After enormous battles, Recco meets Ferencvaros in the final
It’s going to be a showdown between the two group-winners as both managed to edge out its respective rivals in the thrilling semis. Barceloneta offered a spectacular first half but could not hold on in the second and Recco’s physical superiority decided the outcome. Despite a great 4-0 start by Ferencvaros, an all-Italian final was well in the cards for most of the time in the second semi as Brescia kept coming back and had a man-up lately at 12-12 but missed it. At the end the title-holders prevailed in a thrilling finish which saw two goals from them in the last 14 seconds.
Pro Recco (ITA) v Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) 12-10
FTCTelekom (HUN) v AN Brescia 14-12
For places 5-8th:
Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 10-8
CN Marseille (FRA) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 13-16
Final, 20.30: Recco v FTC-Telekom.
Bronze medal match, 18.00: Barceloneta v Brescia.
For places 5-6th, 15.30: Hannover v Jug.
For places 7-8th, 13.00: Olympiacos v Marseille
There were times when Recco barely lost a semi-final match – in the F4 era they were 7/8, but in the F6/8 format they became more vulnerable and after their last triumph in 2015, they won only once in the last four editions (in 2018). However, Barceloneta wasn’t the master of the semis either – since they entered the big stage in 2013, they won only one in five occasions (in 2014, when they lifted the trophy), and were beaten on the penultimate day in 2018 and 2019 too.
In fact, Barceloneta didn’t have any success to recall against Recco from the past and that bad run continued in Belgrade too. In the first half the Spaniards had two better spells, both times they staged 3-0 rushes, even led 6-7 at halftime but Recco held on and in the second half they managed to kill their rivals’ offence. While Barceloneta scored 7 in the first half, it could add only 3 in the second while the Italians had a great surge in the third and even though sometimes luck took their side but they worked for it to win convincingly. Now they return to the final after 2018 and will have a shot to further improve their record of 8 Champions League (European Cup) victories.
Ferencvaros was a newcomer in 2019 when they went all the way to clinch the trophy right on their first try – and after the lost 2020 season, they did it again here, so they are 2/2 in reaching the final. They played a truly outstanding match against Brescia, the team which had beaten them twice with ease in the prelims in Budapest. However, back then the Hungarians were in the midst of their Covid-problems on both occasions – now with a full team they could stage a real fight against the Italians. Despite their dream start, the Magyars couldn’t hold back their rivals after a while. Brescia, playing its first-ever semi-final, fell 4-0 behind but netted 6 goals in the second period and managed to equalise for 8-8 in the third and came back from two goals down again for 11-11 before the last quarter. Still, the fantastic intensity took its toll as the last period was a huge battle of tiring players where one or two good moves decided the outcome. While Ferencvaros could keep its composure in offence, Brescia, which netted 11 goals in the middle two periods, now could add only one and the Magyars managed to find the tools to score twice in the last 14 seconds.
In the games played for the lower ranks, Hannover caused some surprise by downing Olympiacos, though the Greeks were seemingly unable to recover from the Thursday knockout in the quarters. It looked pretty bad for them once more at 9-4, then they found some gears and motivation but could not put the Germans under real pressure and when Alexandar Radovic scored his 6th goal at 9-7, the game was over.
Marseille had a fine start but a missed penalty at 5-3 sent them into a downward spiral, Jug staged a 0-5 surge, which turned the direction of the game. The French had a fine spell to go 10-11 after 7-11 but with some luck Jug could reply in the last seconds of the third and kept the control in the fourth all the way till the end.
The clash of the first two F6 champions from 2014 and 2015 offered a brilliant opening period. It was a game of the utmost intensity, with 16 shots in eight minutes. Though Recco had the better start as they led 2-1, soon the Spaniards caught the wave and netted three from back-to-back possessions in 1:47 minutes to go 2-4 up. Dani Lopez posted fine saves to keep this gap till the end of the period.
After the big rush, the second brought a bit more physical battle and position play, which favoured Recco’s style for a while. Though the Italians needed 7:55 minutes to score again but once they found the back of the net they were on fire and staged a 0-3 rush in 1:55 minutes to retake the lead at 5-4. Their defence also worked well as they killed two man-downs en route, though finally Perrone put the ball away in a 6 on 4, to halt their scoreless run after 8:14 minutes. A man-up plus penalty combo ended in a red card for Recco’s assistant coach and a goal for Alvaro Granados and soon it was a three-in-a-row for Barceloneta too as Milan Aleksic’s smart shot hit the top right corner from the distance for 5-7. A double deflection helped Gonzalo Echenique to fool Lopez for 6-7 and Recco denied the last man-up of the Spaniards in the last seconds to hold the difference on a single goal at halftime.
Recco came back with an even tighter defence and that was killing Barceloneta’s offensive efforts. Though the Italians missed two man-ups but they could equalise from a counter early and after they brilliantly froze the Spaniard’s lonely man-up in this period, while Dusan Mandic sent the ball home in the dying seconds from their next 6 on 5. Soon another one followed, a bit lucky as the pass was rather a feed for a centre-forward onto the water but Ben Hallock put it away with a backhand with 1 second on the shot-clock. Recco even had a man-up to take a three-goal lead after a timeout but the block denied Echenique and this time Goddess Fortuna supported the Spaniards as Marc Larumbe somehow managed to recover the ball in front and beat Bijac from close. It was 0:14 on the clock but it was enough to set up Francesco di Fulvio who stunned Lopez with a great shot from the perimeter for 10-8 and that was a huge push for his team before the final quarter.
