Pro Recco's Final Six title aspirations were derailed by defending champion Jug Dubrovnik in a 10-9 semifinal loss at the LEN Champions League Water Polo semifinals in Budapest on Friday. Jug have now beaten two favored opponents to earn a chance to repeat as champions on Saturday when they face home-country favorite Szolnok, which defeated Eger by two goals to advance to the title match.
Jug dispatched the Italians in a manner similar to their Thursday quarterfinal win over Olympiacos. The underdogs ended the first quarter with a surprising 4-2 lead after Jug's Maro Jokovic, Luke Loncar, and Josip Vrlic tallied three unanswered goals, though Recco reeled off two of their own (Ivovic extra-man, Sukno penalty) to keep the match close. The Croatians maintained the lead until the third quarter when the Italian champs went on their own three-score run to take a 7-6 lead, echoing Olympiacos' comeback against Jug a day earlier.
As in the quarterfinal versus the Greek side, Jug quickly turned the score back in their favor with three goals in less than two minutes to effectively end the surprising upset.
World player of the year Filip Filipovic proved to be Recco's most dangerous weapon of the day with four goals. But the Jug defense, again anchored by goalie and tournament-MVP candidate Marko Bijac, did enough to turn away the Recco threat.
The Italians were denied a chance at their record-breaking ninth title, while Jug will attempt to bring home their fifth after entering the Final Six as decided underdogs.
Jug: Bijac (9 saves), Macan, Fatovic, Loncar 2, Jokovic 1, Garcia Gadea 2, Markovic 1, Pavlicevic, Vrlic 1, Perrone Rocha 1, Benic 1, Obradovic 1, Popadic.
Pro Recco: Tempesti (4 saves), Di Fulvio 1, Mandic 1, Figlioli, Molina Rios, Pijetlovic, Sukno 2, Fondelli, Ivovic 1, Filipovic 4, AIcardi, Bodegas, Volarevic (1 save).
Szolnok 7, Eger 5On the opposite side of the draw, an all-Hungarian semifinal entertained a crowd with allegiances split between the two sides, which met for the eighth time this season. Szolnok, who went 6-1 against league rivals Eger during the regular season, recovered from a one-goal first-quarter deficit to pull ahead 3-2 at the end of the first half.
Szolnok never again relinquished the lead, though Eger twice pulled to within one in the final stanza. Aaron Younger, who went three for four shooting, scored two key goals in the fourth while Andrija Prlainovic also had a cap-trick. His last tally with 1:38 on the clock proved to be the winner and handed the club a 7-5 victory in the defensive-minded matchup.
Szolnok's Viktor Nagy came away with the win in goal with seven saves but was outdone by his opponent Branislav Mitrovic, who ended the game with eight saves for Eger.
The result is the best ever for Eger, while Szolnok will try to win its first ever Champions League trophy on Saturday.
Szolnok will face Jug at 4:45 PM local in the championship match. Recco will meet Eger in the consolation match at 3:15 PM local.
Exclusions: Eger, 11; Szolnok, 10. Penalty shots: Szolnok 1 (0).
Eger: Mitrovic (8 saves), Angyal, Decker, Cuckovic, Hosnyanszky 1, Lorincz 1, Cuk, Kovacs 1, Erdelyi, Vapenski, Bedo 1, Harai 1, Csiszar.
Szolnok: Nagy (7 saves), Gocic, Crousillat 1, Vamos, Jansik, Mezei, Aleksic, Younger 3, Prlainovic 3, De. Varga, Kis, Fulop, Kardos.