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Champions L. 2016 LEN Events News Water Polo

PREVIEW quarters Szolnok (HUN) – Barceloneta (ESP)

FINAL Six – Preview quarters

Last year the two sides also clashed in this stage, Barceloneta won in the penalty shootout. The Spaniards led 6-3 after three periods, Szolnok produced a miraculous come-back and saved the match to a 6-6 draw but the then-host Spanish team won 4-3 in the penalties.

• Two years ago Barceloneta captured the title: even if they finished third in the prelims (just like this season!), they posted a couple of upsets, first they beat Brescia (ITA), then upended Rijeka (CRO) in the semis and Radnicki (SRB) in the final. This was the Spaniards’ first European title. Previously, they reached the last stage in 2013 for the first time and finished 3rd in the Final Four held in Belgrade.

• In home waters they are the rulers in Spain, they have won the national title for the 11th consecutive occasion on Monday. Altogether they were champions 16 times (first in 1970).

• This is the second time Szolnok plays in the Final Six, last year wasn’t the best for them as they had three defeats and had to settle for the 6th place.

• Szolnok took part in the top European club competitions in the ‘ancient times’: their last appearance dates back to the 1964/65 season, when they lost all three matches in the semi-final round.

Szolnok is the freshly crowned Hungarian champion: they captured the title for the second straight time last weekend. Previously they were gold medallists 6 times. Szolnok was the first team outside the capital (Budapest) which won the Hungarian title (in 1954).

• Szolnok had an unbeaten run in the domestic league but lost twice in the final to Eger before winning the decisive Game 5 in the final.

• Szolnok produced a strong home run in the prelims clinching all five matches including a win over Recco, the first against the title-holder by any team in two years. They had two losses in the away games, in Recco (after leading 5-0 there) and in Dubrovnik, so they finished the prelims with an 8-0-2 scoreline.

• Barceloneta had some ups and downs, remained undefeated at home (3 wins and 2 draws) while had 1 win, 2 draws and 2 defeats in the away games, producing a 4-4-2 scoreline.

• Former Final Four/Six MVPs will take the scene in this game, too: Albert Espanol (Barceloneta) was the best player in 2014, while Denes Varga (Szolnok) took the trophy in 2012 (then playing for Rijeka). Varga was also the MVP of the 2013 FINA World Championships and the 2014 European Championships.

• Denes Varga is the leading scorer of the prelims with 26 goals. Barceloneta’s Strahinja Rasovic netted 21, he is 4th on the list.

• Szolnok’s Viktor Nagy earned the best goalkeeper distinction this January at the Europeans in Belgrade.

Szolnok’s Norbert Madaras has the most experience with playing in the final stages: he won the Champions League 4 times (all with Recco) and was runner-up 3 times. Altogether, he played in 10 editions of the Final Six/Four – this is his 11th appearance, but for the second time with other team than Recco.

• Barceloneta’s centre-forward Balazs Sziranyi was born and raised in Hungary before moving to Spain 12 years ago. In the Hungarian junior national team he played together with Viktor Nagy and Daniel Varga from his current opponents. He also plays for the Spanish national team since 2010.

• Szolnok’s club director – who sat on the bench until 2014 – Istvan Kovacs is the most decorated club coach in the Hungarian water polo history and his respective teams played in the final of the Champions League (and its former editions) for 7 times (Ujpest in 1994, 1995, 1996, Honved in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), lifting the trophy twice (1994, 2004). He was the last one who led a Hungarian team to a Champions League win – it happened in this pool, at the Margaret Island in 2004.

• Szolnok produced almost the same goal-difference in the prelims as in last year: 2015: 122-90 – 2016: 121-90. Szolnok scored the second most goals in the League (Recco had 130). Barceloneta enjoyed a significant improvement in defence, mirrored in the goal-difference: 2015: 75-103 – 2016: 79-74. In fact, the number of the conceded goals is the 3rd lowest behind the two group-winners, Olympiacos (59) and Recco (69).