Miracle by Vouliagmeni, the 4th placed oust the group-winners

LEN/Istvan Derencsenyi

Quarter-finals: AN Brescia (ITA) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) 10-11

Though Brescia opened the game with a fine goal by Jacopo Alesiani – after a great steal he forced an exclusion then finished the one-on-one –, the Italians couldn’t pick up their game. Instead, the Greeks managed to score twice, from a penalty and a man-up, for 1-2. Edoardo di Somma put away a penalty to level the score, but soon Nikolaos Papasifakis netted another man-up and in 41 seconds Efstathios Kalogeropoulos hit another one from 6m. Brescia, limiting even big rivals to 4-6 goals for matches, conceded four already in the opening period, something unusual from them. Vincenzo Renzuto pulled one back 54 seconds from time, but the Italians trailed after the opening period.

And the Greeks’ unexpected adventures continued – Brescia’s first man-up in the second gone due to a technical error, while Nikolaos Kourouvanis hit a distant one for 3-5 at the other end. Soon James Farmer put away a man-up from close, it was a nice setup after a time-out and Vouliagmeni led by three. The Italians’ next play in a 6 on 5 was a beauty too, finished by Alesiani, then Vouliagmeni missed their first man-up but Charalampos Troulos converted a penalty, earned with fine centre-action, to reset the three-goal gap. With some luck, after a saved shot, Stefano Luongo sent the recovered ball to the net from a dying man-up for 5-7. Still, the Greeks were patient and precise and could feed Dimitrios Nikolaidis who scored a great one from the centre. Vouliagmeni even had a ball to go up by four but couldn’t create much danger and Boris Vapenski beat his defender from the second centre’s position to make it 6-8 22 seconds before the middle break. Still, Brescia’s defence did not click, receving four goals in each of the first two periods.

LEN/Istvan Derencsenyi

Then Mother Nature had a say – a T-storm hit the venue and the teams were ordered to leave the pool so instead of a 3-minute break, the players had to wait 20 minutes to continue the game. 

And the lightnings did a bit better to the Italians – Vincenzo Dolce brought Brescia closer in 29 seconds, then they imposed a different level in defending while the Greeks lost their rhythm. They missed two man-ups, couldn’t add any goal in the third. Brescia seemed to have more control, though they were still far from their dominant game, also missed a late man-up but at least trailed by only one before the last break (7-8).

Boris Vapenski could have levelled the score from the first possession but this time his centre-like shot was denied and soon he committed a penalty foul on Nikolaidis. Before the shot, Petar Tesanovic was thrown out for not taking his position in the goal, and Vapenski had no chance to stop Kalogeroupoulos’s shot, which also ended Vouliagmeni’s scoreless run after 10:14 minutes. And Brescia got back to trouble as the Greeks’ patient man-up play resulted another goal for 7-10, thanks to the fine finish from Troulos. 

LEN/Istvan Derencsenyi

Tommaso Gianazza pulled one back in a man-up, after a blocked first attempt, but Troulos was unstoppable on the wing as he netted his fourth. Luongo also buried one from the same spot and there were still more than four minutes to play. Renzuto added another one with 3:24 on the clock for 10-11 – then the flurry of goals ceased as the Greeks couldn’t do much in six on six while the Italians missed a 5 on 4 lately. With 0:56sec remaining, Sandro Bovo called a timeout to try to save the game to a shootout – but his players couldn’t do much with the ball and a steal terminated their penultimate attempt. A time-out with 0:24 to go from the Greeks, with 18sec in possession, helped the underdogs to handle the tensions well, Brescia regained the ball with a couple of seconds left but a bad pass put a fitting end to their struggle.

Vouliagmeni became the second team after Ferencvaros to oust a group-winner in the quarters – back in 2019 the Hungarians, finishing fourth in the prelims, went all the way, so the path is set for the Greeks now.

LEN/Istvan Derencsenyi

How they saw it

Vladimir Vujasinovic, coach, Vouliagmeni

“Today our young players showed their great potential. This season we played six or seven really tough matches against big teams where we showed some good play but could never maintain the high level for four periods. Now, in the most important match, they were able to do that and I think we really deserved this win.”

Alessandro Bovo, coach, Brescia

“I don’t know what happened to my team. In the first half we defended really badly. We tried something else in the second half, but it was too late. Vouliagmeni played really well, they deserved this.”

Stefano Luongo, player, Brescia

They were better and deserved to win, full stop. We failed in every aspect today, our approach to this match, our man-down… We never played ‘our’ game. That’s all.”

Estathios Kalogeropoulos, player, Vouliagmeni

“We wanted to start hard and focused. We knew who they are. They finished first in their group in the preliminaries. They play good, modern and fast water polo but we were focused, we followed the tactics we had agreed before the match and succeeded. Now we must get some rest. This is a great result for us.”

Dimitrios Nikolaidis, player, Vouliagmeni

“Today we played the best match when it counted the most. We knew that they were winners of their group and in order to win against them we needed to show our best game. The delay? I don’t know, it didn’t help us but it didn’t hurt us either. We didn’t play the third quarter well after the delay, but we managed to find the right motivation and all of us played well, as a team. Tomorrow will be tough whoever comes, both teams are at the top of their game.”