Last-second goals, penalties turn games into thrillers
While Sabadell (ESP) cruised to the Final Four with ease, the other duels turned into thrillers. Title-holder Kirishi (RUS) ousted 2015 winner Olympiacos (GRE) in Pireaus with a late goal, Orizzonte (ITA) advanced only after a penalty shootout despite having a three-goal advantage from the first leg. UVSE Budapest (HUN) clinched a great win in Padova (ITA) after the home draw to return to the Euro League F4 after missing it last season.
The rematch of last year’s final between Kirishi (RUS) and Olympiacos (GRE) couldn’t have been any more exciting. The first leg had ended in a 10-10 draw and with 56 seconds to go it was 10-10 again. The Russians led 3-5 late in the second period but Olympiacos responded with a 4-0 rush – still, Kirishi didn’t succumb and equalised for 7-7 before the last break. The Greeks took the lead twice in the last quarter, but next came the title-holders with back-to-back goals going 9-10 up with 1:44 to go. Only 56 seconds were remaining when Olympiacos levelled for 10-10 but they couldn’t force the penalties as Ekaterina Prokofyeva put away a 6 on 5 with 0:08 on the clock. It means Olympiacos will miss the Euro League F4 for the first time since 2014.
Orizzonte (ITA) seemed to be a sure bet after a three-goal win in Dunaujvaros (HUN) in the first leg. The Hungarians had other plans in their mind, however, and they went to equal terms in aggregate in the second at 3-6 and rushed even further in the third: before the last break Dunaujvaros led 6-11. Eight-time winner Orizzonte staged a huge finish in the fourth, though at 9-13 the Hungarians had a one-on-one opportunity with a minute to go. They missed it and it cost them dearly since 8 seconds from time Catharina van der Sloot buried a 6 on 4 to reproduce the very same result of the first leg (10-13). The penalties didn’t offer less thrills, both sides made two misses apiece in the first five rounds, then another miss from Dunaujvaros in the 8th round sent Orizzonte to the Final Four once again after 2014.
Based on the first leg results, the other Italian-Hungarian duel was expected to be more exciting but 2016 runner-up UVSE (HUN) killed the party with a brilliant performance in the first half in Padova (ITA). In the rematch of last year’s LEN Trophy final the Hungarians showed a more focused game and gained a 2-6 lead. They shut out the hosts for 11:01 minutes to build that gap and even though the Italians came closer in the fourth at 5-7, a goal with 2:31 from time closed down the battle.
The in-house meet of the Spanish teams was one-sided, Sabadell settled its participation in the Final Four in the first leg by winning nine goals and they added five more in the second leg. The team is set to go for its 5th title in eight years.
Euro League, Quarterfinals, 2nd leg
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Kinef Kirishi (RUS) 10-11
La Sirena Mataro (ESP) v Astralpool Sabadell (ESP) 6-11
Ekipe Orizzonte (ITA) v Dunaujvaros-Maarsk Grpahics (HUN) 10-13, penalties: 6-5
Plebiscito Padova (ITA) v UVSE Budapest (HUN) 6-8
Winners advanced to the Euro League Final Four, the losing teams will play for the LEN Trophy.
Draws for the F4 tournaments will be made in Pontevedra (ESP) on 24 March (Saturday) on the occasion of the women’s Europa Cup Super Final.