FTC-Telekom staged a great comeback against group-winner Brescia, scoring five goals in the last period to keep the second place. Since Barceloneta and Novi Beograd also did its respective ‘home works’, the F8 host Serbs finished third and the Spaniards remained fourth and need to face title-holder Recco in the quarter-finals.
Group A (Wednesday)
FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v AN Brescia (ITA) 8-6, Jadran Split (CRO) v Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) 13-15, Radnicki Kragujevac (SRB) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 11-13, Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 14-13
Final rankings: 1. Brescia 30, 2. Ferencvaros 28, 3. Novi Beograd 27, 3. Barceloneta 27, 5. Olympiacos 20, 6. Radnicki 13, 7. Jadran 9, 8. Dinamo 6
Tie-breaking: Novi B v Barceloneta 11-9, 12-12
Final Eight, Quarter-finals: Brescia v Hannover, Ferencvaros v Jug, Novi Beograd v Marseille, Barceloneta v Recco (The schedule and starting times are to be published later)
Ferencvaros and Brescia produced hard-fought battles in the previous season, the Italians downed the Magyars twice in the prelims only to lose them in a spectacular match in the semis. This autumn they produced a thrilling draw on the opening day, and they came up with another memorable showdown in this last round.
Brescia, had won the group already, forced another big fight and kept the game under control till early in the fourth leading 3-5. However, the Magyars did a great job and managed to score five in the last period, Denes Varga’s 15m backhanded shot to the empty net in the last seconds was a coronation of this great encounter. (Daniil Merkulov scored the crucial goal after 6-6 with 13 seconds to go – just like he did in Barceloneta when his late shot earned a valuable point for his team.)
Barceloneta did a fine job in Split, though the level of the Spaniards’ defence dropped in the last one and a half periods and the Croats came back from to 13-14 after being four goals down but Barceloneta managed to net one more to bag all three points.
The last game of the prelims was the in-house derby of the Serbians – since they face each other in their domestic final, Radnicki was no way making the life of the Novi Beograd players any easier. Indeed, they kept their arch-rivals under pressure for four periods, had a penalty at 10-11 but missed it and Nikola Jaksic put away a man-up in the next possession for 10-12. That decided the game and secured Novi Beograd’s third place and a quarter-final against Marseille, an obviously more promising match up than facing title-holder Recco on the opening day of the Final Eight, even at their home.
In the fourth game Dinamo upset Olympiacos – the Greeks’ season ended in utter disappointment, instead of playing for the trophy, they claimed only one point in their last four matches.
FTC v Brescia 8-6
Brescia didn’t offer any free meal for the hosts even though the game didn’t matter for the Italians, rather for the Magyars who needed a win to secure the second place. However, the visitors wanted to bounce back from the shocking defeat in the first leg of the Italian semis (had lost to Trieste at home) so their approach was pretty serious throughout the match.
It was mirrored by their very tough and disciplined defensive efforts, the Magyars found really hard to find fine scoring chances, Petar Tesanovic stopped the forced shots with ease while his team-mates made most of their opportunities in front.
Boris Vapenski put away the first man-up after just 33 seconds, Denes Varga did the same at the other end two and a half minutes later. The hosts missed their next two extras and even though a save denied Brescia in its 6 on 5, Christian Presciutti managed to send the ball to the net while the excluded player rushed back.
The following period began the same way, Vincenzo Renzuto scored from action for 1-3 and even though the Italians couldn’t score more in the remaining 7:35 minutes, they did their best in the back to concede only one – Marton Vamos blasted one from the perimeter with 3:09 before the middle break but couldn’t go on aftar that.
A bit contrasting, Ferencvaros opened the scoring in the third, Szilard Jansik put the ball away from a man-up after 50 seconds for 3-3 but this time the hosts were unable to carry on and remained scoreless for 7:10 minutes. The Magyars didn’t have any clean shots on equal strength and struggled to convert man-ups, missed two in the previous period and four more in this one. Nicolas Constantin-Bicari finished off a man-up nicely a bit later for 3-4 – and the rest of the period was devoted to defensive greatness, both sides had some heroic efforts to kill man-downs one after the other.
The Magyars seemed to get in trouble early in the fourth when Stefano Luongo scored from action for 3-5 but for the first time they found some rhythm, Denes Varga offered another glimpse of his magical skills when he just let the ball fly from 7m and 45 seconds later Erik Molnar finished off a counter for
5-5. Still, Brescia had more, Constantin-Bicari sold another great wrist-shot against his former team mates to convert a man-up for 5-6 and the 2019 champions needed two goals in the remaining 2:24 minutes to reach safe waters (and avoid dropping to the fourth place and a QF match-up with Recco).
The first arrived from a penalty, hotly questioned by the Italians (it was called after a rebound in a man down) – Marton Vamos buried it with 1:24 to go for 6-6, but the draw was still not enough as it was hard to imagine that Barceloneta and Novi Beograd would not win their respective matches a bit later. Their defence worked well, a steal offered the Magyars another opportunity, they earned a man-up, called a time-out and Daniil Merkulov finally found the back of the net 13 seconds from time. The Russian had a bad day, missed all his previous six shots but when it really mattered, he made the most important one. Brescia set up a 7 on 6 with the goalie joining the attackers, but instead of passing around, a quick feed flew to Constantin-Bicari who tried a great one-timer, but the ball went wide, and after the restart there was enough time for Denes Varga to complete his team’s brilliant 5- goal resurrection in the last period with a spectacular 15m backhanded shot to the empty net.
