Malta set to host a memorable Final Four

Malta is set to witness another memorable coronation of the Champions League season. The Final Four tournament features the four best teams in Europe, title-holder Pro Recco, ready for breaking more records, two former champion sides, Olympiacos and Ferencvaros, and the runner-up in the last two seasons Novi Beograd. As Recco’s legendary coach Sandro Sukno put it: here the level will be higher than it was in the semis at the World Championship.

Champions League Final Four, Semi-finals – Wednesday

19.00 Pro Recco (ITA) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE)

21.00 FTC-Telekom (HUN) v Novi Beograd (SRB)

For the first time ever, the Champions League finals are heading to Malta which has rich traditions in water polo but the beautiful pearl of the Mediterranean needed to wait until this week to see the crème de la crème of the sport.

As the CEO of the local federation and the organisers Karl Izzo said: “This is a significant milestone in the history of our aquatics sports”, while Hon. Clifton Grima, Minister for Education, Sport, Youth, Research and Innovation talked about their three-year commitment to stage the season-ending showcase in Malta.

“Through this prestigious tournament, we can create a lasting legacy,” said Grima.

“We are investing to our infrastructure which enables us to host really high-level international sport events. But more importantly, we want the young generations to be attracted by this beautiful sport.”

European Aquatics Vice President Kyriakos Giannopoulos assured the hosts the best clubs were competing in Valletta, the Maltese capital.

“Very strong teams which have the best players in the world,” he said. “This event is going to be really exciting as the quality of these teams are simply amazing, this is one of the strongest fields we’ve ever seen.”

The four semi-finalists showcased their outstanding strength right from the beginning of the season.

All four retained their respective national titles – and as amazing as it may sound, none of the quartet lost a single game in their respective domestic championships.

Recco was beaten in a penalty shootout by Brescia in the Italian Cup final, Olympiacos was forced to have a shootout in the first game of the Greek league final by Vouliagmeni – although they went on to win – but they are the only minor spots on their clean sheets.

At the same time, Novi Beograd and Ferencvaros posted perfect records in Serbia and Hungary respectively, winning each and every home match across all competitions.

The only losses came in the Champions League.

Ferencvaros had one, against Olympiacos while Novi Beograd had three – one to Sabadell and two against Recco, one by penalties.

Olympiacos was also beaten twice by Recco and once by Ferencvaros while Recco is yet to lose a match in regular time in the entire season.

The Italian giant is one step away from adding another chapter to the history books by becoming the first team to win the Champions League four times in a row. They won the last three, boosting their total to 11, by far the most on the all-time ranks.

However, they face Olympiacos in the semis and that’s a challenge. The last team which was able to bring down Recco in the CL finals was indeed the Greek champion, who beat the Italians in back-to-back F8s, in the 2018 final and in the 2019 semi-final. Ever since, Recco went 9/9 in the last three editions. The two already met in the prelims and Recco prevailed in both matches but only by a single goal.

The other semi also promises a true thriller between Ferencvaros and Novi Beograd. A Hungarian v Serbian clash is always exciting but here, besides the top players from both nations, there is an army of foreign aces on both sides.

Dusan Mandic arrived to Ferencvaros from Novi Beograd last summer, both teams have Greek greats, Stylianos Argyropoulos in Fradi, Angelos Vlachopoulos and Dimitrios Skoumpakis in NBG, plus Italy’s all rounder Edoardo di Somma in FTC and Spain’s top player Alvaro Granados in NBG.

Add that two legends may have their respective Last Dances, the captains of the two sides, Denes Varga and Filip Filipovic and this adds a really special flavour to this encounter.

Quotes from the opening press conference

Sando Sukno, coach, Recco

“Our expections are always high. This year we have an exciting season which is long because of the the interational break. Now this is the end, with four excellent teams and this tournament offers the highest level of our sport. I’d say this tournament is going to be better than the semi-finals and the medal round of the World Championship.”

Aleksandar Ivovic, captain, Recco

“Every year is different, this one is special with the European and the World Championship in the middle of the season. Most of the players were involved so they had a tiring season, with exhaustion, sometimes injuries which gives more uncertainty to the outcome here. We go step by step, first we face Olympiacos, a strong team, we have a lot of respect towards them as they have great Greek national team players and quality foreigners. It’s going to be tough, we had two matches already this season, both decided by one goal, so this is going to be very hard.”

Hrvoje Koljanin, coach, Olympiacos

“I know we had two close matches against Recco but I don’t think too much of those games as we played them six months ago. It’s going to be one tough match and we know whom we play with – an excellent team. We are improving and we only have to look at ourselves and not at our opponent. We have to show good face and strongly believe that we can do it.”

Konstantinos Genidounias, captain, Olympiacos

“Well, I can tell you a lot of things we have to do in order to beat Pro Recco. But at the end, it will come down to our defence. If we can prevent them from scoring many goals, if we can keep them under 10 goals then we’ll have a chance. We have been preparing for this and I think we can do it. Of course, you can never expect beating Pro Recco. But if there is one team which is able to do it, it’s Olympiacos as we showed it in 2018 and 2019. We are here to win and we shall fight until the very end to beat the team which won the last three finals.”

Balazs Nyeki, coach, FTC-Telekom

“I can say it has been a nice season, we played each of our matches with great confidence and qualified for the Final Four with really convincing performances. This makes me happy, but from now, it’s already the past as we have two huge matches ahead of us. I believe in my team, my players that we can achieve our goal.”

Denes Varga, captain, FTC-Telekom

“Telling me that I’m experienced is a fancy way to say I’m old… but that’s fine. However, whatever experience I have from past finals, I don’t really care, nor do I about chances and rivals. All I care is to have great motivation as we have very few disappointing memories this year. We want to maintain our level and make the season even more memorable. To achieve that, we only need two more victories.”

Zivko Gocic, coach, Novi Beograd

“We played well in this season and perhaps the fans are happy with the way we play and we scored a lot of goals – but here this does not count at all. We have two more matches in this long season, the first one against a big team. We will do our best, for sure.”

Filip Filipovic, captain, Novi Beograd

“Well, there is definitely a Last Dance feeling inside as there are going to be my last matches. I really wish to finish my career as I wanted. It’s also a very special feeling to be here as 23 years ago I came here for my first international tournament as a young kid with Partizan and now here I will have my last one as well. I’d rather not talk about expectations, we live day by day, tomorrow we’ll take one step. I’m sure our coach can help our team a lot as he spent a lot of time in Hungary and knows our rival extremely well.”