Preliminary stage matches of LEN Women’s Euro League were played on January 19-21 in Piraeus, Catania, Budapest, and Barcelona. Top two water polo teams in each group advanced to the quarterfinals, and seven of them are the same as last year. In comparison to the 2017 quarterfinals, only Ugra is missing, while now Ekipe Orizzonte from Catania joined the top 8. Orizzonte holds the record of 8 titles (1994, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008).
Eventually, all group winners won 9 points, while teams which were ranked 2nd collected 6 points. However, not all games were played without suspense.
Persistent Olympiacos earns top spot in Group E, followed by Padova
The 2017 runner-up won all three matches, but Olympiacos ladies were not always very convincing.
On Day 1, Olympiacos faced Padova and this was actually the match which determined the group winner. Padova gave an excellent performance, and the fourth quarter was crucial for Olympiacos.
The first period saw both water polo teams score one after another. Padova equalized immediately after Olympiacos took the lead on three occasions. Then the tables turned, and Padova took over the lead, but the Greek squad responded appropriately, so the result was tied after eight minutes of play (3:3). All three goals of Olympiacos were netted by Alexandra Asimaki who ended up being the game’s top scorer with the hat trick. The situation was similar in the second quarter when the teams scored only one goal each (5:5). Padova had an excellent chance for a minimum advantage at the beginning of the quarter, but Elisa Queirolo missed a penalty.
The equal battle continued in the second half. Padova managed to tie the result twice, but Olympiacos scored for the third time in this period just 25 seconds before the end and entered the final quarter with a minimum advantage (7:6). Padova was helpless in the fourth period and it seemed as if its water polo players were too tired to respond. Olympiacos increased its advantage to two at the very start of the quarter and saved the lead keeping its defense on point. Giulia Enrica Emmolo netted her second in the middle of the period and sealed the victory (10:7).
Olympiacos struggled against Uralochka as well. After the first half finished with a tie (7:7), last year’s runner-up stepped up its game and played an exceptional second half when they scored 11 goals. Uralochka continued to keep parity in the third period and took the lead on four occasions, but Olympiacos equalized every time. Finally, Asimaki scored twice in the last minute and her team had a two-goal lead before the last eight minutes of the game (13:11). Olympiacos went ahead 15:11 in the fourth quarter and Uralochka was unable to make a comeback.
Uralochka was Padova’s obstacle on the way to the quarterfinals. These two water polo teams faced each other on Day 3, and that encounter determined the second quarterfinalist, as they both had 3 points before this game. The first half was completely tied, and so was the result. The 2017 LEN Trophy finalist was slightly better in the second half, and they especially dominated the third quarter. Queirolo emerged as the top scorer with 4 goals. Uralochka was very motivated after failed to seize the victory over Olympiacos. Maria Bersneva scored the opener, and Ekaterina Zelentsova increased Uralochka’s lead to two. However, Padova fought back and responded appropriately. Sara Dario and Gurpreet Kaur Sohi each found the net once, and the first period ended in a draw (2:2). After two minutes of play in the next quarter, Padova finally took the lead for the first time in the match and managed to preserve it until the last minute before the break. However, Elizaveta Zaplatina netted a goal 20 seconds before the halftime (3:3).
In the second half, Padova water polo players were completely in control and started scoring immediately. They scored four in a row, two of which were netted by Queirolo, while Sohi and Laura Barzon each netted one. Thanks to this excellent offensive, Padova went ahead 7:3. However, Bersnova brought down the deficit to three before the last period (7:4). Padova continued with a powerful play and had a five-goal advantage after two consecutive goals (9:4). There was no doubt about the winner, and Uralochka had no chance of jeopardizing Padova’s win. Uralochka managed to defeat only Messina (21:5), and it was not enough for proceeding to the quarterfinals.
Group E Results
Olympiacos 10:7 Padova
(4:4, 1:1, 3:2, 2:0)
Uralochka 21:5 Messina
(4:0, 2:2, 6:1, 9:2)
Olympiacos 18:13 Uralochka
(3:4, 4:3, 6:4, 5:2)
Messina 2:19 Padova
(0:8, 1:6, 1:2, 0:3)
Olympiacos 17:3 Messina
(6:1, 6:0, 2:1, 3:1)
Padova 9:5 Uralochka
(2:2, 1:1, 4:1, 2:1)
Group E Standings: 1. Olympiacos – 9 points, 2. Padova – 6, 3. Uralochka – 3, 4. Messina – 0
Brilliant Orizzonte wins Group F, Mataro finishes 2nd
The 2017 Final Four participant managed to advance to the quarterfinals thanks to beating Ugra on Day 1, as it turned out that this face-off directly determined the runner-up in Group F. Mataro water polo players did not wake up until the second half of the match, so Ugra was able to keep parity in the first half. After two minutes without goals, Anastasia Khokholova netted the opener, and Anna Timofeeva increased Ugra’s lead to two almost five minutes later. Mataro failed to score until the last moments of the first period when Claudia Abad Garcia found the net, but Liubov Isakova brought a two-goal lead to Ugra 10 seconds before the end of the quarter (1:3). Mataro was still unable to come back. Brilliant Helena Lloret Gomez brought down the deficit to one and also equalized quickly (3:3), but Ugra went on a break with a two-goal advantage thanks to Olga Koryakina and Krystina Alogbo (3:5).