Though Barceloneta missed its first man-up in the fourth, Felipe Perrone netted a great goal from a counter for 10-9 and they seemed to have dealt with Recco’s man-up but the Italians regained the ball after Lopez’s save and this time Matteo Aicardi scored with a backhanded shot for 11-9. It was inevitable that the next goal would be crucial and it came from Pietro Figlioli from the right side – a stunner for Lopez and a winner indeed as it was 12-9 with 3:42 remaining. Soon Aicardi had a one-on-one to close the contest but hit Lopez’s head with the ball and Blai Mallarach scored from a man-up for 12-10 with 2:15 to go to leave a small hope for the Spaniards. They earned one more 6 on 5 but a bad pass ruined it, the ball flew wide from the emergency shot and that was it – Recco sailed to the final, Barceloneta lost another semi, the fourth since 2015.
The next was also a thriller though the opening period promised anything but excitements. Ferencvaros took a dream start as they rushed to a 4-0 lead, scoring some spectacular goals and defending well while the players of Brescia lacked their usual aggression, once a pass flew to the no man’s land in extra.
Then they arrived to the game and produced an outstanding surge. Still, Ferencvaros was up to the task so the second period was water polo at its best, a 10-goal feast with a lot of action, brilliant goals and little success for the defences. After shutting out the Italians, Ferencvaros conceded six goals in eight minutes but their offense didn’t let them down so they could save at least two from their lead till halftime. Brescia came back to 5-4 with finely played extras and great blasts from the perimeter but the Hungarians managed to go 8-5 up again with a couple of fine shots from Denes Varga.
But Brescia was already ‘in the mood’ and with 5:34 on the clock in the third they were even at 8-8 after Vincenzo Renzuto’s smart wing shot in a man-up. Gergo Zalanki let the ball fly at the other end from the outside from action, then the other leftie Marton Vamos’ blast hit the back of the net from a 6 on 5 to regain the lead for 10-8. A lengthy possession with a blocked and a saved shot ended in a man-up for Brescia and a third goal for Maro Jokovic but Vamos was also on target at the other end. Theodoros Vlachopoulos converted a penalty, then came some swimming with a series of off-target shots and in the huge battle Brescia had the last laugh at least in the third when Vincenzo Dolce put away an easy 6 on 5 with 3.4sec from time – so it stood 11-11 before the final quarter.
Denes Varga opened the scoring with his trademark wrist-shot from a 6 on 5, then they wasted one with a bad pass but Brescia also lacked the composure in front as the teams started running out of gas in this fantastic encounter. In the heat Brescia got the first man-up, played it with patience and Dolce netted from the wing again for 12-12. The Hungarians couldn’t keep their nerve and missed theirs badly, but Brescia also lost the ball in a 6 on 5, 44 seconds from time when they could have took the lead for the first time. Then came the decisive action – the clock was ticking down but Gergo Zalanki noticed that Nicolas Constantin-Bicari earned some free space in the centre, put the ball on his hand the Canadian tipped it in with 14 seconds left. Brescia called for a time-out, set up a 7 on 6 but Vlachopoulos shot the ball wide and there was time for Marton Vamos to send a last shot to the empty net from his own half – and also send his team to the final again.
In the matches for places 5-8th, Olympiacos looked for healing the deep wounds they sustained in the quarters but it turned out quickly that the Greeks were unable to recover from the humiliating 8-22 defeat to Barceloneta. Normally, beating Hannover may not have been a challenge for them but at this stage the Germans were hungrier and not disappointed at all (losing to Recco was very much in their cards too). For them a win here was a real target and they met with a team, which was still under the influence of their historical blow on Thursday.
The Greeks struggled in offence – scored their first after 6:52 minutes – but at least their defence lasted for a while. Then at 3-2 they conceded two in 21 seconds and that shook their already low confidence. They were trailing 3-6 at halftime but they were yet to hit the rock bottom again, now it came at 2:42 in the third when Aleksandar Radovic finished a counter for 9-4. Hannover played with discipline and there was a significant difference in goaltending too (at the end the number of saves was 14-7).
Olympiacos woke up a bit though and managed to pull two back, even had a man-up in the dying seconds to come back to 9-7 before the last break. Then a counter brought them back to two goals after 38 seconds and they seemed to finally catch the rhythm while the Germans began to slow down after three periods of high paced water polo. In the next four minutes the Greeks had a handful of chances to get really close but Mauritz Schenkel came up with more fine saves, then Radovic hit his 6th goal in the afternoon for 10-7 and that drew back the curtain on Olympiacos. A goal with 2:08 to go gave them some hope but they couldn’t add any more so they had to settle for playing the 7th place on Saturday.
And that won’t be easy as Marseille showed some strength against Jug – this time the French were much more composed than a day earlier when titleholder Ferencvaros had sunk them by halftime. Now Marseille took a flying start and built a 5-3 lead, then earned a penalty – in games like this, when somewhat disappointed teams meet, a three-goal lead might rock the rivals’ a bit. Instead, Toni Popadic stopped fellow Croat Ante Vukicevic’s shot, Alexandros Papanastasiou scored a fine action goal at the other end, so it stood 5-4, not 6-3 – and it was just the beginning. Jug started flying, added three more from consecutive possessions so produced a 0-4 surge in a span of 1:53 minutes.
Papanastasiou netted the first in the third for 5-8 – the Greek hit 5 in the match –and from that point Jug never let the control out of hand. The French had one more fine spell after 7-11 when they scored three straight goals in 78 seconds for 10-11 but with some luck Alexander Obert pushed in a rebound from close range in a man-up 16 seconds before the last break and that was a huge booster for the Croats. Opening the scoring again in the fourth reset their level of self-confidence and they never let Marseille closer than two goals. The match ended in a scoring feast, the 29 goals are the second-highest score in a single match in the F8 history (regular time), only Barceloneta’s routing of Olympiacos stands higher with 30 goals.