Jug stuns Olympiacos once more
Thrilling quarter-final action inaugurated Hungary’s brand new aquatic complex, the Danube Arena in Budapest. At first, the re-match of last year’s final saw title-holder Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) stunning Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) once more. Now Jug faces another re-match from 2016, against Recco (ITA), again in the semis. The other semi-final is going to be an all-Hungarian affair as Eger managed to survive the QF after two failed attempts in the past two years and meet Szolnok.
A year ago the clash featuring Jug and Olympiacos brought a low scoring encounter where the Croats upended the Greeks 6-4 for the trophy. Now, by the end of the first half Jug already netted seven goals while Olympiacos fell behind early and couldn’t find its rhythm which was clearly visible as Jug scored two counter-goals while taking a 2-7 lead.
What came next was just as astonishing. An early hit gave some hope for the Greeks who netted two more in a span of 57 seconds and got on fire. In one and a half minutes it was equal at 7-7 with 3:17 left from the third period. A time-out helped the Jug players to regroup themselves and their Spanish-born leftie, Javier Garcia blasted in two 5m shots in 55 seconds. This double killed Olympiacos’s momentum, what’s more, a fine centre-action from Josip Vrlic gave the title-holders a 7-10 lead.
The Greeks were desperate to close the gap but their next goal came only 1:01 minute from time and after a missed shot there was no way back for them – Pavo Markovic’s fine action goal in the last second gave something more for the Croats to celebrate. They will now face Recco in the semi-final – just like in last year, when they beat the Italians in a penalty-shootout.
The other semi brought a much more defensive game and a pretty balanced match. Brescia learnt a couple of lessons against the Hungarians as they played with Szolnok and OSC in the prelims and now they faced the third Magyar participant Eger.
Enjoying the backing of the crowd, Eger quickly took the lead but Brescia hit back with two goals in 41 seconds. Balazs Harai netted his second for 2-2, but Alessandro Nora’s rocket put the Italians ahead once more early in the following period. Eger had some fine plays in 6 on 5s soon and retook the lead in the middle of the third but Petar Muslim’s shot found its way to the net with 36 seconds remaining from this quarter (4-4).
A fine individual action from Boris Vapenski generated some big noise on the stands, a minute later Harai’s third goal opened a two-goal gap for the first time in the match. Though it was still 4:29 to go, it remained 6-4. The outcome was virtually decided with 2:58 from time when Petar Muslim was expelled from the match for brutality. Though Eger missed the ensuing penalty, the 4min exclusion left little chance for the Italians to score while the Magyars didn’t risk anything despite playing 6 on 5s in succession.
Eger made the semis for the first time in its history, after two lost QFs in the past two editions, and set up an all-Hungarian clash for Friday against Szolnok, securing a local side in the final and a potential sell-out crowd in the brand new Arena.
In the middle break of the second QF Serbia’s Olympic champion player Filip Filipovic received the 2016 LEN Award for the best male European water polo player. The trophy was presented by LEN President Paolo Barelli.
Champions League, Final Six
Day 1, Quarter-finals
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Jug Croatia Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 8-11
ZF Eger (HUN) v AN Brescia (ITA) 6-4
Schedule for Day 2 (Friday)
For 5-6th place
17.30 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v AN Brescia (ITA)
19.00 Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) v Pro Recco (ITA)
20.30 ZF Eger (HUN) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)