Olympiacos to Face Ferncvaros for Champions League WP Title

Courtesy: LEN Media

Title-holder Olympiacos Piraeus and 2018 Euro Cup winner FTC-Telekom will replay the Super Cup final after winning extraordinary semi-finals. The Greeks upset Recco once more after last year’s gold medal match: even though the Italians came back from three goals down in the fourth, Olympiacos hit the winner 38 seconds to go. Ferencvaros was chasing Barceloneta all the way in the second semi, the Spaniards led 5-7 in the fourth but the Hungarian defense and Denes Varga’s three magical goals turned the match so FTC, finishing 4th in the prelims, reached its first-ever final.

Semi-finals: Pro Recco (ITA) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 11-12, FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v Zodiac Barceloneta (ESP) 9-7. For places 5-8th: Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v AN Brescia 8-11, Jug CO Dubrovnik (CRO) v Banco BPM Sport Management Busto (ITA) 11-8.

Saturday scheduleFinal (20.30): Olympiacos v Ferencvaros. Bronze medal match (19.00): Recco v Barceloneta. For places 5-6th (16.30): Brescia v Jug. For places 7-8th (15.00): Hannover v BPM.

The first semi-final couldn’t have been any more thrilling. Though Recco took the lead but Olympiacos hit back with four straight action goals for a 1-4 lead and was 3-5 ahead after an action-packed first period. As the game went on, the two Croatian goalies got in the focus since Marko Bijac struggled to have a hand on the ball (Olympiacos netted 6 goals on their first six shots on target) while Josip Pavic (his predecessor in Croatia’s goal) could made a couple of great saves. This gave Olympiacos a 5-8 lead shortly before the big break but after the eighth goal a controversial judgement of Niccolo Figari’s roughness caused a huge upset on the pool deck (he got a red card) though the five-minute interval cooled down the sides (temporarily).

Recco seemed to come back more composed and they quickly equalized for 8-8, but before they could have capitalized on their momentum, Paulo Obradovic netted a brilliant backhander to give back the lead for the Greeks. Soon they jumped to 8-11 with two man-up goals and the red cards were back too as the tensions ran high again.

Luka Bukic pulled one back with a nice move in only 13 seconds in the fourth but Olympiacos managed to keep the ball for an unbelievably long, 2:47min, including four corners and a man-up at the end. They missed it and even though they killed much time, Recco found the right gears. Aleksandar Ivovic put away a man-up and 32 seconds later Matteo Aicardi managed to score a brilliant goal from the center for 11-11, with 2:10 remaining.

Recco was back in the game, Bijac came up with a big save in the best moment, in a man-down, but Pavic denied Filipovic too. Olympiacos’s attack looked weak again when the prelims’ top scorer Konstantinos Genidounias let the ball fly from a seemingly hopeless situation but it got a slight deflection and found the back of the net with 38 seconds remaining. Ratko Rudic called for a time-out but the grand maestro had to see their last possession ending in a Greek steal, and the title-holders started wild celebrations while Recco, defeated after 15 straight wins, need to wait one more year (since 2015) to have another shot at the trophy.

The second semi-final was in sharp contrast for a while. Though Barceloneta took a fine start, but luck saved Ferencvaros to fall 0-3 behind, and soon they somehow found the way to equalize and from that point the encounter changed into in a low-paced patience game. No risk, waiting for the rival’s mistakes, not even the man-ups geared up the play. Misses here and there, it stood 3-3 at halftime (with 22 attempts altogether).

Martin Famera’s shot from the distance gave back the lead for Barceloneta, then they missed a 6 on 5 to go by two, instead Nikola Jaksic ‘dunked’ a man-up for 4-4. Felipe Perrone’s trademark counter-goal put the Spaniards ahead once more, but again, they missed their next 6 on 5 (Soma Vogel came up with two great saves) and Zoltan Pohl levelled for 5-5. Though Vogel did his best in a man-down, after the corner Josip Vrlic brilliantly finished his center-action so Barceloneta was ahead before the last break.

Finally the gap was doubled early in the fourth, Denes Varga’s nice backhander was caught by Dani Lopez, Perrone stormed away, earned a penalty and Alvaro Ortega buried it for 5-7. Lopez had a stop in a crucial man-down but the Spaniards hit the block in their 6 on 5 and Denes Varga sent the ball home from a dying extra. Soon it was 7-7, Varga hit from action this time, the ball sneaked in from the post with 4:44 to go. And as it happens, another missed Spanish man-up was penalized by a nicely played 6 on 5 from Ferencvaros and they led for the first time in the match at 8-7 with 3:28 remaining. Not even a time-out helped the Spaniards: man-up, shot, gone, and from the next possession Denes Varga showed his real magic with an outstanding individual action, so the Hungarians produced a 4-0 rush to win the game 9-7 after being 5-7 down.

