Can Eger make it for the first time?
Hungary awaits the last round with the biggest excitements: for Eger in Group A, the Final Six berth is at stake on Saturday while Szolnok will battle for the top spot in Rijeka (CRO) in Group B. Both sides need a point to achieve their respective goals – in case of Eger, a loss would open the gate in front of Olympiacos (GRE) to reach the final stage.
16.15 ZF Eger (HUN) vs. CN Atletic Barceloneta (ESP)
Eger awaits the last round with a three-point advantage ahead of Olympiacos and leads by two ahead of Barceloneta. A draw would secure their place in the Final Six, and also the second spot in the group (they had a 7-7 tie in Barcelona on the opening day…). A loss, paired with an Olympiacos win would end their quest for a historic first appearance in the finals.
Ever since the Hungarian champion lost its opening home game against Recco, they managed to win the following matches in Eger in the prelims, they are 3/3 so far. Eger had some ups and downs recently, they had a tough quarter-final and lost the first leg of their semis to OSC Budapest on Wednesday.
For Barceloneta, this encounter doesn’t count that much as they have a guaranteed berth in the Final Six (they are the hosts), however, the title-holders still have something to fight for: the third place would mean that they earned the right to play in the final on their own – the second place would even secure more comfort for them, avoiding a possible match-up against Recco in the semis. Two weeks ago they couldn’t bring their best to the pool in Brescia where they lost in a one-sided battle against the Italians. It’s has to be seen which form they will show: they lost badly three times in the prelims and won a great game in Piraeus.
Norbert Dabrowski, head coach of Eger
“We are in a very stressful and hard series of matches, but it doesn’t matter now. We know Barceloneta’s gamestyle, still, we will have to play our own style, tactics and play it very well. The whole season’s most important game is ahead of us and all of my players are aware of that.”
Peter Biros, captain of Eger
“We are in the middle of a big series of games, but we became professional athletes in order to be able to handle extra stress. Fateful matches like this are the ones that motivate us, not those where you can write the record of the game in advance. We are planning a huge celebration with our fans because we are going to be in the Final Six. Expressions like ‘if’, ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘we will see’ are deleted from our dictionaries right now.”
Branislav Mitrovic, goalkeeper of Eger:
“If somebody had told me before this season that we would have the chance to play in the Final Six by beating Barceloneta at our last qualifying game, I would have accepted it. But now, it annoys me because we could have qualified ourselves to the finals a lot sooner. We played a lot of games recently, we are even more tired than usual but we are aware of that we have the chance to open a new chapter in the club’s history. We had beaten every opponent from our group at home – except Recco – so we will make it happen against Barceloneta, too.”
Gergo Zalanki, player of Eger:
“We had lots of difficulties this year. Illnesses, injuries, bans. And when we finally had everything together, then we always chose the more difficult way instead of the easy one. We could have qualified ourselves to the Final Six by now. We have this opportunity right now and we are going to take it. This is going to be the match of our lives. We are on fire.”
Daniel Angyal, player of Eger:
“We are going to move into the finals as the 2nd team from this group, because this will count a lot in this competition later on.”
17.15 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) vs. AN Brescia (ITA)
Representatives of Olympiacos will keep an eye on LEN’s website where the live ticker will show the happenings in Eger. As the two matches are held parallel, the players have to focus on the games – and in an hour or so it’s going to turn out who will be the last one to join the field of the Final Six tournament. The Greeks’ faith is not in their hands: if Eger earns at least a point against Barceloneta, Olympiacos has no chance to go through. If the Hungarians fail, a win would send the Greeks to Barcelona as the results gained against each other with Eger (9-10, 8-6) favour Olympiacos. (The Greeks’ moral also got a boost as their women’s team won the Euro League crown last weekend.)
The hosts produced a 2/2 run at home so far, while Brescia couldn’t win a single away game. They had a tie in Barcelona but didn’t have any chance in the other three contests, losing by 3+ margins everywhere.
According to Brescia’s head coach, Sandro Bovo:
“For us the result doesn’t matter, but in any case we’ll do our best to respect this encounter. Olympiacos is a very good team, full of very good players, and we should seize the opportunity to have a very good practice: in the national league, we’re involved in the semifinals – against Acquachiara Naples – and we want to strengthen our condition.”
20.30 Pro Recco (ITA) vs. Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB)
Recco’s only job is to finish their great run in the prelims, producing a perfect score of 10/10 wins. In the meantime, the Serbs lost all their chances for Barcelona as they were defeated by Olympiacos in the previous round at home. The fine days were gone – last season Radnicki finished the prelims with a 10/10 record while Recco has to struggle to reach the Final Six. Though worth noting that Filip Filipovic played for Radnicki a year ago – now he is a key player in Recco’s march.
Radnicki’s head coach, Uros Stevanovic:
“We play against the best team in Europe and probably the future winner of Champions League. We give the best of us and we hope to show bigger resistance.”
1. Recco 27, 2. Eger 13, 3. Barceloneta 11, 4. Olympiacos 10, 5. Radnicki 9, 6. Brescia 5
17.00 Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) vs. Spandau 04 Berlin (GER)
Jug can even finish second in case Szolnok wins in Rijeka. The Croats can also prove that the struggle against the Germans in Berlin in the first round was just a one-time problem. On that day they needed a fantastic comeback in the fourth period – they had a 3-0 run in the last eight minutes –, perhaps this Saturday it will be a bit different. But don’t forget, Spandau never gives in, they forced group-leader Szolnok to give their best two weeks ago.
18.05 Primorje Erste Banka Rijeka (CRO) vs. Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)
These two have a special story: last season they met in the 3rd round of the playoffs, Rijeka then edged out the Hungarians with a single goal win after a tie in the first leg. This season both reached the prelims and Szolnok managed to beat the Croats in a tremendous battle on the opening day. Since then both lost to Jug in Dubrovnik but they won the rest of their matches. Now the picture is clear: if Rijeka wins it clinches the top spot – any other result would favour Szolnok (and if the Hungarians win, Rijeka can even slide back to the third place).
Last year the Varga brothers played for Rijeka – now they are shaping the engine of Szolnok: their return to the Adriatic coast adds a special flavour to this contest. The Croatian side was overwhelming on home soil, they won each their match with at least a 5-goal margin so far, while Szolnok netted at least 11 goals or more in each game with the exception of the two against Jug.
Sandor Cseh, head coach of Szolnok
“We are playing in the home of one of the best teams. Maybe historians don’t even remember when the Croatians lost in home pool. They have top players on their team, two quality players for almost every position. We must pay great attention to the start of the game and win the encounter.”
Tamas Mezei, centre-forward of Szolnok:
“We played a successful match against Ferencvaros in the play-off of the Hungarian championship. We strained every nerve to get ready for the game against Rijeka. We know it will be a difficult game since Primorje is a great team. We know their strengths and weaknesses. We must win this game and go to the Final Six as a group winner.”
20.00 Galatasaray Istanbul (SRB) vs. Partizan Raiffeisen Belgrade (SRB)
Partizan will not return to the Final Six this season (they finished 4th last year as they upset Pro Recco in the crossovers on the opening day) – and stats say that one of the main reason for this setback that they failed to win a single away game. They stand 0/4, so their main task is to prove they are capable of collecting the three points outside Belgrade. This won’t be easy, however, as Galatasaray almost caught Jug Dubrovnik and a win might even put the Turks to the 4th position.
1. Szolnok 24, 2. Primorje 21, 3. Jug 19, 4. Partizan 6, 5. Spandau 6, 6. Galatasaray 4