Champions League, Final Six, Budapest (HUN) – Day 2, summary
Olympiacos (GRE) maintained its unbeaten run and reached the Champions League final after a real drama against Szolnok (HUN), thanks to a last second goal. Jug (CRO) upset title-holder Recco (ITA) in the other semi, winning in the penalty-shootout.
The game for the 5th place remains part of the history for one particular player: this was the farewell match for a living legend, Peter Biros, one of the six three-time Olympic champion players from Hungary’s golden teams from 2000, 2004, 2008. The 39 year-old – MVP of the Final Four here in Budapest in 2004 – launched his last match in style, with a trademark counter-attack goal but that was the last time Eger had something to cheer about. Barceloneta was better motivated and pulled off an easy win at the end.
The first semi-final brought one of the most brilliant battles ever witnessed in the season-ending showcase. After 2-2 Szolnok scored twice in the last 31 seconds of the first period for a 4-2 lead. The second was much tighter with loads of great saves at both ends: Viktor Nagy and Josip Pavic were outstanding in front of the cages – a man-up goal apiece, otherwise tremendous defending, it stood 5-3 at halftime.
Szolnok went 6-3 up deep into the third but Olympiacos found its play in the 6 on 5s, marked by for fine goal from Angelos Vlachopoulos. He added another one from a free-throw and they were back in the game. Szolnok’s huge scoring potential seemed to get frozen, they began to miss their man-ups and only Viktor Nagy saved their lead as he stopped Giannis Fountoulis’s penalty.
However, Olympiacos soon proved why they are the only unbeaten side in Europe. Their defence – best in the prelims – killed further man-ups (Szolnok finished with 3 for 13) and in 56 seconds they went ahead with two fine goals for 6-7. Two more misses in man-up from Szolnok, then a wasted match-ball from Jug set up the last-minute drama. Miklos Vamos’s blast from a free-throw ended Szolnok’s suffers, having lasted 12:33 minutes without a goal. A fine move in defence gave Szolnok the last possession, at least everyone though it would be the last one. They even earned a 6 on 5 but Milan Aleksic’s shot was caught by Pavic. Four seconds remained, enough for a last attack after a time-out, and Olympiacos made the unbelievable. The restart pass got a wicked deflection – the review showed it touched the defender’s hand – and the ball bounced in over Nagy, just when the buzzer went off and the Greeks could start their wild celebrations.
The second semi-final offered the same thrills. It quickly turned out that this evening Jug was going to play on equal terms with Recco as the Croats earned a 3-1 lead. With the Italians’ iconic goalie, Stefano Tempesti missing form the team – due to an eye-surgery – the Dubrovnik players seemed to take the shots with high confidence and for a while Fabio Viola could not do much in the goal. He started to deliver some saves in the second period and that was enough for Recco to show something special from their shooting form: a double from Filipovic and a rocket from Figlioli put them on level (4-4) by halftime.
However, the title-holders were unable to carry on their momentum, they melt down once more in the third, though it’s worth mentioning that Marko Bijac did an extraordinary job in Jug’s goal. On the other end Jug’s attack worked pretty well and with 2:02 to go in the third the Croats earned an 8-4 lead. Two action goals in 36 seconds reserved some hopes for Recco for the last period but even if they came close at 8-7, they missed a crucial 6 on 5 while Maro Jokovic scored from the counter, so it stood 9-7 instead of 8-8. Two more misses in man-ups seemed to end Recco’s quest for retaining the title, especially after Filipovic’s fine blast was followed by a brilliant finish from Felipe Perrone. It was 10-8 with 39 seconds to go, however, eight seconds later Sandro Sukno sent another great shot under the cross-bar for 10-9. Jug had to keep the ball for 27 seconds, it was 0:09 on the clock when a disputed call for an alleged brutality, committed by Pavo Markovic, awarded Recco a penalty. Sukno, born and raised in Dubrovnik, took it and saved the match to a penalty shootout.
And it was Recco’s reserve goalie, Giacomo Pastorino who made the first catch in the fourth round but Bijac immediately produced a stop on the other end – ironically, he saved Sukno’s shot. And in round 6, in the sudden death phase, Perrone scored for Jug then Bijac saved Filipovic’s penalty with his head – sending Jug to the final for the first time in eight years.
It’s going to be an amazing final: Olympiacos won its only title here in Budapest in 2002 – while Jug had three wins but they clinched each trophy in finals held in Dubrovnik. To do it away they have to beat the Greeks – which no other team could do in the entire season so far.
Champions League, Final Six – Day 2
Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) v Pro Recco (ITA) 10-10, pen: 5-4
Szolnoki Dozsa Kozgep (HUN) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 7-8
For places 5-6
Eger (HUN) v Barceloneta (ESP) 6-10
Bronze medal game
19.30 Pro Recco v Szolnok
Champions League Final
21.00 Jug Dubrovnik v Olympiacos Piraeus