Padova force thriller but Ferencvaros prevail, meet UVSE

The Euro Cup Women trophy shall be lifted in the city of Budapest as Ferencvaros and UVSE reached the final. The semis produced the expected outcome though not in the expected way. Padova almost managed to upset Ferencvaros, which had won by three in Italy in the first leg. Still, once falling behind by three at home, the Hungarians prevailed by scoring the only goal of the fourth period to make their first-ever European final. Soon UVSE joined them after downing Eger with surprising ease and will go for their second title after 2017.

Semi-finals, 2nd leg: FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) v Plebiscito Padova (ITA) 7-9 – aggregate: 19-18. UVSE Budapest (HUN) v Tigra ZF-Eger (HUN) 10-6 – aggregate: 22-18.

Though the first semi-final seemed to be a formality after Ferencvaros’ three-goal win in Padova, the second leg boldly underlined the core principle of women’s water polo: expect the unexpected. The Italians fought bravely and turned the encounter into a thriller in the second half.

They set the tone with a fine opening period while taking a 1-3 lead, but the home side responded well and came back to even by halftime. And they rolled on to go ahead for the first time at 5-4 – only to see Sara Centanni score a hat-trick in 94 seconds from back-to-back possession to give Padova a 5-7 advantage. With 2:58 to go in the third, the Italians managed to erase their home-deficit as Sara Dario netted one from action for 5-8. A quick exchange of goals in the following 48 seconds maintained the difference, and Padova had a golden chance to grab the lead in aggregate, but they missed a 6 on 4.

The fourth brought a mind-boggling battle with loads of missed chances. Padova, still holding on for 6-9, wasted four woman-ups, while the hosts couldn’t score in two 6 on 5s. With 1:29 to go, Ferencvaros earned another extra and Zsuzsanna Mate’s close-range shot somehow found its way to the net with 70 seconds on the clock. The Italians’ last desperate attempts didn’t bore any fruits, so they remained scoreless in the last period (after netting five in the third), and the outstanding defensive efforts sent Ferencvaros to the final. This is going to be a first-ever shot to collect international silverware in the women’s team’s brief history (the men’s treasury already features a range of European trophies).

A couple of hours later the other two Hungarians faced off in the second semi-final. Having staged a brilliant first leg, ending in a 12-12 draw, many expected another hotly contested, balanced encounter. However, this time UVSE were the superior side in the fully packed Alfred Hajos pool. It was an even game till 3-3, then scoring three connecting goals late in the third, including two 12 (!) seconds, gave the hosts the necessary edge to keep the game under control till the end. They could even increase the gap to four goals in the third, and went 9-4 up early in the fourth leaving no chance for Eger for a comeback. Alda Magyari came up big in UVSE’s goal, she delivered a series of huge saves, stopped a penalty and was instrumental in her team’s victory.

This is going to be the third final for UVSE after 2017 and 2019 (in the second-tier competition), and a second one against FTC this season as they already contested the gold medal match in the domestic cup, won by Ferencvaros 9-5. Late March they are to meet twice to settle the bill.