Recco scores 12sec from time and retains its title with a shootout win
Pro Recco is crowned for the 10th time after another thrilling Champions League final, decided by penalties for the second time after 2019. Host Novi Beograd was close as it led 11-9 after three periods and Nikola Jaksic’s 6th goal 50 seconds from time put the Serbs ahead once more. Still, Gergo Zalanki hit his 5th in the evening 12 seconds before the buzzer to save the game to a 13-13 tie and a shootout. And there, at 3-3, the two heroes lined up for the last shots – Jaksic hit the crossbar, Zalanki sent the ball home as well as his team-mates to the seventh if not 10th heaven. His former club Ferencvaros finished third, after downing Brescia – this game was another 26- goal epic, landed by the Magyars with 14-12.
Final: Novi Beograd (SRB) v Pro Recco (ITA) 13-13, pen: 3-4. Bronze medal match: AN Brescia (ITA) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) 12-14. For places 5-6th: Waspo 98 Hannover (GER) v Zodiac Atletic Barceloneta (ESP) 10-12. For places 7-8th: CN Marseille (FRA) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 15-13
Most Valuable Player: Giacomo Cannella (Recco)
102 goals, tremendous excitements and another triumph, the 10th one, for Pro Recco – this is the brief summary of the last day at the Final Eight tournament.
Recco needed to dig really deep to come back from two goals down in the fourth period against the host side Novi Beograd in front of a capacity crowd. For two and a half periods Novi Beograd was in front, though the Italians always found the way to equalise, then led 7-8 for the first time in the game but that didn’t last long. Indeed, after 8-8, a tricky solution – Strahinja Rasovic scored directly from a corner throw – sent the title-holders off-balance and two more action goals put the hosts 9-11 up before the final period.
Aaron Younger brought back Recco to life in the fourth, but Nikola Jaksic played the match of his life, put away man-ups, scored from the centre, then he hit his 6th from the perimeter with 50 seconds remaining – still, Recco had a last chance and Gergo Zalanki kept his calm to equalise once more, with 0:12 on the clock.
And it was the Hungarian leftie, scoring 5 in the game, who decided the contest in the shootout. Earlier the biggest heroes fell shy of burying their shots, first Dusan Mandic (won with Recco a year ago, now missed for NBG), then Younger, then, in the last round, right before Zalanki, Jaksic hit the crossbar to leave the pool in tears soon – because his last year team-mate executed his shot flawlessly to secure Recco’s 10th title.
Sandro Sukno joined the elite circle of coaches who won the Champions League both in the water and in charge at the bench (the other coach-and-player legend, Igor Milanovic lost his first final after winning in 2011 and 2015 – and NBG’s defeat also marked only the 4th time when a team failed to win the final in its home).
This was the first title-defence since 2008 – back then also Recco clinched back-to-back gold medals. The Italian record-holder lost a single game in the entire season (back in December to Jug in Dubrovnik), here they survived some scary moments by denying three man-downs at 10-10 against Barceloneta in the quarters, and now never ceased fighting, even though they were on the edge of losing in the last minute of this game.
Ferencvaros won the battle of the exhausted sides for the bronze medal. It was tense game, as usual between these two, with two red cards apiece, great excitements, fine goals – and with the very same outcome at the end as last years in the semis: the Magyars won 14-12.
They jumped to a 5-2 lead early, Brescia came back to 6-6 but after 7-8 the Italians had a minor blackout (three man-ups were gone without a shot) and FTC made them pay for that and led 8-11 before the last break. The Italians scored two fast goals but after an intense fight, coloured by a series of expulsions, Ferencvaros managed to bury two man-ups in 61 seconds for a 11-14 lead and that secured their medal. In fact, they were on the podium at the last three editions, though their trend is perhaps not the brightest (1st, 2nd, 3rd), still, after losing key players year by year, they were happy with this outcome.