Mataro finally managed to take over the lead in the third quarter when Marta Bach Pascual found the net one minute before the end. Ladies from the Spanish squad, at last, broke down the strong defense of Ugra which kind of started relaxing in the final moments of the third quarter, so Ciara Gibson Byrne brought a two-goal lead to Mataro 6 seconds before the final period (7:5). Mataro water polo team obviously found the solution for beating Ugra and resisted until the very end. Ugra managed to get down by one in the middle of the quarter, but failed to seize the opportunity and scored no more goals until the end.
Crucial for determining the group winner was the match between Mataro and Orizzonte on Day 2 when the Spanish squad seemed hopeless. They scored only three goals, one in the each of the first three quarters. On the other side, Orizzonte water polo players were very confident and gradually increased their lead during the entire game.
After two days of competition, only Orizzonte had 6 points, while Ugra and Mataro both won only one game. Therefore, Day 3 was crucial for them as they needed to win in order to enter the top 8 teams. Ugra had a tough game against Orizzonte ahead of them, so Mataro was a slight favorite for the 2nd place in Group F as it faced Lille water polo team which previously suffered two losses.
It was an equal battle between Mataro and Lille in the first quarter (3:3). The squad from Spain only took the first lead at the beginning of the match, but then Lille responded and Mataro was at no moment in the lead until the second quarter. Then Laura Vicente Zuniga found the net and Mataro went ahead 4:3. Spanish squad managed to preserve the lead until the break, even though Lille was down by one on two occasions. Mataro had a minimum advantage at halftime (5:6).
Lille got off to a better start in the second half, and Emily Loughlin netted an equalizer (6:6). However, Mataro stroke back and scored three consecutive goals. Lille was completely overpowered and their defense seemed helpless, being down by three before the final period (6:9). Mataro continued to play confident and increased its lead to five at the beginning of the last quarter (6:11). Lille woke up, but it was too late, and they managed to bring down the deficit to two until the end of the game (9:11).
Group F Results
Orizzonte 15:4 Lille
(1:2, 4:2, 5:0, 5:0)
Mataro 10:7 Ugra
(1:3, 2:2, 4:0, 3:2)
Mataro 3:8 Orizzonte
(1:3, 1:4, 1:1, 0:0)
Ugra 12:7 Lille
(3:1, 5:2, 1:3, 3:1)
Lille 9:11 Mataro
(3:3, 2:3, 1:3, 3:2)
Orizzonte 17:9 Ugra
(4:1, 6:3, 4:3, 3:2)
Group F Standings: 1. Orizzonte – 9, 2. Mataro – 6, Ugra – 3, 4. Lille – 0
Nearly impeccable UVSE dominates Group G, 2nd place goes to Kirishi
UVSE recorded a nice 12:8 win against Vouliagmeni on Day 1. This was an interesting match in which Vouliagmeni failed to surrender until the very last minutes. UVSE was led by Margaret Ann Steffens and Rita Keszthelyi who each scored four goals. Vouliagmeni took the first lead, thanks to Eleni Xenaki, but UVSE took over the lead and finished the first period with a two-goal advantage (3:1). Vouliagmeni managed to bring down the deficit to two in the second (5:3) and the third quarter, but UVSE entered the last eight minutes of the game with a three-goal lead (9:6). Vouliagmeni water polo players fought back, they came down by two again but were unable to surmount UVSE’s strong defense. Steffens sealed the victory with 50 seconds left on the clock.
Kirishi failed to win the top spot in Group G after suffering a tough loss to UVSE (11:5). Outstanding Keszthelyi was the game’s top scorer with 6 goals. Kirishi only kept parity at the start of the match when it responded to UVSE’s first goal and tied the result. UVSE dominated the entire game and even reached an eight-goal advantage in the last quarter, but Kirishi eventually brought it down to six.
Vouliagmeni and Kirishi each had 3 points before Day 3, so they were both very motivated to triumph in their face-off. The first half saw an equal battle. Vouliagmeni took the first lead thanks to Vasiliki Diamantopoulou, who turned out to be the only scorer for her team in the first period. After Kirishi’s Evgenia Soboleva netted an equalizer, Diamantopoulou found the net two more times and brought Vouliagmeni a two-goal advantage. However, Anastasia Simanovich and Daria Ryzhkova saved Kirishi from falling behind its rival after eight minutes (3:3). Vouliagmeni did slightly better in the next quarter so it went on a break with a minimum advantage (5:4).
