Jug beats Recco again, meets Szolnok in the final
Just as in last year, Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) reached the Champions League final after beating Recco (ITA) in the semis. The Italians had a perfect run in the prelims with 10 wins in as many matches, including two big wins over Jug, but this time the Croats took a fine revenge. Szolnok defeated Eger in the all-Hungarian semi-final (they won 8 of the 9 matches the two clubs played in the current season) and advanced to their first ever European cup final. Brescia (ITA) claimed the 5th place, they overcame last year’s runner-up Olympiacos (GRE).
It takes a team to beat Recco and Olympiacos on consecutive days. In any order. Jug did that twice in two years. In 2016, the Croats caught the Italians in the semis and the Greeks in the final. Now they repeated that feat, downed Olympiacos in the QF and Recco in the SF and are ready to retain their title.
Just as on Day 1, Jug took a flying start and led 0-3 which showed that even though group-winners might have a direct berth in the semis but their opponents usually came from a heated quarter-final battle and could find better gears right from the beginning. For Recco, it took two periods to reach the same playing level as Jug. The first half belonged to the Croats who managed to maintain a two-goal cushion until the middle break, thanks to a couple of breath-taking shots (6-4).
The third period recalled the QF from the previous day when Olympiacos staged a 5-0 rush to catch up Jug after trailing 2-7. Now Recco scored three connecting goals and the Italian team seemed to gain control (6-7). But again, just as against the Greeks, the enthusiastic Croats replied with three goals, in a span of 1:25 minutes, though Filip Filipovic’s blast boosted Recco’s moral as he narrowed the gap once more, with two seconds before the last break (9-8).
The next goal was crucial and it came from Jug which opened the scoring, Xavi Garcia put away a 6 on 5 which led to the substitution of Recco’s legendary goalie Stefano Tempesti. He wasn’t as effective as in his heydays and left the pool with a 28.6% saving percentage. At 10-8, Jug had a man-up but failed to take even a shot, soon Filipovic sent a rocket-like ball under the cross bar, it was his 4th goal of the night, so it was 10-9 instead of 11-8. With 4:28 to go Recco had a lot of time to equalise – last year it was 10-10 in the semis, Jug won in the shootout – but this time they couldn’t force at least the penalties. Jug’s defence, fuelled by Marko Bijac’s saves, worked pretty well, the Croats killed Recco’s last two 6 on 5s and advanced to the final once more.
They will play with Szolnok on Saturday afternoon as the Hungarian champion outpowered Eger in the all-Hungarian semi-final. It was the 9th clash of the two sides this season and Szolnok was the heavy favourite as they held a 7-1 advantage in the head-to-head.
Still, Eger jumped to a 2-1 lead while Szolnok went through the same struggles what Recco experienced against Jug. However, Eger couldn’t capitalise on that. Six minutes gone from the second period and the result still stood at 2-1, both goalies, Branislav Mitrovic (Eger) and Viktor Nagy came up with brilliant stops (both finished the match with 50+ saving percentages). It was a Serb who could finally beat Mitrovic, fellow Olympic champion Andrija Prlainovic netted two in 72 seconds to give Szolnok a 2-3 lead at half-time.
Another double, this time from Aussie Aaron Younger put Szolnok in a fine position late in the third at 2-5, while their rivals were frozen in front. Gergo Kovacs ended Eger’s suffering, lasting for agonisingly long (14:21 minutes without a goal).
The clash heated up in the middle of the fourth, until then only 17 shots on goal were recorded, an embarrassingly low value from two Hungarian sides. The next phase saw two goals apiece, Eger came close twice but Szolnok had the answers, courtesy of Younger and Prlainovic who completed their respective hat-tricks, securing Szolnok’s historical win which sent them to their first ever European cup final.
Champions League, Final Six, Day 2
For 5-6th place
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v AN Brescia (ITA) 5-8
Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) v Pro Recco (ITA) 10-9
ZF Eger (HUN) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN) 5-7
Schedule for Saturday
Bronze medal match
15.15 Pro Recco (ITA) v ZF Eger (HUN)
Champions League Final
16.45 Jug Dubrovnik (CRO) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN)