Olympiacos returns to the final after 2019 to face Dunaujvaros, which will have a historical first-ever appearance in the last match of the Euro League Final Four. Both teams won thrilling semis in the Tuske Pool in Budapest. In the game between Olympiacos and UVSE the gap was never more than a single goal though the lead was exchanging constantly but the Greeks had the last laugh. In the next encounter Dunaujvaros went four goals up early in the second only to see Uralochka arriving to the game and taking a 9-11 lead before the last break. But the Hungarians staged a comeback with a 3-0 rush so the Russians had to save the game to a shootout. But the ran out of luck as three saves from goalie Alda Magyari sent Dunaujvaros to the final.
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v UVSE-Hunguest Hotels (HUN) 9-8
Dunaujvarosi Foiskola (HUN) v Dynamo Uralochka (RUS) 12-12, pen: 3-2
Schedule for Sunday 17.45, Bronze medal match: UVSE v Uralochka. 20.15, Final: Olympiacos v Dunaujvaros
As expected, the first semi brought a tremendous battle between 2019 runner-up Olympiacos and Hungary’s top team UVSE. The first half was more like a chess game with a lot of tactical moves and position play. Neither side could find any tools to break the ice in six on six, goals came from man-ups, penalties and in even numbers so it stood 4-4 at halftime.
In the third the Hungarians seemed to take the upper hand despite losing their top player Rita Keszthelyi after an exclusion+penalty combo – still, their offense did not collapse. On the contrary, UVSE managed to equalise twice, what’s more, with a double within 47 seconds they retook the lead for 6-7 and kept it till the last break.
The turning point came early in the fourth. The Greeks, winning the swim-off for the first time in the game, netted an action goal right from the first possession, then UVSE wasted a man-up and Maria Myriokefalitaki soon netted another one from the centre for 8-7. After two minutes of intensifying battling, Rebecca Parkes could level the score from action with 4:48 remaining but UVSE couldn’t add any more – in fact this remained their lonely hit in the final period. The Greeks managed to convert their last 6 on 5 after a time-out by Eleftheria Plevritou and even though there were still 3:23 to play neither teams could find the back of the net any more. The win sent Olympiacos to the final for the fourth time since 2015 – that was they year they won the event but lost their next two in 2017 and 2019.
In the second semi the other ‘home side’ Dunaujvaros took a dream start. They were brilliant in offence, scored from all angles to produce a 5-goal opening period and soon they went 6-2 and 7-3 up. Then they started to waste the balls in front and the Russians could start playing their favourite counter-attacking game which brought them back to even by halftime at 8-8. That demonstrated that unlike the previous match, here the offences were out for an all-in approach so the game produced almost as many goals in two periods than the first semi.
The flood was halted in the third, especially at the Hungarians’ side. Their sparkling offence disappeared, though this could partly be credited to Evgeniia Golovina who started delivering some fine saves after some miseries in the first ten minutes. It was a sharp contrast: Dunaujvaros could score 8 in 12:19 minutes, they netted only one in the following 11:41. Uralochka was on the fire at the other end and with great goals from Elvina Karimova they rushed to a 9-11 lead.
At this stage all bets were on the Russians – but it was their turn to freeze in front. They missed crucial 6 on 5s early in the fourth while the Magyars overcame their shadows and Dorottya Szilagyi netted her 4th and 5th for 11-11 then Brigitta Horvath came up with a brilliant backhanded goal from the centre – and Dunaujvaros was in front once more at 12-11. The Russians replied from the centre immediately, by Yulia Lapteva, to break the ice after 6:11 minutes for 12-12 with 2:27 remaining. The final minutes were thrilling, the Russians even went for a 7 on 6 in the last 22 seconds and their goalie Golovina took the shot from the left wing but Alda Magyari stopped it. Dunaujvaros tried its luck after a time-out with 3.5sec to go but their distant shot was also denied so the penalties decided the outcome.
And here Magyari was superior as she could put her hands on three Russians shots – her team-mates missed two but those three saves put Dunaujvaros through for a historical first-ever Euro League final. Their biggest success so far at European stage was their LEN Trophy victory in 2018 – eventually, they played that final with Olympiacos and won 13-11. Now the prize is bigger, the opponent is the same, a rather exciting scenario for Saturday evening.
