Only two games were played in Group B but those two offered great excitements as Jug managed to beat title-holder Recco while Hannover, despite missing six of its key players, bagged all three points in Bucharest after scoring the winner 17 seconds from time. Positive tests prevented OSC from fielding enough players at home against Spandau, while Crvena Zvezda could not make the trip to Marseille. According to the regulations, Spandau and Marseille took these matches with 10-0.
Group B: Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Pro Recco (ITA) 11-8, Steaua Bucharest (ROU) v Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) 9-10, CN Marseille (FRA) v Crvena Zvezda (SRB) 10-0, OSC Budapest (HUN) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) 0-10
Standings: 1. Recco 18, 2. Marseille 18, 3. Jug 15, 4. OSC 10, 5. Hannover 8, 6. Spandau 7, 7. Steaua 3, 8. Zvezda 3
Jug faced all kind of problems in December – but the Christmas break did good to the Croats while Recco failed to bring its ‘A-game’ to the pool in Dubrovnik and lost its first match in the season. Jug had a great run in the third period when they netted three connecting goals after 7-6 and the Italians couldn’t recover from the four-goal deficit. Indeed, they could score only eight while they averaged 16.1 goals in the previous six rounds. This could partly be thanked to Jug goalie Toni Popadic who delivered a series of outstanding saves in the third period and finished the match with 14 stops and a 63.6 saving percentage.
Normally, Hannover would have been considered the favourite in Bucharest, but the Germans had to leave six of their best players at home. However, their mix of juniors and the remaining veterans managed to edge out Steaua. The Germans played quite efficiently and even though the Romanians could level the score from time to time, even came back from 5-8 down, they could never take the lead. They had a possession after 9-9 but couldn’t capitalise it and Jon Winkelhorst put away a 6 on 5 with 0:17 to go.
These three points might be crucial in the race for the Final 8 as OSC could not field the minimum number of players in its home game against Spandau. The other German team also had problems, arrived with nine players but nine positive tests prevented the Hungarians from showing up for the match. Crvena Zvezda had Covid-related travel issues and at the end they were unable to make their trip to Marseille. According to the regulations, those teams which were ready to play, receive three points with a goal-difference of 10-0, which tightens up the ranks.
Jug v Recco 11-8
Based on the previous six rounds, nothing forecasted what actually happened in Dubrovnik. Recco was flying high, their closest games all saw six goals difference at least while Jug had ups and many downs, including home losses to Marseille and most recently to OSC. However, the Croats entered the match with a different mindset while as the game progressed it became obvious that Recco wasn’t as sharp as before.
The first period promised the expected scenario, the Italians offered their usual powerful start, after 1-0 they scored two in 46 seconds with a killed man-down in between, two minutes later Aaron Younger netted another man-up (Recco was 3/3 here) to take a 1-3 lead. Konstantinos Kakarakis pulled one back from the next possession and Recco had its first missed man-up shortly before the break.
Stylianos Argyropoulos opened the second period with a fine action goal, Gergo Zalanki replied with his trademark blast from the perimeter, but Loren Fatovic equalised again with a 6m shot. At this stage the game was amazing, Giacomo Canella put Recco ahead once more from a counter but Jug hit back with a double in 51 seconds to retake the lead at 6-5 while the goalies came up with some big saves in the last couple of minutes at both ends.
Goals didn’t come in the first four minutes of the third either, Recco couldn’t force its will onto the Croats who fought bravely and felt that the Italians were unable to hit their usual gear. When Argyropoulos finished a counter for 7-5, the hosts knew that they might have their day. Zalanki blew up another bomb soon, but Recco missed a man-up to go even while Alexandros Papanastasiou’s ball somehow found its way under Marco del Lungo’s arm. Another crucial series of events commenced when Toni Popadic stopped Benjamin Hallock’s centre-shot brilliantly while at other end Jug earned a penalty and Fatovic buried it, so it stood 9-6 instead of 8-7. Popadic was one fire, two more fantastic saves kept the three-goal gap and with 23 seconds before the last break it was expanded to four when Hrvoje Benic sent the ball home from a 6 on 5.
Recco was in deep trouble but after a 5:02 minutes long silence Aleksandar Ivovic converted a man-up and 1:27 later Hallock finally found the back of the net from action so the title-holders came close again at 10-8. But their momentum didn’t last long – with some luck, Jug managed to make their 6 on 5, Argyropoulos’ first shot was well saved but after the corner the Greek had a second try and this time he made it. It was 11-8 with 4:45 to go and Recco were unable to cause any more trouble – indeed they couldn’t score more and finished the game with 8 hits. This tells the story: in the previous six rounds their scoring average was 16.1 goals per game and the least they netted was 13 – this evening their shooting percentage dropped to 26.1%, though kudos for Toni Popadic who finished the match with 14 catches and a 63.6% saving percentage.
Steaua v Hannover 9-10
Aleksandar Radovic, Fynn Schutze, Ivan Nagaev, Ante Corusic, Petar Muslim, Marko Macan – add a goalie and you get a line-up many teams would welcome at any time around Europe. Hannover arrived at Bucharest without these six players as they were all tested positive – so for the Germans the trip was rather a game of Survivor. At the same time, Steaua’s hunger just grew after the Romanians had managed to catch Crvena Zvezda in the previous round – it seemed they had a great chance against Waspo’s veteran-junior mix.
However, the Germans’ experienced players executed their game-plan perfectly. Solid defending, no rush and wait for the chances – they just did everything they could in the given situation. As long as they had enough gas in the tank, their veterans did their utmost and built a 1-3 lead during the first period, the Romanians could score only once and even then the ball barely crossed the virtual goal-line. Hannover didn’t take risks so their offence slowed down a bit but the hosts couldn’t capitalise on the 4:40 minute-long silence of the Germans, they could put away a 6 on 4 but Matija Brguljan immediately reset the two-goal gap from a man-up. And towards the end of this period this was repeated: the other Brguljan brother, Darko finished a counter to reply to Francesco Iudan’s extraman goal for 3-5.
Hannover tried to conserve energy but this time the Romanians used a couple of opportunities to come back to 5-5 in less than a minute. Still, Julian Real hit back again, from the centre and soon the Brguljan Bros delivered two more while Steaua couldn’t find the right rhythm so it was 5-8. However, Hannover lost Matija Brguljan later in the third via an exclusion-penalty combo, the hosts pulled one back while the Germans were burning their last reserves.
It became visible in the fourth as the Romanians came back to even and there was still 5:29 on the clock. An easy put-away helped the Germans, Jon Winkelhorst earned a man-up and could convert the one-on-one from the centre for 8-9 but later they missed a crucial man-up and with 1:38 to go Vlad Gabriel Dragomirescu finally found the back of the net from the wing for 9-9. Winkelhorst had a shot from the centre, it was caught by the goalie, but the Romanians couldn’t create real danger and Moritz Schenkel made an easy save on their next shot. Hannover called for a time-out, then earned a man-up and Winkelhorst’s strangely bouncing shot hit the back of the net with 17 seconds remaining. Steaua had a last attempt but their final shot hit the crossbar and the Germans celebrated their win as if they had qualified for the Final Eight.