The victory was the team’s contribution to the recovery process of their head coach Zsolt Varga who underwent a minor heart-surgery earlier in the morning and watched his players from the hospital.
Jadran v Barceloneta 13-15
In the race for the second place the Spaniards had the worst starting position as they sat in the fourth place, trailed by a point to Ferencvaros and the head-to-head favoured Novi Beograd in case of equal points. Still, they did their part of the job and then waited for the outcome of the Serbian derby in the evening.
The Croats had the better start and jumped to a 3-1 lead, but this was only a wake-up call for the Spaniards who scored four connecting goals in their last four possessions in this quarter, in 2:10 minutes for 3-5. They marched on, added two more in the second for 3-7 while Jadran’s offense became a mess during this phase. A man-up goal scored in the last second of the possession halted the Croats’ scoreless run after 7:45 minutes, still, after an exchange of goals Barceloneta led 5-8 at halftime.
The first four minutes of the third saw another 0-2 run by the favourites and they seemed to have it at 5- 10 but the hosts managed to climb back to minus three by the end of this quarter during some action packed moments (9-12).
Defending became a bit accidental, it was a bit surprising how significantly the Spaniards’ level dropped – they conceded five in the first half, but goals started flooding (end led to the substitution of their goalie) in the last one and half periods. Despite holding on for 10-14 with 5:38 to go, the match heated up as Jadran scored three connecting goals and there was still 3:18 minutes to play. The hosts had even a possession to equalise, but a steal denied them, and Alejandro Bustos netted a fine action goal for 13-15. Jadran wasted its last 6 on 5 – that was the last notable act in the remaining two minutes.
Radnicki v Novi Beograd 11-13
The F8 hosts played under pressure: they had to win this match in order to keep the third place and but that didn’t look easy as Radnicki proved a couple of times that its players could make any rivals life pretty hard – they came back from four goals down against Ferencvaros and forced a tie on Day 2, later beat Olympiacos in this pool and two weeks ago they also caused troubles for the Magyars before losing the match narrowly in Budapest.
They already showed some courage in the opening period here too, led 2-1, then came four goals in the last 69 seconds, two apiece, so it stood 4-3 after eight minutes. An action shot doubled Radnicki’s lead but their rivals caught a wave and scored three connecting goals to go ahead at 5-6. A last-grasp shot in a 6 on 5 levelled the score, though, thus the second half started from 6-6.
The team from the capital kicked off the third in commanding style, Dusan Mandic converted a penalty, then Angelos Vlachopoulos’ pinpoint shot put them 6-8 up. Radnicki wasn’t done, they defended well, and their leftie Aleksa Ukropina scored twice for 8-8. Dusko Pijetlovic broke NB’s silence after 5:40 minutes, Nikola Lukic equalised once more but Dusan Mandic’s blast gave the visitors a 9- 10 lead before the last break.
Soon it was 9-11, after a converted man-up, but Radnicki had three extras in a row then, missed the first one, buried the second, earned a penalty in the third but Marko Radulovic blasted the ball above the bar – while in the following possession Nikola Jaksic’s used his enormous size to put away a man-up from 1m with a defender in his neck for 10-12, when it could have been 11-11. It was still 3:19 minutes to play but however desperately the home players tried, they couldn’t score and with 1:24 on the clock Viktor Rasovic’s shot decided the game as the ball bounced in from the goalie’s head for 10-13. Radnicki pulled one back but couldn’t prevent the F8 host from winning this grand battle.
Dinamo v Olympiacos 14-13
With nothing at stake, the Greeks’ minds were somewhere else, not in Tbilisi. It became visible right at the beginning when the host side jumped to a 3-0 lead. Olympiacos came back to 4-4 by the beginning of the second, however, they couldn’t carry on their momentum and the Georgians felt this could be their day, pushed hard and rebuilt the three-goal gap by halftime (9-6).
Again, the Greeks came back in the third with a 0-3 run, but a penalty put Dinamo ahead again at 10-9 and since Olympiacos wasn’t able to add any more in this period, Dusan Vasic’s 6m shot doubled the hosts’ lead before the last break. The Greeks missed a crucial man-up early in the fourth and Jovan Saric converted a 6 on 4 for 12-9. One couldn’t say that the boys from Piraeus did not try, they took a season-high 41 shots, however, they lacked precision for most of the time. Still, they netted two in succession, then after another converted Georgian penalty they came back to even with a double in 54 seconds for 13-13, with 2:55 remaining. Soon they had a 6 on 5 to take the lead but a fine save denied them and Sandro Adeishvili’s brilliant goal from the centre decided the game 1:35 from time. The final result is in sharp contrast with the opening day when Olympiacos won 20-9 – back then they dreamed of winning the trophy thanks to their new signings but the dreams turned into a nightmare lately, indeed they bagged only a single point in their last four matches.