Semi-final: NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) v Pro Recco (ITA) 8-12
The Greeks’ fairy tale just continued in the semi-final, at least in the first half. After eliminating Brescia in the quarters, to cause the biggest upset in the history of the Champions League finals, in three minutes they stormed to a 2-0 lead. They killed a man-down, then netted two great goals, Efstathios Kalogeropoulos hit a brilliant one from the perimeter, then Charalampos Troulos buried a penalty. Recco arrived a bit later, with Gergo Zalanki’s blast from a 6 on 5, then, after a missed man-up by the Greeks, Ben Hallock put away an extra from the 2m line. The reply came immediately, Nikolais Papasifakis’ pinpoint shot found the back of the net for 3-2.
Vouliagmeni doubled their lead right from their first possession, another centre-action earned them a penalty and Papasifakis converted it for 4-2. Gonzalo Echenique was blocked on a man-down, then the leftie did it better in the next one to pull one back. Still, the underdogs kept their composure and a very nice play found Dylan Woodhead on the 2m line how made no mistake. On contrary, Luka Loncar hit the post from the same position in Recco’s next man-up and the Greeks had a couple of possessions to take a three-goal lead. A fine lob landed on the post and Andrea Fondelli sent the ball home from the ensuing counter for 5-4 with 1:49 to go till the middle break.
Then the Greeks missed a man-up, despite playing after a time-out, while Recco, even if the first shot was saved to a corner, could equalise as Echenique still had some room to let the ball fly before the incoming player reached him. It was 0:17 on the clock and 5-5 on the scoreboard, that was also the halftime score.
The Italians didn’t need much time to take the lead for the first time, Fondelli’s one-timer in a 6 on 5 gave them a 5-6 lead after only 47 seconds. Further 44 seconds later they were up by two, Aaron Younger converted a penalty to shepherd the game into its expected path. The Greeks were unable to carry on their fine attaching game – mostly because Recco really toughened up in defence. They were a bit lucky too, Giacomo Cannella’s shot just beat the buzzer in a man-up – the VAR validated the goal and in 76 seconds, after a killed man-down, Ben Hallock added a great goal from the centre. Then Cannella scored another VAR-aided goal, from a man-up, though only the review confirmed that the ball crossed the virtual line.
This completed Recco’s overwhelming rush in the third where they scored as many goals as in the first half. All in all, after trailing 3-5, they really raised their game and staged a 0-7 run while shutting out Vouliagmeni for 12 minutes (who missed their last four extras).
At 5-10, the Greeks faced a mission impossible in the remaining eight minutes – though at least they had a better spell at the beginning of the fourth, Ioannis Alafgarakis netted one from action (after 13 minutes), then they killed a man-down. It was a short-lived surge though, Echenique’s outstanding shot somehow flew through the arms to reset the five-goal gap. This was the third hit from the Argentinian born leftie who also had a couple of assists in the game, playing a huge part in Recco’s victory. With the outcome decided, there were time for some magnificent plays, one finished by Francesco di Fulvio but Dimitrios Nikolaidis’ magnificent touch in the centre outshined the previous hits and secured a worthy finish of the game and Vouliagmeni’s quest.
However, the Greeks couldn’t prevent Recco from advancing to the final and meet Novi Beograd again – last year Recco won the shootout, Saturday will offer another thriller.
How they saw it
Vladimir Vujasinovic, coach, Vouliagmeni
“It was the quality of Recco which decided the match. Of course, we tried to do our best, we gave all we had but you cannot expect more from us against Recco where the players are better in all aspects, they are stronger and much more experienced. Now we try to do one more wonder as we have one more chance to get a medal here.”
Sandro Sukno, coach, Recco
“It was a tough match, but we knew we were the better side. Vouliagmeni played great yesterday and today they did some good things in the first half, but we kept going, made our defence tighter and we really raised the level of our game in the third period. We were expecting this, we knew that we have the physical superiority and we would prevail at the end. Now we face another big match against Novi Beograd, a great team with fantastic players.”
Panagiotis Tzortzatos, goalkeeper, Vouliagmeni
“We started pretty well and focused. We really tried our best but in the third quarter we lost the energy. Yesterday we really gave all we had. We tried to recover in the fourth quarter, but it was too late. I am really proud of my teammates. We had a chance… Barceloneta is a very good team, we played against them not long ago. They are very confident in defence. If we score more goals against them than usual, we have a chance. At the same time, we need to keep their scoring low, and their shooters covered. I hope we can play even better.”
Efstathios Kalogeropoulos, player, Vouliagmeni
“It was like playing against world champions. It was a difficult match. We started well, at halftime it was 5-5. We wanted to stay in the same rhythm, but then we got a bit tired. They have a much bigger rotation, and we are a very young team with much less experience in playing this kind of matches. We will try to win our next game. We have a chance to win a medal and that is what we will try to do.”
Gergo Zalanki, player, Recco
“Vouliagmeni started well, they gave everything they had. Physically and mentally, we were better in the second half. Congratulations anyway they played well. We, on the other hand, played good defence as always. Now we have one day to rest, and we need that since the water in the pool is a bit warmer than usual, it burns more energy. We must rest and prepare for Novi Beograd – the final will be a great clash.”
Benjamin Hallock, player, Recco
“We started off in a strange way. We were soft in defence and not quick enough, so they made us pay for that. They were super-organised. Later on, we focused more on our defence which has been our strong point all season and that allowed us to lock the match. We switched the energy somehow and it was that new energy that made the difference. The final will be a rematch of last year. It will be a great game!”