In the games for the lower ranks, Barceloneta woke up in time to down Hannover with a 6-goal rush in the third period and let its legendary goalie Dani Lopez bid farewell to his seemingly infinity career on a winning note. The Spaniard, Champions League winner in 2014, World and European silver medallist with the national team, contributed a penalty save lately to secure his team’s 5th place finish. When he was substituted two minutes before the end, the entire pool, including the Hannover players, the referees and the jury table gave him a round of applause.
In the first game of the last session Marseille upended Jug for the 7th place to record its first win in the F8 (lost all three matches last season), while the Croats had to settle for their lowest-ever rank in the finals. Well, in years few shall remember that two days ago, early in the fourth period, they led by two goals in the quarters against Ferencvaros…
Final: Novi Beograd v Recco 13-13, pen: 3-4
The first four minutes produced a grand defensive battle, with a man-up apiece – Radomir Drasovic put it away for the hosts in the last seconds, while Aaron Younger sent the ball back to the net right away from 5m after collecting the rebound from the first shot.
Marco de Lungo then stopped Djorjde Vucinic’s ball in a man-down and Giacomo Cannella managed to gain enough advantage in the counter to put Recco ahead from the wing. The response came immediately, this time NBG could have a second attempt, and Angelo Vlachopoulos offered another surgery-precision shot for 2-2. The 2m set-up didn’t work for Recco, it did at the other end for Nikola Jaksic – then came Dusan Mandic’s trademark 6m blast so NBG led by two with 54 seconds till the first break. Not for long, though, a finely played action ended in a penalty, Gergo Zalanki buried it 35 seconds from time, then he made an incredible steal in a one-on-one man-down and Cannella’s 7m shot tricked goalie Joao Coimbra – with this double in 29 seconds, Recco came back to 4-4 just 6sec before the end of the first.
Strahinja Rasovic leashed himself for a counter after a turnover foul and his bouncer beat del Lungo for 5-4 right in the opening minute. Long minutes of intense defensive battle followed, with easier and bigger saves, del Lungo’s stop in a double man-down was crucial – then after 6:50 minutes Zalanki broke the ice, showing how to net a 6 on 4. There was still time for a 6 on 5 for NBG, and Jaksic was on hand for another 2m finish, so the home side led 6-5 at halftime.
Younger’s amazing blast from the remaining 6 on 5 earned in the dying seconds in the previous quarter immediately levelled the score, but another 2m play, with an unbelievably smart assist from Vlachopoulos to Jaksic, gave back the lead the Serbs. Coimbra stopped di Fulvio’s shot in a man-down – then after a couple of hopeless shots, Recco earned a penalty from an unusually easy situation (leaving an Italian behind, shooting the ball wide in front) – buried by Zalanki –, and in 38 seconds another one, in a man-up, converted by Ivovic and the title-holders took the lead at 7-8. The hosts kept their calm, Strahinja Rasovic made it easy from a man-up immediately for 8-8 – and then he decided to go for something extraordinary, shot the ball right away from a corner-throw and since del Lungo didn’t pay attention, it was a goal – coach Igor Milanovic welcomed the idea, though a little grimace on his face showed that in a final playing according to the book might be preferred at times…
Anyway, this created enough turbulence in Recco’s defence to leave Dusko Pijetlovic embarrassingly unmarked some one and a half minutes later and the veteran didn’t miss the chance. Zalanki halved the distance from a man-up, but Jaksic beat his defender and scored another one from the centre for an 11-9 lead 6 seconds before the last break – Recco conceded three action goals in a row after 8-8 and that seemed to put them in trouble.
The Serbs had two shots in their first possession to go three up, neither were really dangerous, then Recco had a man-up after a time-out and Younger was on target again for 11-10. Soon the Aussie delivered another one, this time from action, even though that possession was in ruins but his last-grasp outside shot somehow sneaked in under Coimbra’s arm so Recco was back to even at 11-11. And this time the hosts were unable to play the 2m scene clearly and del Lungo could make a crucial stop. Still, he couldn’t handle Jaksic – this time he shot from the back in a man-up to hit his 5th for 12-11 with 4:11 remaining.
