Final: Novi Beograd (SRB) v Pro Recco (ITA) 11-14
Recco opened its title-defence campaign in a cool and collected way, netted their first two man-ups – the first was a clean job, by Francesco di Fulvio, the second was a bit adventurous, but after a saved shot, Alessandro Velotto sent the ball home from the back for 0-2. The Serbs efforts in the first three minutes were less impressive but they also delivered in their first man-up, Strahinja Rasovic’s pinpoint shot from the left wing opened their account. The second was gone, though, they didn’t have much time to set themselves up and a forced shot from a bad angle was a gift for Marco del Lungo.
Recco’s next man-up copied the previous one, this time they regained the ball after a blocked shot, then patiently overplayed the hosts’ defence and Aleksandar Ivovic had an easy job from the 2m line. Angelos Vlachopoulos’ first shot was caught by del Lungo in NBG’s next extra, and a great feed for the centre and a fine action earned a penalty for the title-holders, Gergo Zalanki buried it for 1-4. And a third 6 on 5 also went down the drain via a 2m violation – while Recco scored three goals from three man-ups (even though the last two hits came in the 22-23rd seconds), NBG were 1 for 4 – and that made the difference in the opening quarter.
The next one began differently, Alvaro Granados didn’t leave much chance for del Lungo in NBG’s first man-up, but Zalanki’s blast was also a mission impossible for Joao Fernandez. Granados hit his second after he had received a hit from Gonzalo Echenique – that was reviewed, the goal was revoked and Echenique was ejected for four minutes for brutality. Rasovic sent the ball home from the ensuing penalty for 3-5. However, the Italians brought all their experience to spend 40 seconds in front of NBG’s goal, force a 5 on 4 man-up and Younger netted it. On contrary, the Serbs missed their chance – a bad shot, followed by a awful pass, and Ivovic, even this time in 5 on 6, sent a fierce shot to the net from 8m for 3-7.
Despite an emergency time-out, and the chance to play man-ups for 30 seconds, NBG missed the following one as well before Rasovic finally converted one from the wing for 4-7. Then Granados also finished off the next one in the seconds when sixth player was swimming back – so this four-minute period saw a modest 3-2 partial run by NBG, a missed opportunity indeed. Once back to normal, Recco claimed a 6 on 5, and di Fulvio made it with ease – this time incoming goalie Radoslav Filipovic couldn’t put a hand the ball. And the difference between the goalies’ performances started became more and more visible as Ivovic blasted another one from the distance for 5-9. The key stats for those in the red caps were telling at this stage: 3 saves on 12 shots here, 6 on 11 there.
Granados kicked off the third with a 6m rocket, followed by a man-up goal from the 2m line by Dusko Pijetlovic to create some noise on the packed stands as NBG managed to halve the gap in 56 seconds. But again, the goaltending problems haunted the hosts once more, Di Fulvio’s shot sneaked in under Fernandez’s arm, then, after the Serbs gave away the ball in a man-down, di Fulvio’s lob also beat the Brazilian-born goalie – and the two action goals in 38 seconds led to goalie change No. 3… Granados buried a penalty, then Filipovic denied Zalanki in a dying man-down, but not at the next 6m shot – between the two NBG missed another 6 on 5 as del Lungo made another easy catch thanks to his defenders.
Granados scored his 5th from a man-up to keep his side in the game at 9-12, then Rasovic’s ball hit the bar but never crossed the virtual line – on contrary, Zalanki offered no mercy and blasted his fourth from a man-up after a time-out. And Granados couldn’t save NBG’s next extra, di Fulvio blocked his shot, so despite NBG’s renewing attempts the gap remained four goals before the final period – and it was hard to imagine that Recco would let this go.
Especially how the last period started – Recco had earned a man-up in the dying seconds in the third (after grabbing the rebound in the man-down), won the swim-off, set up Hallock quickly on the 2m line and the American made it 9-14 after 18 seconds. Angelos Vlachopoulos finished off a 6 on 5 quickly, but despite denying Recco in a man-down, they couldn’t make theirs, which, as the clock was ticking down, didn’t promise a happy end. Another 2m finish in an extra ended up in del Lungo’s hands and all the Italians had to do was killing the time which they executed perfectly. With 2:27 to go, Zivko Gocic used his last time-out to try to create miracle as NBG still trailed by four. And even though they forced an extra, another 2m violation virtually ended their quest – when Nikola Jaksic somehow sent the ball into the net from the next one, only 43 seconds remained from the game.
