Water Polo Challenger Cup Women: Izmir makes history

Credit to: Domagoj Biondic

Pushing back Crvena Zvezda’s late surge, Izmir Buyuksehir clinched the title in the first edition of the Challenger Cup Women. It was the first-ever trophy for a Turkish club on the European stage while host of the Final 6, Mladost Zagreb, claimed the bronze medal.

Final: ZVK Crvena Zvezda (SRB) v Izmir Buyuksehir (TUR) 9-10.

Bronze medal: Sport Lisboa e Benfica (POR) v ZAVK Mladost Zagreb (CRO) 13-14.

For 5-6th places: VK Jadran Split (CRO) v Clube Fluvial Portuense (POR) 18-11.

Izmir breezed through the competition before the final, landed big wins in the qualifications and left no chance to its rival in the group stage at the Final Six. The final against Crvena Zvezda was a different affair, though.

The opening period was balanced, saw three goals apiece, before the Turks managed to build a two-goal gap by halftime and jumped to a 4-7 lead early in the third. They killed two woman-downs before the Serbs could finally break their silence after seven minutes – and added another one right away in 54 seconds for 6-7. Still, Duru Kaleagasi reset the two-goal lead 26 seconds before the last break with a fine action goal.

Zvezda pulled one back in 35 seconds, but soon Izmir hit twice in a minute, Kubra Kus netted her fourth for 7-10 with 4:15 to go. The Serbs kept on missing their extras, then Jovana Radonjic netted one from action and with 1:21 to go she put away another one – her 4th in the game – to make it 9-10. Zvezda had two more possessions but couldn’t force a shootout and Izmir could start celebrating Turkiye’s first big triumph at the international stage.

The bronze medal went to host Mladost Zagreb in an action-packed encounter. The Croats seemed to enjoy an easy cruise as they rushed to a 1-6 lead by halftime. However, after finding the net only once in 16 minutes, Benfica players caught a wave and hit 12 in the second half, Noella Perez scoring 8 alone.

Mladost responded but after a while the Portuguese got closer and closer. Once down by six at 3-9, Benfica cut its deficit to a single goal at 10-11, with 4:55 on the clock. The remaining time was thrilling, Mladost could score right from its next possession from time to time, but not after 13-14, and there was still 1:21 minutes to go. However, the equalises never came and Mladost claimed the bronze.

The other Croatian v Portuguese duel wasn’t as exciting as Jadran downed Portuense with ease to take fifth place.