Barceloneta wasted their last extra to highlight the way they sank here as they finished the match with a 6:56 scoreless phase and 1 for 15 in man-ups and despite having much more shots (31-20) and having a psychological advantage of beating their rivals in the prelims both home and away. On the other end great team-work, Vogel’s extraordinary 65% saving percentage and Denes Varga’s treble in the fourth sent Ferencvaros to the final, quite a feat from a newcomer, arriving from the 4th place in the prelims. They face Olympiacos, just like in December in the Super Cup final where they beat the Greeks in Budapest in a penalty shootout.

In the games for the lower ranks both Brescia and Jug gained a hard-fought win, with identical score-line (11-8). Host Hannover held on once more for most of the time but Brescia prevailed at the and, thanks to its better stamina and more experience. Jug couldn’t score in the first period and had to climb back from 1-4 down against BPM but the Croats just did that, thanks to a triple in a span of 67 seconds late in the second. Then they seemed to take control, led 8-5 in the fourth but the Italians came back to 8-7 and 9-8. The closing moments were filled with even higher tensions then we were witnessing before, three players got red cards from BPM while Jug stayed calm and secured its win and the right to play for the 5th place with Brescia on Saturday.

The coaches’ comments

Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Olympiacos:

“I don’t know what to say… We came here to defend our title and my players were fantastic, they fought in every moment with their heart. Sometimes I tried to push them even harder to overcome moments which were really tough to handle. At the end, we could beat once again the team what was the best in Europe in the last ten years. But Olympiacos is now is the best team in Europe as we are the title-holders and we can prepare for another final.”

Ratko Rudic, head coach, Recco:

“At the beginning we received too many easy goals which put us in a difficult situation. We had to prepare ourselves to become more dangerous and in this phase there were some moments when the emotions were taken over. But we still came back but at the end luck wasn’t on our side, the ball touched the defenders’ hand and flew to the goal instead of a block at 11-11 and a last possession for us. But Olympiacos had all the merits for this win, they deserved it, we have to congratulate them.”

Zsolt Varga, head coach, Ferencvaros:

“Congratulations for both teams, it was a great fight, maybe it looked a bit slower but it was a very demanding physical game which tired out all players. It’s not easy to play another game after 24 hours, so teams can have its downs during a match and I think we managed to get out from this negative phase a bit stronger than Barceloneta and had more energy in the finish. I have to credit my players as they showed a great character today.”

Jesus Martin, head coach, Barceloneta:

“It’s hard to say anything… We lost Alberto Munarriz quite early with three fouls, very strange, he is a key player for us, without him it was much-much harder. We had some problems in man-ups and Ferencvaros is a great team so… I really don’t know what to say at this moment.”

Alessandro Bovo, head coach, Brescia:

“It was tough to play today as after you are out after the quarters, there is no point in going on. I wanted to go home, the team wanted to go home, but we came back and tried our best. I have to congratulate for Hannover for their performance and for all what they did to build this great venue.”

Karsten Seehafer, head coach, Hannover:

“It was a great game, we did what we could but at the end it was a clear win for Brescia. Sometimes it was hard to calm down my players as there were some decisions everyone saw but this is our sport. Of course it was hard to play with another Italian team in less than 24 hours after Recco but it’s the same everybody, Brescia had even less time after they had played with Olympiacos, this what you have to be prepared for and I think we just did our best again.”

Vjekoslav Kobescak, head coach, Jug:

“We found the necessary motivation as in this game Jug could have lost much so we had to give our best. It wasn’t easy since playing against Busto is always like this. It’s rather a circus in the water. This was nothing to do with our previous two matches, it’s the same stuff every time. If a team can get to the Final 8 with this playing style, then we might regard that an exaggeration of the rules. Whatever, let’s focus on my team as my players managed to keep their calm and played well in the given circumstances so I have to congratulate all of them for their efforts.”

Marco Baldineti, head coach, BPM:

“Jug is a very good team. Very good. This is it. It was not easy to play… We tried but we had almost all players with two fouls or three, I don’t know how many exclusions we had at the end.”

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