Quotes Olympiacos v UVSE 9-8
Charis Pavlidis, coach, Olympiacos: “We are absolutely happy to win this game, it was such an effort from my team. I can hardly find the words now as I’m so emotional. You know, it was quite hard for these players as we didn’t even know if we ever have the chance to play international matches at all. The preparations were also interrupted several times and we couldn’t really get to the level we wanted to for this tournament as we couldn’t play any serious game since 13 March when we beat Sabadell in the quarter-finals. On the contrary, UVSE had a great final against Dunaujvaros so they had a much more promising road leading here. Still, we could offer a great team effort even though we didn’t play well, it was far from our best. The turning point was our first goal in the fourth period which levelled the score. From that moment the team was able to believe that we could really win this match against such a great team and I saw that in my players’ eyes.”
Marton Benczur, coach, UVSE “We cannot do anything but to congratulate Olympiacos and try to accept what happened here. Of course, we made a lot of mistakes, especially in defence. We talked through before the match what the Greeks would do and they did exactly what we foresaw, still, we were unable to react in the expected way. If I make a serious account, I would say from the nine goals we conceded seven were gifts. Maybe we were too nervous, too tense but this is normal in a Euro League semi-final. So we have to talk about our own mistakes and deal with the unexplainable exclusion of one of the world’s best players Rita Keszthelyi – though believe me, in normal sports which are considered serious part of the entertainment business this would be a ridiculous move by the officials. Also, I don’t want to recall the last minute of the game as I don’t want to hurt anyone. This is our faith, we couldn’t get any higher.”
Rita Keszthelyi-Nagy, captain, UVSE “I think we found it hard to adjust ourselves to this style of refereeing and to this playing situation… Never ever before it happened to me that I was excluded and then a penalty was also called against me. We agreed what we wanted to play but we was terribly slow in our offence, our drives which would have broke up Olympiacos’ defence did not function properly and we passed the ball to the wrong side constantly. We always missed something small in defence and we conceded nine goals which didn’t happened to us for a long time. This was our last chance as we all know that our team will be totally reshaped for the next season. I think a couple of young players will have the chance to win this trophy sometimes in the future, I don’t think I will have another shot in my career. There is no way to bring this chance back as next year, provided we enter at all, we will face rivals full of US and Canadian and Australian foreigners again. The last time we could reach the final happened in a season when teams could line up with home players. Now we had this chance again but didn’t take and that hurts a lot.”
Dunaujvaros v Dynamo 12-12, pen: 3-2
Attila Mihok, coach, Dunaujvaros “We knew that Uralochka’s speed was simply amazing so we had to take extra care of that. For one and a half periods we were able to handle that thanked to our disciplined offence and great shots. But once we started missing in front, they could launch their counters and scored five goals or so from these situations. At the same time my players started to get tense and could not find the proper finishes in attack. We had to change our defence for the fourth period, switched to pressing, thanks to that we arrived in front 7-8 seconds earlier and we used this added time for building our attacks more precisely which ended in more goals. We are really happy in these historical moments since this is a huge success for our club. Now we have one day to prepare for Olympiacos – three years ago we beat them in the LEN Trophy final, perhaps that gives us some mental edge.”
Michael Nakoryakov, coach, Uralochka “This was an equal match between two good teams. The game had ups and downs, we tried to apply our fast attacks and that worked during the middle two periods but the Hungarians are famous for their enormous shooting power and they just demonstrated that in this match. I think a couple of turnover calls disturbed our game in the fourth while our rival made most of its chances. The shootout is about luck, they were a bit more fortunate this time.”
Alda Magyari, goalie, Dunaujvaros “At the beginning we were really cautious in order to prevent their counterattacks, we managed to pay enough attention to that. However, we are at the end of an extremely tiring season so the girls got tired after a while. Still, we could regroup ourselves, went for pressing in the fourth and that started tiring the Russians as well who could score only once, from the 2m line. Our defence had ups and downs but at least it was an exciting match. As for the shootout, at the beginning I was like, ‘Gosh, they netted the penalty during the game, now I have to stop as many balls as possible.’ So I went for them, just tried to jump as high as possible and hoped that with my body measures I could catch a couple of shots. I’m overjoyed that I could just do that.”