In the second half, powerful Kirishi gradually filled the opponent’s net. Vouliagmeni resisted, cut the deficit to one on two occasions. Kirishi’s supremacy in this period determined the winner after all, as both teams netted one goal each in the final quarter. Kirishi went ahead 11:8 with two minutes left on the clock, whereas Vouliagmeni was unable to respond.
Group G Results
UVSE 12:8 Vouliagmeni
(3:1, 2:2, 4:3, 3:2)
Kirishi 16:8 BVSC
(3:2, 5:2, 4:3, 4:1)
UVSE 11:5 Kirishi
(3:1, 4:1, 2:0, 2:3)
Vouliagmeni 11:8 BVSC
(4:1, 3:1, 2:4, 2:2)
Vouliagmeni 9:11 Kirishi
(3:3, 2:1, 3:6, 1:1)
UVSE 10:8 BVSC
(3:2, 2:1, 2:3, 3:2)
Group G Standings: 1. UVSE – 9, 2. Kirishi – 6, Vouliagmeni – 3, 4. BVSC – 0
Powerful Sabadell tops Group H, Dunaujvaros runner-up
The match which eventually determined who would take the first spot in Group H was the encounter between Sabadell and Dunaujvaros on Day 1. Four players recorded hat tricks in this game – Sabadell’s Beatris Ortiz Munoz, Maica Garcia Godoy, and Kiley Susan Neushul, as well as Dunaujvaros’ Greta Gurisatti. Sabadell was struggling in the first quarter but managed to establish control over the game in the first quarter. However, Dunaujvaros kept parity during the entire first half. Gurisatti netted the opener, after which Neushul tied the result. After Gurisatti’s second goal, Olga Domenech Morales equalized and Ortiz Munoz seized the opportunity when her team had an extra player and brought Sabadell their first lead (3:2). Neushul increased it to two, but Dunaujvaros cut it to one before the end of the first period (4:3) demonstrating that they won’t surrender.
Sabadell’s defense was on point for the first two minutes of the second quarter, but Gurisatti found the net again (4:4). After another tie, the 2017 bronze medalist netted three consecutive goals which were crucial for beating Dunaujvaros. Sabadell went on a break with a two-goal advantage (8:6). Their defense was on point in the second half. They kept the two-goal lead until the last moments of the third quarter when Ortiz Munoz increased it to three (10:7). First three minutes of the final period saw no goals, but then Sabadell went ahead 11:7 and preserved the lead until the end. Dunaujvaros was unable to prevail and score until the last minutes of the game. It was not until the 93 seconds before the end that Dunaujvaros found the net, but it was too late.
Dunaujvaros defeated Sant Andreu on Day 2 (8:15), and this victory was crucial for their advancement to quarterfinals, as they both had 3 points before this game because Sant Andreu overpowered Utrecht (13:5). Sant Andreu had a 3:2 lead after first eight minutes of the game. Gurisatti gave Dunaujvaros their first lead, but Sant Andreu took over the lead thanks to Silvia Morell Espinagosa and Paula Crespi Barriga. Krisztina Garda netted an equalizer, but Danijela Jackovich gave Sant Andreu the minimum advantage (3:2). The second quarter was crucial because that was when Dunaujvaros netted four unanswered goals and went on a break with a three-goal lead (3:6). The third quarter saw an equal duel, but Sant Andreu was unable for more. Dunaujvaros scored six goals in the final period and clinched an important victory.
Sabadell water polo players earned the top spot in Group H after their triumph over Sant Andreu on Day 3 of the preliminary stage. They were led by Beatriz Ortiz Munoz who scored five goals.
After struggling in the first half of the first quarter, Sabadell’s offense stepped up and they had a three-goal lead (2:5). They kept the control until the very end and gradually increased the advantage. Spanish squad went ahead 9:4 in the second and 11:5 in the third quarter. Afterwards, they took their foot off the gas in the last eight minutes of the game and finished the game in a routine manner.
Group H Results
Sabadell 13:8 Dunaujvaros
(4:3, 4:3, 2:1, 3:1)
Sant Andreu 13:5 Utrecht
(4:2, 2:1, 3:0, 4:2)
Sabadell 15:7 Utrecht
(6:2, 5:1, 0:1, 4:3)
Sant Andreu 8:15 Dunaujvaros
(3:2, 0:4, 3:3, 2:6)
Dunaujvaros 17:8 Utrecht
(4:0, 6:3, 5:0, 2:5)
Sant Andreu 7:13 Sabadell
(2:5, 2:4, 1:2, 2:2)
Group H Standings: 1. Sabadell – 9, 2. Dunaujvaros – 6, 3. Sant Andreu – 3, 4. Utrecht – 0