Stating the obvious, the semi-finals of this season’s Euro Cup have a big Hungarian influence.
In fact, it is only the second time in the competition’s 23 year history that three teams from the same nation occupy semi-final spots (the other being back in 2013 when Shturm 2002, Izmailovo, and Uralochka all progressed to the last four).
Three Hungarian teams have lifted Europe’s second tier club competition; Honved in 2006, UVSE in 2018 and most recently, Dunaujvaros in 2019. Eger and Ferencvaros, both clubs with huge heritage, are racing to become the fourth.
With a Hungarian hat on, this competition might be viewed as the ‘Hungarian Cup mark 2’, with FTC, UVSE, and Eger all reaching the same stage of their country’s domestic cup competition back in December. But it would be totally remiss to ignore the fourth team from Italy, Plebiscito Padova, especially as they can be considered outside favourites at this point.
The two-time runners up of this competition Padova can be considered the team to beat, not least because they have already defeated their semi-final opponents, Ferencvaros, this season, in a 13-8 victory in the qualification round of the Champions League in the autumn.
Plebiscito were excellent in that duel and controlled the game for large spells. At least from Fradi’s point of view, they have had three months to reflect on the intricacies of that game, and will hope to provide a more problematic test when they meet in Padua this weekend.
Stefano Posterivo’s team, who finished third in the Champions League last season, have not been themselves at home all season, which presents the Hungarian league leaders with a big opportunity to gain the upper hand in the first leg. Fradi have shown that they can dictate their opponents in Budapest, but a strong showing in Italy will be key if they want to progress to their first European final.
Plebiscito’s coach, Stefano Posterivo, says that his team won’t take their eyes off the ball:
“We know FTC is a really strong competitive team, with excellent players. They’re dominating the Hungarian National Championship and we won’t make the mistake to relax on the favourable result we got against them in the first round of the tournament. We must be strong in both matches to win them, providing the best versions of ourselves”
This tie is perfectly poised though; with a deadly strike-force from Fradi looking to undo a robust Plebiscito defensive unit.
In the other semi-final, 2018 winners UVSE will know they have what it takes to bypass their opponents, Eger, but Ujpest’s young guns would be very foolish indeed if they approach the game without caution.
Jozef Sike’s team has already shown their character this season, clinching a thrilling penalty-shootout victory against Vouliagmeni in the quarter-finals. They have pedigree too in cup competitions, having picked up a surprise piece of silverware in last season’s Hungarian Cup.
UVSE have already shown their quality against Eger earlier in the season. Marton Benczur’s team, despite a sluggish start, overturned a 4-0 deficit to take a 12-9 victory back in early December. It was a damaging and demoralising defeat for Eger, and one that they no doubt will be scathing from.
The context of this semi-final is very unusual. In a freakish coincidence, the two teams will face each other no less than three times in three weeks; their two meetings in the Euro Cup sandwich a league clash on the 4th March, which holds significance for both sides.
Ujpest coach, Marton Benczur, gave his view on the game:
“A big battle is expected between two great Hungarian teams. The international experience which is represented by several of their (Eger) players can work in their favour. The fact we can play at home can give us the extra power we need. This obviously doesn’t mean we won’t go to Eger to win, our team has never had a different attitude. We will do everything we can to reach the finals”
Who triumphs in which meetings is not clear, but it’s fair to say that these two teams will be very familiar with each other come mid-March.
Collectively, though, these semi-final pairings look like they could throw up some interesting results. An all-Hungarian final could be on the horizon, but Padova will aspire to reach the final for a third time.
Euro Cup Semi-finals, 1st legs
18:00 – Plebiscito Padova vs FTC Telekom
20:30 – ZF Eger vs UVSE
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