Four big wins marked the opening round in Group B, including the title-holder’s great start in Marseille. The German teams’ Balkan excursions ended in defeats: Jug Dubrovnik sank Hannover and Crvena Zvezda knocked off Spandau. OSC also did a clean job against Steaua.
CN Marseille (FRA) v Pro Recco (ITA) 7-13
Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) 13-7
OSC Budapest (HUN) v Steaua Bucharest (ROU) 14-8
Crvena Zvezda (SRB) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER) 12-9
The first half promised a huge battle in Marseille where the French did their utmost to hold Recco on even – the Italians could net only three goals and needed some luck for each of those. However, after 3- 3, the title-holders came up with a devastating third quarter, netted 6 and despite an early surge of the French in the fourth, they claimed a big win.
Jug dominated right from the beginning against Hannover, a 5-0 opening period left few questions open in that game. The other German side offered a much better performance in Belgrade, at least in the first half when they led 1-3 and the match still stood 5-5 at halftime. But the Serbs, scoring three goals from back-to-back possessions late in the second, were on the rise and kept their momentum in the third to stage a 4-0 hammering which decided the outcome.
Just like Zvezda, OSC was also fresh from successes in the qualifications, and the Hungarians opened their main round campaign with a fine win over Steaua, expanding the gap quarter by quarter to stop at six at the end (three of the four matches saw 6-goal differences).
Marseille v Recco 7-13 – For two periods, Recco lacked its usual edge in offence. In the first half none of their three goals came from clean scoring chances. The first was a deflected shot, the second arrived from a second attempt in a dying man-up and the third was the ’funniest’ when Marseille had the ball but a lazy backpass fell in the hand of Matteo Aicardi who thanked it and put it in the empty net to level the score once more at 3- 3. On contrary, Marseille was much more effective, netted some fine action goals and showed much better composure for sixteen minutes so they could hold on for an even score despite the number of total shots stood at 8-18.
The third brought a completely different scheme. Recco’s top shotmakers found the gunpowder and their precision. Aleksandar Ivovic kicked off the party, then came two blasts from newly added leftie Gergo Zalanki and in four minutes Recco was 3-6 up. Though the hosts could pull one back but still inside this period three more rockets were on target, leaving no chance for the French to the last period. At least this was supposed to happen, based on Recco’s 6-goal rush in the third – instead, they kind of froze back while Marseille netted three in a row and there was still 3:09 minutes to play. Before the heat would really turn on the Italians, Zalanki sent his 4th fireball to the net and in 37 seconds the other leftie Gonzago Echenique sent one more home to end the French hopes. Pietro Figlioli’s double add salt to the wound to extend the gap to 6 goals, though it was a much tougher match than the final scoreline shows. Still, after 3-3, a 4-10 second half followed which just demonstrated the title-holders’ capabilities.
Jug v Hannover 13-7 – Jug left few open questions after the first period when they stormed to a 5-0 lead. Everything ticked at the home side: they scored four action goals, Toni Popadic delivered a series of saves – three in mandown –, then came their first 6 on 5 and a great finish, water polo looked the easiest sport to play in Jug’s presentation. Hannover could get on the scoreboard after 9:37 minutes, they needed a penalty to break the ice. The Germans managed to force a balanced second quarter, only to crash in the third once more. Jug was flying high again, they launched deadly counters as they netted three in 1:52 minutes to go 10-2 up. It went the same way till 13-3 – then the Croats considered the job done, even though 6:39 were remaining. Toni Popadic left the pool soon with an outstanding 75.0% saving percentage (stopped 12 shots on 16 attempts) and his substitute could not carry on similarly – thus Hannover could make the end look a bit nicer by scoring four in the remaining time.
OSC v Steaua 14-8 – Though the Hungarians’ game had some ups and downs, there were more ups, at least much more than the Romanians had, to build a solid lead early on and then they kept the match under firm control. The game did not really offer any big drops at the playing level at either side, nor big rushes as the partial scores show: 4-2, 3-2, 4-2, 3-2. OSC was the better side throughout the game but could not dominate overwhelmingly. Early in the second, at 6-2 they might have had a shot to break Steaua but the visitors netted two action goals from back-to-back possessions forcing OSC to call a time-out. An action shot from Gergely Burian gave some calm for the hosts to the halftime break and a brilliant backhander from Vince Vigvari set back the four-goal difference at 8-4 in the third. From that point the Romanian players started running out of belief – and soon from gas. They showed some heroic defending on some occasions but that only prevented a bigger win for the hosts.
Zvezda v Spandau 12-9 – Based on the first half, few would have thought that the fourth was going to be a relatively peaceful period. Spandau did well at both ends of the pool while gaining a 1-3 lead deep into the second. They managed to keep the Serbs on a single goal for 12:19 minutes – but then conceded three from as many possessions in a span of 76 seconds. That marked the change of trends – and Zvezda remained on the rise in the third. As a sharp contrast, the Germans’ offence fell apart. For a while it was a battle, the first four and a half minutes saw only a man-up goal from the hosts but just like in the previous period, the finish belonged to the Red Stars of Belgrade. This time three more arrived in 2:10 minutes to shape a perfect 4-0 third quarter and that was fair enough to ensure a smooth last eight minutes. All in all, Zvezda had a 6-0 rush from 4-5 to 10-5 while shutting out Spandau for 9:50 minutes. That was the decisive phase and even though the Germans could cut the deficit to three at the end, the Serbs’ victory was never in danger.