Recco edge Olympiacos in shootout thriller

Photo: European Aquatics

Recco silenced Olympiacos in the opening quarter of their semi-final as the Champions League Final Four started in dramatic fashion on Wednesday night in Malta.

The title-holders scored two in a span of 72 seconds for an early 2-0 lead while the Greeks couldn’t really penetrate Recco’s super-impressive defence.

Indeed, they looked a bit bewildered, made a couple of basic ball-handling mistakes, though the Italians effective defending contributed a lot to the Greeks struggles.

Olympiacos had a single shot on target, that was denied by Marco del Lungo in a man-down, then Marko Bijac made three saves in Recco’s next 6 on 5, however, once the lefties were back in the pool – they were rested in the previous one –, the door opened again and Francesco Condemi made it 3-0 with 1:39 on the clock.

Olympiacos’ next man-up was gone without a shot, so the Greeks were already 3-0 down and in trouble after eight minutes.

Photo: European Aquatics

The Greeks were still looking for their first goal in the middle of the second, and not even a time-out helped them to find a breakthrough in their next 6 on 5.

As a small piece of good news, they survived a double man-down before Konstantinos Genidounias finally found the back of the net from the perimeter.

They needed three shots within this possession and almost 13 minutes in total to get on the scoreboard.

Recco hit back immediately, through a devastating wing shot from Aaron Younger, which had the utmost precision for 4-1.

Olympiacos wasted another man-up, their fourth, but after some fine defending, Marton Vamos blasted in a big one from action.

Bijac delivered a huge save in a man-down and the Greeks had a 6 on 5 in the last 16 seconds to get closer in an almost invisible manner, but their passing didn’t work once more.

In extras, they stood 0 for 5, while Recco, despite slowing down somewhat in this period, still led 4-2.

Photo: European Aquatics

Bijac’s 9th save kicked off the third, and with some luck, Ioannis Fountoulis finally put away a 6 on 5 as his deflected shot passed Del Lungo’s hands.

Soon the scores were even, another man-up, another goal, this time from the 2m line by Alexandros Papanastasiou.

Though the first half saw Recco dominating, Recco lost their momentum and had to start again.

It wasn’t easy as the Greeks’ defence started clicking, as they denied another man-down and had the ball to take the lead, but Del Lungo had an easy catch.

Ben Hallock battled himself to a relatively free position and tipped in Zalanki’s fine assist, but the Greeks also did well in the centre, earned a penalty and Genidounias buried it for 5-5.

Bijac came up with two huge saves in a double man-down – denying Zalanki both times – but he couldn’t do much with Francesco di Fulvio’s perfect bouncer in Recco’s next 6 on 5 – so it stood 6-5.

Photo: European Aquatics

Olympiacos had two man-ups in the last two minutes, but this time they were unable to have clean shots, while Recco played with patience in their last possession and Younger’s one-timer gave them a 7-5 lead with 0:09 to go – indeed, it was more amazing that the Aussie let the ball fly with 0.4sec remaining on the shot clock.

Ioannis Alafragkis’ close finish in the first possession of the fourth halved the distance immediately, then Recco missed a man-up, but soon Zalanki, after four denied shots, hit a fierce one from action for 8-6.

Next came a VAR review after a hard contact between the centre and the defender, but the call stood, exclusion plus a penalty, which Marton Vamos sent home for 8-7.

In 43 seconds it was 8-8, as Dimitrios Dimou let the ball fly from the perimeter and it bounced in from the woodwork.

Photo: European Aquatics

A turnover foul was called while Recco was scoring in a man-up, while the Greeks kept their calm and, again with some luck, they took the lead for the first time when Genidounias could push in a rebound from close for 8-9.

The Olympiacos fans were starting to dream a shock was on the cards, but Recco weren’t hitting the panic button just yet, as Francesco di Fulvio fired one in from a 6 on 5 to level, then the block denied the Greeks’ shot in a 6 on 5 with 1:14 to go.

A fine steal gave a chance for Olympiacos, but Vamos, under pressure from time and defenders, sent the ball wide and Recco had a last ball to win the match after a time-out, with 19 seconds to go.

They forced a man-up but a block sent the game to a shootout.

Photo: European Aquatics

After four buried shots, both sides sent in their respective reserve goalies and that made the difference – indeed, while the Greeks made it ‘silently’, the Italians did it just before Dimou swam to the line to take the shot and the young Greek sent the ball wide, then Condemi buried Recco’s fourth, and Tommaso Negri caught Gkillas’ ball to win it 13-11 and send Recco to their fourth straight final.

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Photo: European Aquatics