LEN Champions League 2018 Final Eight Genoa Quarterfinals 01
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Final Eight – Can Szolnok succeed without Prlainovic?

LEN Champions League 2018 Final Eight Genoa Quarterfinals 03

This is the replay of last year’s final match which Szolnok won rather easily. We could have watched a slightly different match if it wasn’t for LEN’s peculiar organization, as Jug defeated Pro Recco in the semis less than 24h prior to the big final. Not to mention that the Final Six was played in Budapest and Jug usually has problems in Hungary – but who doesn’t?

We have to be real and say that this quarter-final encounter should have been between Barceloneta and Sozlnok, but the Spanish team decided not to fight in the last two group matches to avoid Szolnok, and possibly Pro Recco later on in the semi-finals.

Jug

This should be a close match as both teams lost some crucial players. Three key performers left Jug as Perrone and Vrlic went back to Barceloneta, while Obradovic is showing some of his best performances, but this time for Olympiacos. We have to mention Markovic as well, even though his performances were heavily influenced by a series of shoulder injuries.

They do have new recruits who are not bad at all but still lack experience playing these big matches: Renzuto, V. Rasovic, and Lozina. Funny fact is that Rasovic and Lozina both came from Barceloneta, the reverse way Vrlic and Perrone went.

Important for Jug is that they retained the services of Bijac, by far the best goalkeeper in the world, at least for this season. He will leave for Pro Recco soon, together with Renzuto. Half of the Croatian national team is here, center forward Loncar, both left-handed players Jokovic and Garcia, as well as set guard Macan and right guard/winger Fatovic.

Fatovic is the player who has improved the most, and he is already showing more than his father Elvis, which is definitely a big thing. Benic got some more space so he has a freedom to shoot some heavy bombs from 7-8m outside. Many other young guys got their chance under coach Kobescak.

Kobescak is a big strength of this team, which will surely go under some changes in next couple of years, as he already gave a extended playing time to a lot of young players who show great potential There are rumors that Merkulov (Jadran HN) has agreed to sign for Jug for next season.

Szolnok

Szolnok underwent major changes as well: Vamos and Denes Varga went to FTC, and brought the title to Fradi after 18 years of waiting. Crousillat left for Pays d’Aix, but he wasn’t the key player last season. Cornerstone, on the other hand, was goalkeeper Nagy’s superb form and the help from his physically strong defensive players.

This season slightly different, as Vamos was replaced by Zalanki who can’t guard heavy players, which was clearly seen during Hungary’s championship finals. While he does score some goals, especially from the long distance, he isn’t a player who creates his own chances like Vamos.

Two players are really important for Szolnok’s Game: Nagy and Prlainovic. Without an exceptional Nagy between the posts, they can’t hope for much, while Prlainovic is a playmaker who makes everyone in his team much better.

He has all the freedom to do whatever is needed. The bad news for Szolnok is that (most probably) he won’t play due to injured ribs from game 4 of the championship finals. They will depend heavily on Younger’s performance, as he will probably play the second center with Jokovic (especially when Mezei plays), paired with outside shots from Cuk and Zalanki.

The very important fight between Gabor Kis and Macan might be the decisive factor as Kis is a bit different to other centers, often taking free throw shots from 5m.

The Conclusion

If Prlainovic was about to play, this would be 50-50 match, but due to his injury, we believe Jug has a slight advantage. Both teams play a strong defense, which could prove as the decisive element in this game, especially if Nagy performs similarly to last season. This season he had some troubles until FTC took a 2-0 lead in final series when he managed to accumulate 18 saves in only match 3.

Who knows what would have happened if Prlainovic was 100% fit in game 5. Jug had one blackout in national championship final series when they lost in Zagreb vs Mladost, which was their first national defeat after 7 years. We would say this defeat was rather good for them as
the team got to laxt after a big win in game 1. This should be the tightest match of all quarterfinal matches, at least on paper.

Prediction

Jug - 55%

Szolnok - 45%

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