© Michel Dumergue 04 May Strasbourg as a serious outsider By: Tim Hartog National Leagues, France Pro A league The (not necessarily so) surprising and convincing victory of Strasbourg against Nice (9-3) has not only greatly impressed people, but also had the dual effect to put Montpellier back in second place in the standings and install the Alsatians in the position of serious outsiders four days before the play-offs semifinals. For its part Marseille, that played in Lille without goalkeeper, preserved the essential namely the victory (14-16). Saturday night when aficionados of French water polo knew the result of the match Strasbourg-Nice (9-3), everyone thought that this result was partly due to an extra-ordinary event in the game as for example, an exclusion for brutality that would have allowed Strasbourg to dig a crippling gap. But was this result so surprising? Marko Bratic, Nikola Sutic and Romain Blary (pictured hereunder) are each among the top scorers in Pro A (4th, 8th and 12th place respectively), Hugo Fontani, the goalkeeper, who was still playing three divisions lower two years ago, is a revelation and Romain Blary, in the center position, has returned to the level which made him the undisputed best French player last season. When the official score sheet was known the victory of Strasbourg took all its strength: nor did an extra-ordinary event happened in the game, or scandalous refereeing, nor Nice was overwhelmed with personal fouls (quite the contrary). The Alsatians’ victory suffered absolutely no discussion. Nice, deprived of Arthur Bruyère and the left-hander Michal Idzinsky, had no time to breathe since Strasbourg immediately put pressure on its opponent and took control of the match including a goal from Romain Blary four seconds from the end of the first period (3-0). A goal as a first banderille. In the second period, after eleven minutes Nice finally scored its first goal of the match (3-1), but Strasbourg immediately replied by Bratic Marko (4-1 and 5-1). In the third period, Strasbourg never released its grip on the match, and Nice could not benefit of the man up situations obtained (10 against 4 in this game). In great shape, Romain Blary opened the final period by two goals (7-2 and 8-2), and concluded the match with his fifth goal with nine seconds left. The final score (9-3) shows all the strength and determination of Strasbourg at the moment, as well as the relative fragility of Nice, which was expected to be much better in this game. One may recall that, last season, the team of the French Riviera also finished very strongly the regular phase, before cracking completely during the "Final Four" (4th place). Will history repeat itself this year? The beginning of an answer is expected next Wednesday. Romain Blary (Strasbourg) in action. (www.strasbourgsports.fr) A little more than ten years ago two years in a row Strasbourg, coached by Franck Missy had pushed Marseille, coached by Nikola Stamenic to a third match in the semi-final play-off. Qualified since a long time assured of the first place for almost a month, Marseille managed its end of season very quietly. In recent weeks the coach, Olivier Chandieu, even launched several young players without the performance of the team suffering. The 18th round should have been an opportunity to continue this turnover. But Olivier Chandieu was forced to go much further than he had probably expected. Indeed deprived of Rémi Garsau (injured) and of his usual substitute (examination), Marseille came in Lille without any “real” goalkeeper! Forced to "appoint" a field player, the choice was put on the young Matthias Olivon. When adding the absences of Enzo Khasz (injury) and Sébastien Monneret, Lille hoped to achieve the feat of being the first team to beat the provencal players this season, especially as the Northeners had nearly created a huge surprise in the first leg still leading by three goals at the beginning of the last period. In fact, the audience witnessed a very offensive game in which Lille, led by the inevitable Robin Lindhout (4 goals), made life so difficult for Marseille, led by the equally inevitable Simon Thibault (4 goals). However with its experience and the good performance delivered by its “interim" goalkeeper who even blocked a penalty, Marseille kept control of the game, leading from start to the end. With this victory (14-16), the leader of the Pro A preserves its invincibility, but it is absolutely necessary to quickly recover its entire workforce to face Strasbourg next Wednesday and Saturday. For the record, one may recall that Jean-Marie Olivon, assistant coach and father of Matthias was during his career, the goalkeeper of Marseille and of the French squad. Evidence is clear that heredity is not a meaningless word, even in water polo… Montpellier, the last semifinalist, regained some colours after three weeks a bit dull in terms of quality of play. Douai, its opponent, assured to be in Pro A next season, certainly did not show itself very tough but Montpellier had greatly facilitated the task by inflicting a stinging 1-7 in the second period. Therefore everyone was at its place and everyone was going to stay at its place. For the reigning champion, it was a quiet game failing to be completely reassuring on the shape of the team, particularly with respect to the opponent. The really good news came from Strasbourg, where Montpellier had lost its second place a week ago, and where Nice has in turn lost Saturday. Montpellier will thus have the advantage of playing at home the second leg of a semi-final promises to be particularly open and tense. La Rochelle swimming-pool, where Saint-Jean d'Angely plays this season, hosted the duel of the Spanish "goleadors". If Oscar Carrillo (6 goals) largely surpassed his compatriot Gerard Reixach-Boix (2 goals), Aix-en-Provence however failed to beat Saint-Jean d'Angely. Yet the Provencals led the score nearly all the game, being caught with only sixteen seconds to play. If the draw (8-8) holds Saint-Jean d'Angely in last place of the table it is extremely unlikely that the club may be relegated in lower division (National 1), to the extent that because of the obligation to play in an Olympic-sized pool, none of the clubs from National 1 can or will access to Pro A next season. In this match Oscar Carrillo 'maybe' ensured its top scorer position (70 goals). "Maybe," because some of his pursuers still have four games to do better. Finally for his last game as coach of Sète, Yannick Bonniou could not enjoy the pleasure of a victory against Noisy. Yet things had started well because Sète was leading 6-3 at half-match. But in this game where simulations and technical inaccuracy and happened far too often, Sète cracked, as so often this season. Gradually the Parisians regained confidence and eventually the final period was to their full advantage (0-2). The final score (7-7) with no consequences for both clubs in the standings, can leave a bitter taste in Yannick Bonniou’s mouth, who undoubtedly deserved a more beautiful end as coach of Sète than such a match. French Pro A League Results Douai – Montpellier 8 – 17 (2-3, 1-7, 2-3, 3-4) Saint-Jean d’Angély – Aix-en-Provence 8 – 8 (2-2, 1-3, 4-1, 1-2) Strasbourg – Nice 9 – 3 (3-0, 2-1, 1-1, 3-1) Lille – Marseille 14 – 16 (3-6, 4-3, 5-5, 2-2) Sète – Noisy 7 – 7 (3-1, 3-2, 1-2 0-2) Standings after 18 matches: 1- Marseille – 50 pts (+ 132) 2- Montpellier – 43 pts (+ 85) 3- Nice – 40 pts (+ 72) 4- Strasbourg – 36 pts (+ 42) 5- Aix-en-Provence – 23 pts (- 23) 6- Lille – 17 pts (- 33) 7 - Douai – 17 pts (- 43) 8- Sète – 15 pt (- 47) 9- Noisy – 10 pts (- 93) 10- Saint-Jean d’Angély – 8 pts (- 92) Top scorers: 1 – Oscar Carrillo (Aix-en-Provence) 70 goals 2 – Robin Lindhout (Lille) 65 goals 3 – Gerard Reixach-Boix (Saint-Jean d’Angély) 57 goals Semifinals Wednesday 6th of May: Strasbourg – Marseille Nice - Montpellier Saturday 9th of May: Marseille – Strasbourg Montpellier - Nice Results during the regular phase: Strasbourg – Marseille 8 – 14 Marseille – Strasbourg 9 – 9 Montpellier – Nice 11 – 10 Nice – Montpellier 12 – 7 Thanks to Eric Dupont.