Could have been more, but Recco defended well in a man-down – though without earning a man-up, they were unable to break through the home wall. Amidst the enormous fight, Ben Hallock really battled himself to a good position until he could finally take a shot from the centre, good enough for 12- 12. Still, NBG had Jaksic, and his amazing circling-faking shooting moves, then a shot to the top right corner from action – 50 seconds to go, the 6th goal of the young Olympic champion gave a 13-12 lead to the hosts.
It was far from over, though, Recco earned a rightful 6 on 5 and after a time-out Zalanki sent the ball home for 13-13 with 12 seconds on the clock. It was the Hungarian’s 5th of the evening and that set up the shootout as Mandic was denied on his last attempt after the time-out (Jaksic and Zalanki, 11 goals combined among them in this final, played in runner-up Ferencvaros against Recco a year ago). It was the second time after 2019 that the title was decided at the penalty line (Ferencvaros won against Olympiacos in Hannover). Mandic, MVP last year, was the first one to miss, del Lungo guessed the side perfectly. Younger hit the bar in the third round, after NBG sent in Gojko Pijetlovic to the goal, though a bottle was thrown towards him from the crowd, but only after he let the ball fly, so the shot was not retaken. Recco also went for a goalie change for the fifth round – and it similarly had an impact, as home hero Jaksic hit the crossbar too. Gergo Zalanki could close down the contest – and he didn’t leave any chance for the goalie and booked Recco’s spot on the top of the podium for the 10th time.
Bronze medal: Brescia v FTC 12-14
Leftie Marton Vamos began the game – probably his last one for a while in Ferencvaros – in style, converted a penalty, scored a fine action goal and set-up an easy put-away in a man-up in four minutes and this gave the Magyars a 1-3 lead. Brescia converted its first man-up, missed its second but apart from these, their start was a bit slow. Then Daniil Merkulov netted another man-up, Stefano Luongo replied also from a 6 on 5, though the WAR was needed to confirm his hit. Fellow leftie Luca Damonte netted a dying man-up with an incredibly precise shot for 2-5, while the Magyars denied another man down and kept their three-goal led by the end of the first.
Brescia wasted a man-up early as the shotclock expired but denied the Magyars in a 6 on 5 for the first time and Vincenco Dolce managed to gain the necessary space for a fine shot to finish off the counter. The Magyars missed another man-up, then Vogel saved one at the other end. It was a defining phase: Ferencvaros had a ball to go 2-6, then 3-6 up, instead Brescia came back for 4-5 from a 6 on 4. Who else, Denes Varga stepped up and netted one from the distance but soon his steal was called a free throw block, and Brescia finished the extra from the 2m line. The Hungarians went a bit off balance, missed a 6 on 4 and Dolce offered a brilliant lob to bring the match to event at 6-6. Vendel Vigvari halted their miseries by burying a man-up from the wing for 6-7 and they survived a late man-down, though Denes Varga got his second personal foul here, so his presence was supposed to be limited in the following period.
Vigvari continued where he had finished the previous period for 6-8, but Dolce was also on fire and stunned Vogel with an 8m shot this time. The scoring machine did not stop, next came another man-up goal from Damonte, followed by Djordje Lazic’s close-range finish for 8-9 – the game no longer was any similar to the hard-defending, low-scoring encounters these two produced in the prelims (ended 8-8 and 8-6).
Vogel stole the ball in an open Brescia counter, Jansik finished off the ensuing 4 on 3, Brescia missed a man-up, FTC did not – with a bit of luck, Fekete put the ball away for 8-11. The Italians’ level dropped, just like they did with the ball in their man-up, the next one was gone with a bad pass – no wonder they faced a mount to climb in the last period being three goals down.
Lazic sold his brilliant, backhanded shot from the centre in 20 seconds to lift his team’s spirit, then Christian Prescutti’s deflected ball bounced in, despite the Hungarians almost killed the man-down – in 75 seconds, Brescia was back at 10-11. Temporarily, though, Jansik&Co. overplayed the Italians’ zone for a fine finish from the wing and Brescia lost another ball in man-up… The next was denied by a blocking hand – indeed both sides showed the unmistakable signs of exhaustion with four minutes remaining.
