Producing arguably the biggest upset in the history of the Champions League finals, Vouliagmeni, ranked fourth in their group in the prelims, ousted top favourite Brescia to meet Recco in the semis. The Italian title-holders limited Ferencvaros to four goals and reached the top four for the 8th time in a row. Host Novi Beograd face Barceloneta in the other semi-finals after both sides claimed convincing wins over Olympiacos and Jug respectively.
Quarter-finals: Zodiac CNA Barceloneta (ESP) v Jug Adriatic Osiguranje Dubrovnik (CRO) 11-9, Novi Beograd (SRB) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 13-11, AN Brescia (ITA) v NC Vouliagmeni (GRE) 10-11, Pro Recco (ITA) v FTC-Telekom Budapest (HUN) 8-4
Fixtures for Saturday – Semi-finals: 17.00 Novi Beograd v Barceloneta, 20.00 Vouliagmeni v Recco. For 5-8th: 15.30 Jug v Olympiacos, 18.30 Brescia v Ferencvaros
If any of the four match-ups was considered a sure bet, then it was Brescia’s game against Vouliagmeni. Apart from minor setbacks, the Italians were dominant in most of their matches in the prelims, finished atop in their group, and, as a ‘reward’, they could play a game against Vouliagmeni, the newcomer ranked fourth in the other group, with only five wins in 14 rounds.
However, the Greeks had other plans and scored four goals in eight minutes and added four more in the second quarter to take a 6-8 lead. Brescia were struggling, unable to pick up their game, especially not in defence – in the prelims, in half of their matches they kept their rivals on 10 goals or less, now they conceded eight by halftime. A thunderstorm seemed to help them a bit as after the extended break they came back and shut out Vouliagmeni for the entire third period but could pull back only one goal. Then in the fourth the Greeks found their rhythm once more, took a three-goal lead again and even though Brescia pulled two back, they couldn’t save the game to a shootout. It happened for the second time after 2019 that a fourth-ranked side ousted a group-winner – back then Ferencvaros, had beaten Jug in the QF, went all the way.
Well, this won’t be that easy for the Greeks as they face another Italian test in the semis, and Recco looked anything but vulnerable against Ferencvaros. The title-holders were not as sharp in attack as usual, they had only 13 shots on target, but their defensive efforts were simply outstanding. Holding FTC on four goals is a fantastic feat in anybody’s language and Recco just did, including two quarters where they shut out the Hungarians. Goalie Marco del Lungo was instrumental as he posted 17 saves on 21 shots for 81%.
The other two quarters both ended in two-goal victories but towards the end neither Barceloneta’s, nor Novi Beograd’s victories were in danger. Jug put up a good fight against the Spaniards, it stood 5-5 at halftime, then Barceloneta netted three unanswered goals in 1:41 seconds and that did the damage. The Croats pushed hard but Barceloneta kept the game under control, despite missing three penalties during the match.
Host Novi Beograd jumped to a 5-2 lead early in the second period against Olympiacos, but the Greeks came back to 6-6 by halftime. This was their only better spell in the game as it turned out, in the second half they missed eight man-ups in a row and even though they managed to score from action from time to time, the home side were much more consistent, and their Spanish ace Alvaro Granados was brilliant in front with 5 goals. The Greeks shot everything which looked like a ball (the total stood 23-36 at the end), but they ended up 3 for 17 in man-ups and once they trailed by four at 12-8, there was no way back for them.
For detailed game reports and flash quotes from each game, visit https://championsleague.len.eu