Four for one
Another series of thrilling battles in Group A: four teams are tussling for the remaining Final Six berth, but those in secure are also battling hard, so three magnificent battles are in sight. In Group B the top three ranked sides will all have away games and none of them can afford dropping points in the race for the top spot.
18.30 ZF Eger (HUN) vs. AN Brescia (ITA)
Eger stunned Brescia in the first round held in the new year: that 3-7 win was the first the Hungarian champions gained in an away game in two years. That gave a huge boost for Eger, they still held their second position while Brescia could add only three points to its tally since that home defeat. In fact, the Italians lost their last three matches (though two of them happened against Recco) and with three rounds to go this is their very last chance to keep their slim hopes alive. They are ranked bottom now and only a win can help them.
As the head coach of Eger, Norbert Dabrowski put it two weeks ago when they lost to Olympiacos in Piraeus: that defeat didn’t knock them out of contest but in the following the round the knife would be on their neck. So they start the game feeling the cold touch of that knife – as they know: in order to be part of the show in the Final Six, they must win their last two home matches, as their visit in Recco in the following round doesn’t promise any income.
Norbert Dabrowski, head coach of Eger
“Unfortunately, we have to play under pressure now and can’t make any mistakes, we have to win. Losing in Greece made our task more difficult, but we are determined and want to win on Wednesday evening.”
Peter Biros, captain of Eger
“We are going to prove that our defeat in Greece was just a slip. We did play badly only for a quarter, but at this level it is something we can’t afford. For now, our eyes are on the next goal, we learnt the lesson and are going to win.”
Balazs Harai, centre-forward of Eger
“We are really ready for this as we want to be there in Barcelona. This is our last chance, only victory is in our minds.”
Krisztian Bedo, centre-forward of Eger
“We have to get back what we lost against the Greeks. We should have won there too, but we won’t disappoint anybody now. We are going to win and play in the final six in Barcelona!”
Sandro Bovo, head coach of Brescia
“For us, the path to the Final Six is quite hard but, in Eger, we’ll do our best to gain three points and to give signs of our real value. Back at home we’ve played our worst game of the season against the Hungarians: this time we have to set up the match with a strong rhythm, taking advantage of our speed and trying to be more positive than we got in Brescia.”
19.00 CN Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) vs. Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB)
After two defeats in rather one-sided games (against Recco and Olympiacos) on the first two days, Radnicki seemed the weak team of the group which would be no match for the big boys. However, despite losing several key-players, the Serbs started to send strong messages, the first of them was a win against title-holder Barceloneta. It was a big win as these two sides clashed in the Champions League final in last May when Barceloneta won the title (even though the line-ups were different in January).
The Serbs added two more victories, all at home, and in this tight race 9 points are a promising base before the last three rounds. Still, Radnicki needs points from the away games but they stand with 0/3 so far. Since their last encounter is due against Pro Recco, the clash against the Spaniards offer a better chance. But one cannot forget that after a sluggish start Barceloneta began to gain ground as well, and their target hasn’t changed: to qualify on their own right, not just as the host team.
Chus Martin, head coach of Barceloneta
“We play against a great team which is struggling to qualify for the Final and this makes them very dangerous. We want to show that our first game against them didn’t show our real potential, we intend to play a great game and earn the 3 points in our last home appearance.”
Uros Stevanovic, head coach of Radnicki:
“Barceloneta is the Champions League winner from last year. They are in good shape after two wins against Olympiacos and they want to finish second in the group. It’s always difficult to play in Barcelona against them but we try to win and keep chances to go to the Final Six.”
20.45 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. Pro Recco (ITA)
As usual, Olympiacos tuned in with huge wins in their domestic games, a 23-4 routing of Kalamaki in the league and a 19-2 win against Chios to reach the Final Four in the cup. However, to reach the Final Six in the Champions League they have to fight really hard and now would need a kind of miracle against Recco. The Italians were overwhelming so far, only Brescia could force them to tight battles, all others were beaten by several goals. Olympiacos lost 17-12 in January – perhaps their task is easier now after Recco secured not only their qualification but the top spot in the group, too.
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach of Olympiacos:
“This is a very difficult game against Pro Recco. They are undefeated in the Champions League so far. In my opinion they have the best team at the moment, but we have to fight for our chances to qualify in the Final Six.”
Christodoulos Kolomvos, centre-forward of Olympiacos:
“In our home we are afraid of no one! We have a deep respect for Pro Recco, but in order to keep our chances to reach the Final Six, we have to try to obtain a good result against them. It will be a very tough game and we have to concentrate on our tactics with hundred per cent in order to gain something.”
1. Recco 21, 2. Eger 10, 3. Radnicki 9, 4. Barceloneta 8, 5. Olympiacos 7, 6. Brescia 5
18.00 Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB) vs. Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)
Partizan did a great job in January, withstood the hosts’ pressure for long but finally the Hungarians managed to break the young Serbs. In fact, Szolnok’s three Serbian players were among the protagonists who destroyed the visitors’ defence – all of them played for Partizan in the past.
This match might offer some excitement as well, even though there is not much at stake: Partizan is already out of the contest while Szolnok secured its place in the Final Six. However, the Hungarians cannot afford to lose any points if they wish to keep their first position – while the Serbs never enter a game without a strong desire for win and that should result an interesting clash.
Sandor Cseh, head coach of Szolnok:
“In order to keep our first place in our group we must win this encounter against Partizan. It won’t be easy since Partizan is a good, well-organised team. They have many young players who can fight really hard. Our opponents, Dubrovnik and Rijeka, both went through some hard times in Belgrade as Partizan’s fans can create a really great atmosphere. Still, our team is a better side which we can hopefully prove on Wednesday evening as well.”
Attila Decker, goalkeeper of Szolnok
“We studied the play of Partizan. We cannot commit any mistake in our play and must win this encounter. We are kept the better team, which we can hopefully prove.”
19.00 Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) vs. Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO)
Mathematically Spandau has a slight chance to catch the Croatian teams but they would need three huge wins against them and group leader Szolnok on the last three days – if it happens it would be surely labelled as the 8th wonder of the world.
Still, the Germans are eager to stage a worthy farewell in their last home game – while Rijeka is in the same boat with Szolnok and Jug: they cannot drop any points to reserve a chance to finish first in the group and qualify directly to the semis of the Final Six. They are fresh from winning the Regional League, defeating Jug Dubrovnik in the final, a fine boost before travelling to Berlin.
Peter Rohle, Manager of Spandau
“I hope we do much better this time than we did in Rijeka. We wish to make at least a good impression in our last international home game of this season.”
Ivan Asic, head coach of Primorje
“In this moment, the result is not crucial for us because we have already qualified for the Final Six. We have a very important weekend behind us, we won the Regional League, the second trophy of this season. We have to regenerate ourselves for the next stop since Spandau is an excellently prepared team physically so we couldn’t let them play their game. We are still in the race to gain the first place in group, so it is up to us to try that.”
20.00 Galatasaray Istanbul (TUR) vs. Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO)
Jug faces a tricky journey to Istanbul: the Croats have all chance to win this battle, however, the foreign mix of Galata (with a handful of Serbians and Montenegrins) can become a dangerous opponent if Jug cannot give their best. The visitors can still clinch the first place – though need some luck – so they have to produce something similar they did on Day 3 when they beat the Turks 11-5 in Dubrovnik, leading 6-1 after two periods.
1. Szolnok 18, 2. Jug 15, 3. Rijeka 15, 4. Partizan 6, 5. Spandau 6, 6. Galatasaray 3