Galatasaray and Triglav to contest Challenger Cup final

Photo: Akin Celiktas / European Aquatics

Galatasaray held firm in Istanbul to edge past Zaibas, while Triglav completed a remarkable late comeback to eliminate Kreuzlingen in a dramatic clash in Switzerland.

Men’s Water Polo Challenger Cup
Semi-Final Second-Leg Results
(Aggregate scores in brackets)

Galatasaray (TUR) 12-9 EVK Zaibas (LTU) (21-17)
SC Kreuzlingen (SUI) 10-10 AVK Triglav Kranj (SLO) (20-21)

Photo: Jessica Widmer / European Aquatics

After thrilling semi-final first-legs that were both decided by just one goal, all four sides – Galatasaray, Zaibas, Triglav and Kreuzlingen – were dreaming of a place in the final as the dramatic second-legs kicked off on Saturday.

Triglav threw away an 8-4 lead in the first-leg of their clash with Kreuzlingen at home, and although they went on to win 11-10, that collapse very nearly came back to haunt them in the second-leg.

In Switzerland, the home side stunned the visitors with a sensational display of water polo in the early stages, taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, and extending that to 6-1 midway through the second.

The Slovenians were on the ropes and struggling to find a response, and even a time-out at the end of the first failed to stem the tide.

Kreuzlingen were taking their chances, while Triglav were somewhat wayward and in real danger of letting the game get away from them.

The hosts’ five-goal lead was cut to four by the end of the second, but it crept back up to six two minutes into the third, and at 9-3, the Swiss side firmly had one foot in the final.

Three unanswered Triglav goals at the end of the third (for 9-6) started to put doubt in Kreuzlingen’s minds and that 3-0 goal rush ultimately turned into a 7-0 goal rush, finishing at 9-10 late in the fourth, which turned the game on its head.

Joel Herzog broke the Swiss side’s silence with 33 seconds remaining to make it 10-10, and although they had one more possession, it wasn’t to be as Triglav held on for the draw, which was just enough to see them progress to the grand final. 

Photo: Jessica Widmer / European Aquatics

Earlier in Istanbul, Galatasaray began their clash against EVK Zaibas with a slender 1-0 advantage, following their 8-9 victory in Lithuania two weeks ago.

Away from home, the Turkish side dominated the early stages, racing into a 0-4 lead, and the return leg followed a similar pattern, as Galatasaray opened up another four goal lead.

In both clashes, conceding a fourth seemed to be the trigger for Zaibas to finally get into gear and find a way through the Turkish defence.

This time, Marko Jelaca struck for the visitors just before the first break for 4-1, then Daniel Vitkauskas added another at the start of the second to cut the hosts’ lead to two.

Spurred on by a loud and passionate home crowd, Galatasaray responded brilliantly, hitting three unanswered goals to put them in full control at the turnaround (7-2).

Trailing by five, the Lithuanians were down, but far from out, and they looked a totally different side in the third quarter.

With nothing to lose, Zaibas started to strike back with real venom, as Jelaca fired in another three goals and Aurimas Jonkus converted a penalty to make it 9-7 with 16 seconds left to play in the third.

The home side were rocked, but there was still enough time for Atakan Destici to make it 10-7 to give Galatasaray a three-goal lead on the day, and a four-goal advantage in the tie.

Goals from Efe Naipoglu and Selcuk Can Caner early in the fourth settled any nerves the hosts were maybe feeling, and the Turkish giants were able to ease through the last few minutes and close the game out comfortable 12-9 winners.

Kaibas will return home feeling dejected, but they put up a good fight, and Jelaca can consider himself unlucky to end up on the losing side, especially after top scoring with five and delivering an outstanding individual performance.

Overall though, Galatasaray were deserved winners, and they will now look forward to the final, where they will have the chance of making it a double gold for Türkiye, after compatriots Izmir lifted the women’s Challenger Cup back in November.   

Photo: Akin Celiktas / European Aquatics

For all the results/fixtures from the men’s water polo Challenger Cup, click here.

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