That was it – Recco made it again, flawlessly, winning their matches here twice by four goals, and by three in the final, a very convincing way to equal the feat of Mladost Zagreb from 1968-1969-1970 to become the second team in history to win three Champions League titles in a row.
Here is what the protagonists had to say after the final.
Sandro Sukno, coach, Recco
“It’s hard to find the proper words to describe the feelings I have now… What the players did today… We controlled the whole match, we did some really great defending and our offence also worked extremely well… I can’t really add to much, just… Thanks for the whole team.”
Zivko Gocic, coach, Novi Beograd
“True, our defence was down in this match. We tried everything, we did our best but today Recco was much better. Whenever we were coming back, they always managed to find the way to score, and we were unable to prevent them. They really deserved this today, though I’m also proud of my players, they did a great job this season.”
Aleksandar Ivovic, captain, Recco
“I will speak straight from my head and my heart. I think we have written history in the European club water polo. I don’t think anyone managed to win the third consecutive title in the history of modern water polo. I think it was Mladost with Ozren Bonacic that succeed in doing so at the end of the ’60s and early ’70s when it was called the Cup of European Champions, so it has been some 50 years since then. Something so rare means that it is truly an extraordinary thing that is hard to repeat. This result first and foremost reflects on the extraordinary unity of this team of which I am extremely proud. I am living some of the best and most beautiful moments of my career in these late years not only in terms of results but even more because of the atmosphere within the team. That is why none of these great results have happened by chance. I want to congratulate all my teammates, Novi Beograd too. Coming up second for two consecutive years is no small thing. They have organised a top level Final8 for three years. The first was especially difficult to stage because of the Covid restrictions, so congratulations to them and also to my club and its patron Mr. Gabrielle Volpi and well… Tonight we will celebrate and relax a little.”
Aaron Younger, player, Recco
“Winning five consecutive Champions League trophies, but especially the last three years in Recco have been amazing. The team has been put together just right. This is only the second time in history that someone has won three consecutive titles in a row. To achieve this has been very important for everybody involved.”
Marco del Luongo, goalkeeper, Recco
“It was a great match. We won this with our heads not our muscles. We started the match in an excellent way. Then we got that expulsion, but we managed to endure those four minutes and then continued on like that till the end. We stayed compact from the beginning till the end. That was the key.”
Francesco di Fulvio, player, Recco
“This is our third consecutive title. We have written history in our sport. It is more than well deserved. It has been a crazy season. I want to congratulate everyone, the players, all 15 of us, the staff, everyone that helped us to get to where we are now. I am so proud of this achievement that will stay forever. I am pretty emotional right now. We have done something truly extraordinary.”
Gergo Zalanki, player, Recco
“We deserved this as we were dominating in the whole game. True, that our road to the final was a bit easier, beating Ferencvaros and Vouliagmeni did not require that much energy what Novi Beogad had to burn while beating Olympiacos, then Barceloneta – I think they were a bit worn out towards the end. Still, at the beginning we already went ahead and kept our big lead, even during the four-minute ejection when we could score goals so that period really lifted our spirits and that was also a key for our victory.”
Alvaro Granados, player, Novi Beograd – MVP of the F8
“Regardless of everything, I am happy with the second place. We had many tough moments during the season, but we managed to unite ourselves and play really good water polo as a team. I think this is just a beginning. We will have time to grow and make big things. It’s sport. It was beautiful to play here in front of our fans. My MVP award is nice, but I would trade it for the Champions League trophy in a heartbeat.”
Dusko Pijetlovic, player, Novi Beograd
“It was a well-deserved victory by Recco. I want to congratulate the Recco players and the club. Something was missing and wouldn’t let us go all the way. When we got back to two goals, we conceded some easy goals from the distance that we shouldn’t have. But it happens. My team-mates gave everything they had. They are young. They will recognise that what counts the most is to be able to look each other in the eyes, and we definitively can. Now I have to take some time off before I decide to continue playing or retire. This is not an easy decision. Definitively, not one that you make overnight and with a hot head. I will see.”
Viktor Rasovic, player, Novi Beograd
“I want to congratulate Recco for their title. They were better than us from the very first second. We just didn’t manage ourselves that well either in defence or offence. We missed our chance to come back in the first half after their brutality in a situation where we had an extra man for four minutes. We even conceded two goals during that period. Even in the third and fourth quarter, we never managed to get into the rhythm of the game. I want to congratulate Recco but also my team mates on claiming the second place twice in a row. It is a big success to finish second for two consecutive years. Still regret remains for not having succeed in winning the Champions League trophy.”