Ferencvaros sink Recco to be crowned champions of Europe

Photo: European Aquatics

Ferencvaros are celebrating in Malta this evening after winning Champions League gold. The determined Hungarians held off a spirited Recco 12-11 to lift the coveted trophy for the first time since 2019 and ended the Italian giant’s dream of a fourth-straight title. Earlier, Olympiacos triumphed in the bronze medal game against Novi Beograd, running out 9-6 victors.

Champions League Final Four Results

Friday 7th June 2024
Gold Medal: Pro Recco (ITA) 11-12 FTC Telekom Budapest (HUN)
Bronze Medal: Olympiacos (GRE) 9-6 Novi Beograd (SRB)

Photo: European Aquatics

Packed stands awaited the two teams vying to be crowned champions of Europe, as Malta’s water polo loving public embraced the Final Four for a second night of thrilling action.

Around 3,000 loud and passionate fans filled the tribunes to watch another titanic clash between Pro Recco and Ferencvaros.

This fixture deserved this electric atmosphere – as three years ago, when the same teams contested the final in Belgrade, the pool was deserted due to the Covid restrictions in 2021

As the battle in the pool commenced, Recco didn’t wait for anything, forcing exclusions in four of their opening five possessions.

FTC’s defence did well in the first two and at the other end, Vendel Vigvari sent the ball home from Fradi’s first man-up.

However, the next two 6 on 5s by the Italians ended up in the net, with Matteo Iocchi Gratta’s close push somehow bouncing in, then, after a denied man-down, Giacomo Cannella finished off a one-on-one.

Photo: European Aquatics

Still, the first quarter ended with the teams level, at 2-2, as Edoardo di Somma enjoyed an easy put-away in a 6 on 4 while a bad pass ruined Recco’s last extra in the dying seconds.

After some initial tussling, FTC star Dusan Mandic drew first blood in the second with a blast from a 4 on 3.

However, Recco soon equalised – Soma Vogel came up with a big save in the man-down, but the Italians got the rebound and Aaron Younger fired one in from the perimeter.

Szilard Jansik didn’t need long to reply and in FTC’s next extra he hit a big one from 6m for 3-4.

Marco del Lungo also had a big save on Adam Nagy and that gave Recco the chance to keep up, which they took, as Iocchi Gratta put away another from close in a 6 on 5.

Photo: European Aquatics

Their following one was well blocked, then the Hungarians’ struck again as Jansik worked some space before lobbing the ball to the far corner from a relatively impossible angle.

Recco were lacking their usual sharpness in offence, missing yet another man-up – and FTC penalised them from action once more, with Mandic managing to hit a great goal from distance for 4-6.

This scoreline stood for half-time – and in the finals Recco have played (and there are many), the last time they trailed by two at half-time was in Rome 2011, against Partizan, and that time they lost, badly.

Photo: European Aquatics

Recco needed some luck once more for a man-up goal as Vogel denied them on their first attempt again, but Konstantinos Kakaris sent the rebound back with a spectacular backhander.

Fellow Greek Stylianos Argyropoulos then kept his calm to hit a man-up, and after a counter, Denes Varga buried a penalty to put the title-holders in more trouble as FTC led 5-8.

Gergo Zalanki stepped up in Recco’s next 6 on 5, after a time-out, and their following one saw another clean finish, this time by Ben Hallock – so right in the middle of the third, Recco were back at 7-8.

In contrast, FTC’s next man-up didn’t go as well as the previous one, with di Somma hitting the post from the back as the shot clock ticked down.

Recco then had another 6 on 5 to make it even, but a 2m violation was called against Francesco di Fulvio.

That was crucial as the time-out also helped Fradi in their 6 on 5 as Argyropoulos let a pinpoint shot fly for 9-7. This boosted the Magyars’ morale as they killed another man-down.

Photo: European Aquatics

The battle went to extremes as the last two minutes commenced in this quarter – players were gasping for air and lacking the shooting power to beat the defences – so Recco went into the final period trailing by two for the first time this season.

As a sign that it could finish differently than the previous three editions, Recco missed a 6 on 4 – and Fradi had a match-ball like man-up but a block denied them – and Younger halved the distance as Recco earned a penalty from the ensuing counter. 

Adam Nagy sent the ball wide from Fradi’s next man-up – and missing three man-ups in a row in the most important phase seemed to have its consequences as Iocci Gratta appeared to equalise for 9-9.

However, the VAR came in and revealed a violent action by Gergo Zalanki – the goal was disallowed and FTC were awarded a penalty and a four-minute man-up while only 4:25 minutes remained.

Photo: European Aquatics

Mandic put his side in a winning situation by burying it for 8-10.

Still, the situation wasn’t too unfamiliar for the Italians, as they had survived a similar fate last year in the final against Novi Beograd.

And they quickly forced a 5 on 4 which di Fulvio finished quickly.

Denes Varga kept a cool head and sent the ball home, but Recco went all in, forced a 5 on 3 and di Fulvio kept them in the game at 10-11 with 3:15 on the clock.

But FTC didn’t commit the same mistakes they did against NBG, where they scored only once in four minutes from man-ups and Mandic buried another for 10-12.

Yet the Hungarians were unable to deal with the Italians aggressive attacking, which always forced a man-up, then another one in the centre and it ended in another goal, this time by Kakaris for 11-12 and there were still just over two minutes to play.

Photo: European Aquatics

FTC called a time-out, but this time it didn’t help, as Recco denied their man-up. However, they couldn’t get an extra and Vogel stopped di Fulvio’s shot.

But this wasn’t the end since Del Lungo then saved to give Recco one last chance. The Italians were also back to full strength for the last 22 seconds, after a time-out.

With 17 seconds to go, Recco forced a 6 on 5 – but Mandic miraculously blocked the shot and the Magyars started the wild celebrations.

They broke Recco’s winning streak and became the first team to beat the Italians in regular time in the entire season, and for the first time in the two sides’ history (Recco led 5-0).

FTC prevailed and there were jubilant scenes as they lifted the most treasured trophy after a wait of five years.

Photo: European Aquatics

Earlier on Friday, the bronze medal went to Olympiacos and not only because the Greeks found more motivation – they simply had better quality and were a lot more composed than the Serbs as they ran out 9-6 winners.

Novi Beograd’s offence was relying heavily on Alvaro Granados’ hits, but this weekend the Spaniard was only a shadow of the fierce shooter who led the top scorers’ list before the Final Four.

He was 0 for 2 then fouled out in the semis and went 0 for 4 in this bronze match, so couldn’t add any goals to his – and more importantly, to his team’s – tally.

Photo: European Aquatics

At the same time, Marko Bijac came up with another huge performance, posting 10 saves (from 16 shots for 62.5%), which left NBG scoring the lowest number of goals in the entire Champions League season – six.

Bijac’s heroics were a testament to the spirit of his team – in the post-match interviews, the Greeks were talking about their joint will to make the farewell of Bijac and Marton Vamos a memorable one.

The two icons played their last match for Olympiacos and they leave with smiles on their faces and bronze medals around their necks.

Perhaps their only regret will be that after losing their very first match in the QF Stage to Ferencvaros right after the club season resumed, they were never beaten again in regular time, but Recco prevailed in the semi shootout.

See all the results and all the highlights from the Champions League Final Four in Malta by clicking here.

Photo: European Aquatics