Two favourites barely survived the openers, Olympiacos and Brescia had to come from behind to save their respective matches to shootouts, but they bagged two points at the end as they won by penalties. Finalists in the last two editions, title-holder Recco and runner-up Novi Beograd kicked off their respective campaigns with easy wins at home.
Champions League, Group Stage – Round 1
Group A: Astralpool CN Sabadell (ESP) v AN Brescia (ITA) 5-5, pen: 4-5. VK Novi Beograd (SRB) v CSA Steaua Bucharest (ROU) 19-7.
Group B: Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 12-12, pen: 4-3. Pro Recco (ITA) v WPC Dinamo Tbilisi (GEO) 15-6
The highlighted match of the first round, between 2018 champion Olympiacos and 2016 winner Jug, kicked off the group stage and it set the bar high right away as the battle offered everything water polo and Champions League are admired for.
Jug stunned the Greeks in the first half, jumped to a 1-4 lead in eight minutes, then deep into the second period they scored three straight action goals to go 3-8 up. They still enjoyed a massive advantage at 4-9 early in the third, when Olympiacos caught the wave and after 6-10 they hit four in a row, three of those in 46 seconds after the Croats lost a couple of balls against the hosts’ aggressive defending.
When Ioannis Fontoulis netted his 5th of the game early in the fourth to put Olympiacos ahead for the first time at 11-10, Jug seemed to have fallen into a deep hole. Still, they managed to get out, two amazing shots brought them back to life, so Olympiacos had to equalise once more. They did it with 2:44 to go but missed their last 6 on 5, so according to the new regulations, the tied match was decided by a shootout. Fortunes were changing, three converted penalties were followed by three misses from the Croats and that cost them the win, Olympiacos managed to bag two precious points at the end.
The third champion in this group, Recco, winner of the last three editions, enjoyed an easy start against Dinamo. The Italians hit ten goals in the first half, and had a modest performance in the second with five goals only, still, it was a comfortable victory.
The other group had similar encounters. One ended in a shootout, the other in a big win. The first was an outstanding defensive battle between Sabadell and Brescia. The Italians pressed the home side, and outshot them 22-35 (on target: 14-20), but Eduardo Lorrio was tremendous in the hosts’ goal, posted 15 saves and an amazing 75% percentage. The Italian defence also worked well, held Sabadell on a single goal at halftime (1-2) and the favourites were still ahead before the last period at 2-3.
However, in the fourth Sabadell doubled the number of its goals in 25 seconds (after scoring two in the previous 27 minutes, and not scoring at all in the last 15), then added one more with 2:13 to go for 5-3. Brescia, missing all 9 man-ups until then, managed to save the game to a shootout, thanks to their new American signing – Max Irving converted a penalty, then finally a man-up, 53 seconds from time for 5-5. Ironically, in the shootout, the players were on a roll, but in the last round Petar Tesanovic stopped Fynn Schutze’s ball, and that decided the match.
At the same time, Novi Beograd didn’t have any problem against Steaua, the Serbs netted six goals right in the first period, led 11-4 at halftime, and turned the game into a rout in the fourth with a 5-0 rush. Nikola Jaksic stood out, and scored 6 from as many attempts – a good start, but their next match in Brescia will be anything but that easy.
Fixtures for Wednesday
18.30 FTC-Telekom (HUN) v Jadran Herceg Novi (MNE)
19.00 VK Jadran Split (CRO) v BVK Crvena Zvezda (SRB)
20.00 Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) v Spandau 04 Berlin (GER)
20.00 CN Marseille (FRA) v Vouliagmeni NC (GRE)