It happened 14 years ago here, at the Margaret Island that Olympiacos won the Champions League for the first (and till date the only) time. They beat Jug (CRO) 8-5 in the semis and host Honved (HUN) 9-7 in the final (that time it was Final Four). Interestingly, they were coached by a Hungarian, Zoltan Kasas.
Olympiacos had two more appearances in the season-ending showcase, in 2001 they lost the final to Jug Dubrovnik in extra-time (7-8). In 2007 they finished 4th after two narrow losses, 9-10 in the semis and 13-15 to Partizan (also in extra-time). So they return to the big stage after 9 years.
Olympiacos is the only unbeaten team in Europe in this season. They won all their matches in Greece, both in the championship and in the cup and had 7 wins and 3 draws in the Champions League. The three ties came in Eger (8-8, the Greeks equalised with 00:10 to go), in Barcelona (7-7, equalising 00:03 to go) and in Berlin (11-11, they led 7-11 after three periods but lost the last period 4-0 to host Spandau).
Olympiacos won the Greek domestic league for the 30th time in its history.
This is the second time Szolnok plays in the Final Six, last year wasn’t the best for them as they had two 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 (that time the prelims).
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 for the gold.
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.
Almost each player on both sides are regulars in various national teams. Olympiacos is equal with the Greek national team, 9 of the 10 Greek players were members of the bronze medal winning side at the World Championships in Kazan (only Ntoskas wasn’t). Their game is boosted by Croatian Olympic champion goalie Josip Pavic, American international Jesse Smith and Spain’s Blai Mallarach.
In Szolnok six players were world champions with Hungary in 2013 (Nagy, Madaras, Vamos, Decker and the Varga brothers), the 7th, Gabor Kis was Olympic champion in 2008 and returned to the team for this year’s Europeans (only Jansik and Mezei did not play in major international meets). Szolnok’s three Serbian aces, Gocic, Aleksic and Mitrovic are key players of the ruling world and European champion side and Younger plays for Canada.
Szolnok’s Denes Varga was MVP in 2012 (playing for Rijeka) and he is currently the leading scorer in the Champions League with 30 goals (28 in the prelims, 2 in the QF yesterday).
Georgios Fountoulis is the leading scorer for Olympiacos with 22 goals.
Olympiacos’s success relies on its defence: they conceded 59 goals, the least among the teams in the prelims. They scored 95 goals.
Szolnok netted 121 – the second most – and got 90 in the prelims. Ironically, the 7 goals they scored yesterday were the fewest in the current season in their Champions League matches. But the 5 goals they got was also a team record.
This is the first clash for the two sides in the history of the Champions League.