Euro League, Final Four, Kirishi (RUS) – summary
Kirishi clinches the trophy on its 11th try
After five lost finals and five further appearances, Kinef Kirishi managed to clinch the Euro League trophy on its 10th try in the Final Four. The Russians beat 2015 champion Olympiacos (GRE) in a 7-6 nailbiter. Title-holder Sabadell came third this time, ahead of fellow Spanish side Mataro.
Kinef Kirishi reached the Final Four in 2005 for the first time and narrowly lost to the giant of the sport, 8-time winner Orizzonte Catania (ITA). This was followed by two more losses in the finals in the next two seasons and further two in the coming years. The Russians were constant participants in the season-ending showcase but they left the pool without the trophy on ten occasions (they were runners-up 5 times, bronze medallist 4 times and came 4th once).
On their 11th appearance they could play at home and this time they didn’t fail to deliver. In the semis they were quick to build a 3-0 advantage against Mataro and rushed to a 7-2 lead by the middle of the second period. The winners of last year’s Euro Cup couldn’t recover from that, Kinef could maintain the gap for most of the time and passed the first test with ease.
The other semi-final ended up in a thriller. Four-time winner Sabadell seemed to gain control by half-time: staging a 4-0 rout in the second period, the title-holder Spaniards led 5-1 in the middle break but Olympiacos started coming back in the third. Before the last period they trailed 6-5 and even if Sabadell scored the first goal in the fourth for 7-5, the Greeks’ Italian ace Roberta Bianconi (winner of the last two LEN Awards) netted two goals, the second with 24 seconds to go, saving the match to a penalty shootout. The Piraeus players put away all four shots, Sabadell missed two, thus Olympiacos reached the final for the second time in its history (this was their 5th F4 participation till date).
Sabadell, missing the final for the first time after four years, got some consolation by beating Mataro in the all-Spanish bronze medal match. They almost blew it, though, as they conceded five connecting goals after taking a 4-0 lead. But after 4-5 they netted three goals while newcomer Mataro remained scoreless in the last 9:32 minutes.
The final saw a brilliant battle. Kirishi was on fire at the beginning, took a 3-0 lead with three action goals but in the second Olympiacos hit twice to close the gap. Still, the hosts were 5-3 up at half-time and held on for 6-4 before the final period. The Greeks missed a crucial 6 on 5 early in the fourth and an action goal from Ekaterina Prokofyeva made it 7-4 with 5:22 remaining. The Greek staged a late surge, scored twice in quick succession for 7-6 but couldn’t force another penalty-shootout this time in the remaining 1:33 minutes. Soon the Kirishi players celebrated their first ever win, and the first Russian triumph since 1999.
There is one more big show left in the club competition season: the men’s Champions League Final Six in Budapest on 25-27 May.
Euro League, Final Four – Kirishi (RUS)
Kinef-Surgutneftegas Kirishi (RUS) v Mataro (ESP) 11-8
CN Sabadell (ESP) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 7-7, pen: 2-4
Bronze medal match
CN Sabadell (ESP) v Mataro (ESP) 7-5
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Kinef-Surgutneftegas Kirishi (RUS) 6-7
Comments from the coaches
Semi-final 1: Kinef Kirishi (RUS) v Mataro (ESP) 11-8
Alexander Kabanov, head coach of Kirishi:
“We didn’t expect such a hard game from Mataro what the Spanish players showed today. This may be due to the fact that our opponents immediately fell behind and they had no other choice. How can I evaluate the play of the goalkeeper Anna Karnaukh today? She played fine. It’s a regular game level for her.”
Pau Cardenal, coach of Mataro:
“From the outside, it might seem we were playing hard. But we had to do something against Kinef. But I think we can play much harder than we actually did. Anyway, it was difficult to compete with the Russian team.”
Semi-final 2: Olympiacos (GRE) v Sabadell (ESP) 7-7 (penalties: 4-2)
Charis Pavlidis, head coach of Olympiacos:
“Today we had a fantastic game! We did just a great job in defense, conceding just seven goals, probably there are only a few teams in Europe who are capable of doing this in a game against Sabadell. When we were trailing 1-5 at halftime the game seemed to have been lost. But we showed passion, we were able to deal with the situation. And when it came to the penalty shootout, I was already sure we would not lose this match.”
Nani Guiu Vidal, head coach of Sabadell:
“For most of the time it was our game. As for the penalties, its outcome can never be predicted. In sports a lot depends on good luck. And we didn’t have that today.”
Bronze medal match: Sabadell v Mataro 11-8
Nani Guiu Vidal, head coach, Sabadell:
“Yesterday we were only 24 seconds from the final, and today it was very difficult to set up the team for playing. We tried to do get back in shape both in the morning and in the afternoon. But the game showed that it was still a very difficult task. And I can congratulate my players that finally they could cope with this challenge.”
Florin Bonca, head coach, Mataro:
“Of course we wanted to do better and win the game for the 3rd place. But Sabadell is an experienced team, it knows our weaknesses. Anyway, we’re glad to have participated in the Final Four. For us it is the first such experience and it was very useful.”
Final: Olympiacos v Kinef 6-7
Alexander Kabanov, head coach, Kirishi:
“With everything that has been done for water polo in Kirishi and with such a magnificent support from the fans today, we simply had no right to lose this game.”
Charis Pavlidis, head coach, Olympiacos:
“We didn’t have a very good first quarter and gave too much advantage for our opponents. But we were able to show our character and returned to the match. But the time wasn’t sufficient to complete our comeback. To my opinion, a couple of pretty challengeable decisions of the referees had an impact to the outcome of the game.”