This was also mirrored by a double red card during an Italian man-up (Ferencvaros lost Varga and Jansik within seconds), and Dolce finished off the 5 on 4. It stood 11-12 with 2:48 to go. A crucial man up came and Fekete sent the ball home, again from the wing for 11-13. Vogel stopped Brescia’s next man-up, with 1:35 to go, the Magyars got a match-ball, a 6 on 5 after a time-out and they played it brilliantly, Ubovic’s gentle one-timer closed down the contest with 1:19 from time. A late penalty by Edoardo di Somma just shaped the very same result the two sides had produced in their memorable semi-final last year, also won by FTC with the same margin.
For 5-6th: Hannover v Barceloneta 10-12
Unlike in the previous match, where defenders were kind of assisting the offences, the first half of this game was mostly about defending – and a bit of sharpening the focus. This was something especially the Spaniards were struggling with, their admired fast-paced attacks didn’t really click at the beginning – indeed did not click at all. They failed to score a single goal for eight minutes while Hannover, where playing for the 5th place is already a fine achievement, went for it right from the start and took a 2-0 lead.
Barceloneta arrived at the match in the 25th second of the second period when Alberto Munarriz scored their first, though the equaliser followed almost six minutes later. In between, the Spanish defence worked well, killed two man-downs – what’s more, with 62 seconds remaining till the middle break, Alejandro Bustos put Barceloneta ahead from an extra. However, the Germans hit two inside the last 47 seconds, their Croats were on target from action, first Petar Muslim, then Marco Macan so they retook the lead by halftime.
The Spaniards geared up a bit to score twice in a minute for 4-5, but Ivan Nagaev equalised from a penalty to break another longer silence (of 4:18 minutes) of the Germans for 5-5. Barceloneta responded well – the German defence broke down, rather – and scored from the next three possessions in 93 seconds for 5-8. Though Muslim pulled one back, but another one landed in Waspo’s net soon, by Larumbe, so thanks to the 6-goal package in this quarter, Barceloneta seemed to sit comfortable in the driving seat before last period.Macan narrowed the gap from a man-up for 9-7 early in the fourth, but even though Hannover killed a man-down, couldn’t stop the next 3 on 2 counter of the Spaniards. Soon Bustos made it 7-11 from a man-up and there was no way back to Hannover. In fact, there wasn’t – more goals arrived in the remaining time, but Spain’s legendary goalie Dani Lopez’s winning farewell was never in danger, he even contributed with a penalty save lately – indeed he finished his last game with an excellent 55.6 saving percentage, making 10 stops in 18 shots.
For 7-8th: Marseille v Jug 15-13
It was visible that the French found a better motivation for this last match of the season – the difference in the warm-up procedures already predicted this outcome. Accordingly, Marseille stormed to a 4-1 lead, so Jug had to go for its usual exercise here in Belgrade: bouncing back from an early 3-4 goals deficit.
Just like at the previous matches, the Croats managed to come back, what’s more, they scored five unanswered goals to take over the lead at 4-6 midway to the second period. Perhaps this recalled their fond experience of beating Marseille on Day 13 in their recent encounter (the French upended them in Dubrovnik in the second round) and started laying back a bit. Marseille geared up and with a 3-0 run they turned the match back to go ahead once more at 8-7.
From that point it was an even contest, the last period started at 10-10, then Alexandros Papanastasiou took the lead for Jug again, but as it turned out, for the last time. Though the Greek trio of the Croats produced the lionshare of goals (10 in total, Konstantinos Kakaris hit five), a French whirlwind decided the outcome in 87 seconds when they scored three in a row from as many possessions. Indeed, Jug was playing with the fire, they let the French have 30 shots on target, Toni Popadic did his best with 15 saves, but after a while not even he could save the day (as a contrast, Dejan Lazic only faced 19 shots coming on target, and 6 stops from him were enough).
This secured Marseille’s first-ever win at the Final Eight (last year they lost all three matches here), while Jug had to settle its worst-ever placement by finishing 8th.