Just like a year ago, Novi Beograd will be Recco’s challenger in the final. The Serbs came back from three goals down against Barceloneta and won in the penalty shootout, while Recco started dominating in the third period against Vouliagmeni, and their brutal 0-7 run ended the Greeks’ wonder quest.
Semi-finals: CNA Barceloneta (ESP) v Novi Beograd (SRB) 8-8, pen: 2-4; NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) v Pro Recco (ITA) 8-12. For places 5-8th: Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 5-14, AN Brescia (ITA) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) 8-9. Fixtures for Friday: 19.00, for places 7-8th: Jug v Brescia. 21.00, for places 5-6th: Olympiacos v FTC. Fixtures for Saturday: 19.00, bronze medal match: Barceloneta v Vouliagmeni. 21.00, Final: Novi Beograd v Recco.
In the first semi-final, Barceloneta dominated almost the entire first half, shut out the home side for 12:23 minutes, at one stage, they led 5-2 and kept two goals from their advantage till halftime. However, Novi Beograd came back with the utmost determination and erased their deficit in three minutes, then added two more still in the third to take a 6-7 lead before the final period.
The Spaniards managed to recover from the shock – NBG staged a 0-4 run –, and with a man-up goal and a trademark 2 on 1 counter, they regained the lead at 8-7. Still, another fine finish by Angelos Vlachopoulos from a 6 on 5 levelled the score – and neither side could score the winner in the remaining three minutes, though both had fine chances. The decision was left to the penalty shots, and despite the Spaniards being 3/3 in the game, they had two misses in the shootout, while the hosts buried all four attempts to reach the final for the second year in a row. On the contrary, Barceloneta’s last five semi-final games since 2015 all ended in defeat.
The other semi did not promise anything similar – Recco had beaten Vouliagmeni with ease in the prelims (13-7, 14-7), and the title-holders were overwhelming favourites even though the Greeks made a miracle by ousting group-winner Brescia in the quarters. For ten minutes or so, however, Vouliagmeni’s fairy tale continued as their fine attacks and pinpoint shots gave them a 5-3 lead. The awakening from the dream was rude, though, as Recco started gaining ground and taking over the control. They raised the level both in defending and in offence, came back to even by halftime, then blew the Greeks away with five more unanswered goals in the third period. Indeed, they staged a 0-7 rush and shut out their rivals for 13 minutes which ultimately decided the game.
This set up a rematch of last year’s final when Recco managed to upend Novi Beograd in the shootout – now the Italians are looking for a historical three-peat, something the competition saw once, by Mladost Zagreb between 1968 and 1970. The Serbs will also be there to prevent this and clinch the trophy for the first time.
In the matches played for the 5-8th places, Olympiacos destroyed Jug – the final score doesn’t look well from the Croatians’ perspective, but it looked even more disastrous before the last quarter at 1-11. The other game was much tougher, and Ferencvaros managed to edge out Brescia in an exciting, though understandably low-paced match. The Hungarians passed their Italian test as usual: they used to play Recco and Brescia on back-to-back days here in Belgrade, lost to Recco on all three occasions but downed Brescia every time.