss in the prelims came in Dubrovnik on Day 4, so they are eying a revenge (that time the Croats gained a 11-9 win).

Neither sides will line up with the best players: Szolnok is still missing their number one centre-forward Gabor Kis (fractured his finger a couple of weeks ago) while Jug arrives without two key-players, Andro Buslje and Paolo Obradovic. Still, the Croats are on the rise under the new coach Vjeko Kobescak, who made history in his very first game in the previous round by beating Rijeka for the first time in two years.

All in all, it will be terrific to watch the clash of the best attacking line (Szolnok scored 83 goals so far) and the second-best defence of the prelims (Jug conceded 41 goals, Recco got 38).

“We knew and by now have experienced that Dubrovnik is a very good team” Szolnok’s head coach Sandor Cseh said. “They have a couple of Olympic champions and excellent foreigners in their team. We were beaten in Dubrovnik by two goals and we want to take revenge for losing that encounter. The main goal is to win this match, that would definitely send us to the Final Six. The first position will probably be decided in Rijeka, still, our main aim is to win this game on Wednesday evening.”

Szolnok’s young centre-forward, Tamas Mezei echoed his coach’s words. “We lost in Dubrovnik, it was a very painful defeat for all of us. We want to win this game, so we are training hard for this event.”

“We are travelling to Hungary without two sick players, Buslje and Obradovic, but it doesn’t matter, we will try to do our best” Jug’s new boss Vjeko Kobescak said. “There is no time for extensive preparation. It is important to be smart and not being driven away by their rhythm. We would like to take the first place in our group, but let’s be honest, this game in Szolnok is not the key match of the Champions League. Even if we lose, we have our plan and our chances. All in all, it’s always nice to play with the Hungarians because they are always they play a good water polo, beautiful to watch. We will try to play strong in defence, and remain patient, responsible and relaxed in attack.”

19.00 Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) vs. Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR)

There is a good chance to have a higher attendance in Berlin this time, with plenty of nice girls gathering on the stands. If it happens, the Spandau players will surely be remembered as the ones opening a new chapter in promoting water polo. To generate further interest, the Germans got on the local train, S-Bahn in water polo outfit (caps, trunks and robes) and travelled around, gaining significant attention, especially amongst the females.

With firmer backing on the tribunes, and fresh from winning the German Cup against Hannover in a thrilling penalty shootout, they might take revenge on the Turks for their 11-8 defeat in Istanbul – though the Final Six is almost surely out of reach for these two.

Classification:
1. Jug 15, 2. Szolnok 15, 3. Rijeka 12, 4. Partizan 6, 5. Galatasaray 3, 6. Spandau 3

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