Five talking points from the Champions League semi-finals

Photo: European Aquatics

Here are five takeaways from the semi-finals of the men’s water polo Champions League.

1. For the first time, penalties were needed to decide both semis

Malta witnessed a first as each semi-final was decided by a shootout.

This is something which may not surprise the fans, as all four teams had really impressive win-loss ratios across the season – it’s so difficult to beat any of them.

In the end, the two group-winners of the Quarter-Final Stage, Recco and FTC-Telekom emerged victorious, though in both matches the eventual losers, Olympiacos and Novi Beograd, will be wondering ‘what if?’ as each had possession and the chance to win it at the very end.

Photo: European Aquatics

2. Penalty history favours Recco and FTC

As for shootouts, Recco are doing well in them – they won the title on penalties in 2021 and just like in that final, they also upended Novi Beograd earlier this year in the shootout in the QF Stage.

Ferencvaros – and especially their goalie Soma Vogel – are also masters at shootouts, as ever since they lost the 2017 Super Cup final to Szolnok, the Hungarians have won four in a row on the international stage (2018 Super Cup final v Szolnok, 2019 Champions League final v Olympiacos, 2023 group-stage game v Jadran, 2024 semi-final v Novi Beograd).

Vogel has also excelled for the Hungarian national team, delivering crucial saves to win the European Championships final (2020), the World Championships final (2023) and two more matches at the 2024 Worlds.

Taking all matches into consideration, Vogel has a staggering 10 wins from 12 shootouts in his senior career – so far.

Novi Beograd has had less luck, losing the 2021 final, a QF stage match, both to Recco and again now, in the semis to FTC – though a year ago they won the shootout against Barceloneta to reach the final.

Olympiacos lost the 2019 final and this semi-final, had two wins earlier this season, against Jug on the opening day of the Group Stage and in Barcelona in the penultimate round of the QF Stage.

Photo: European Aquatics

3. Former players proved a thorn in the side for previous employers

In the semis, a couple of players did really well against their former clubs.

Marko Bijac, who played for Recco between 2018 and 2021, kept Olympiacos in the game with a series of amazing stops.

The Croatian genius posted 13 saves – he was the key to counterbalance Recco’s dominant offensive play as the number of shots on target (15-22) showed an unusually big difference.

Still, in the shootout their combo with Emmanouil Zerdevas couldn’t help the Greeks the same way as in the previous two occasions in the season (against Jug and Barceloneta in the CL, and against Vouliagmeni in the domestic league final).

Dusan Mandic’s exit from Novi Beograd wasn’t the nicest chapter of the super-leftie’s illustrious career last summer.

Within days, Ferencvaros offered him a spot on their roster and the Serbian rocket-producer moved to Budapest where his fire power became a winning asset.

On Wednesday night, he was instrumental in downing Novi Beograd as he hit five in the game and also buried his penalty in the shootout.

Photo: European Aquatics

4. Finalists Recco and Ferencvaros are familiar foes

For the fourth time in a row, Recco and FTC will clash in the season-ending showcase.

In the previous three occasions, Recco beat the Hungarians convincingly – 9-6 in the 2021 final, 10-7 in the 2022 semi-final and 8-4 in the 2023 quarter-final.

Indeed, Ferencvaros are yet to win a Champions League game against Recco, which holds a 5-0 lead in head-to-head (they also had two wins in the 2018-19 group-stage: 9-6, 13-7).

They played a spectacular 13-13 draw in Italy in the prelims in the 2019-20 season, but the rematch never happened due to the pandemic which halted that season.

Photo: European Aquatics

5. Recco looking to add more silverware to their impressive European haul

Recco are preparing for their 19th Champions League final.

The Italians have claimed a record 11 titles (1965, 1984, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2021, 2022, 2023) – and are aiming to make history by becoming the first team to win four titles in a row.

In contrast, this is only the third final for Ferencvaros, though they managed to reach the title bout for the third time in five years.

Battling for the bronze medal is a new experience for Novi Beograd as they advanced to the final upon their first two campaigns in the Champions League in the previous two seasons.

For Olympiacos, this is going to be the second time playing the ‘small final’ – the first happened long ago, in 2007, when they lost a thrilling semi to Recco, just like here in Malta.

Follow all the results and action from the Champions League Final Four in Malta live by clicking here.