Jadran Split have won their first ever Croatian Championship, earning a well-deserved victory in the final play-off game over Jug Adriatic, 11-8.
Jubilant scenes return to the Dalmatian coast, eight months on from the European Championships – an equally historic triumph for the water polo pedigree of the city. After three painful cup final defeats at the hands of Croatia’s powerhouse club, today belonged to Split.
The hosts, if nothing else, deserved the victory on the basis of this title deciding match; Jure Marelja’s side punished Jug for a sleepy start, scoring the games’ first four goals. Jug were always chasing the game, which suited the hosts. Four goals from Rino Buric made a huge difference in the game, however Split’s defence was really sensational in shutting Jug out. Zvonomir Butic and Jerko Marinic Kragic both bagged a brace.
Jug have struggled in recent times at Poljud, and that was the case once again this evening. It won’t comfort any of Jug’s players to speculate what the result might have been if the all-important fifth game was played at Bazen Gruz instead. Now Vjeko Kobescak must prepare his injury-ridden side for the Champions League Final-8 in two weeks time.
2022/23 Croatian League, final (best-of-five), Match 5
Jadran Split 11 – 8 Jug Adriatic (4-1, 0-2, 4-2, 3-3)
Split: I. Marcelic, R. Buric 4, J. Marinic-Kragic 2, M. Cagalj, Z. Butic 2, D. Pejkovic, L. Bukic 1, M. Tomasovic 1, M. Delic, N. Dobud, A. Setka, A. Duzevic, M. Antic, I. Domagoj Zovic 1.
Jug: T. Popadic, I. Burdelez, L. Fatovic 1, H. Zvono, M. Jokovic 2, I. Vukojevic 1, M. Biljaka 1, F. Lazic 1, F. Krzic, K. Kakaris 1, G. Grgurevic, M. Zuvela 1, I. Jurisic, T. Mozara.
Drawing inspiration from the electric atmosphere generated by the 1000-strong crowd inside Poljud, Split asserted their dominance from the outset, swiftly claiming a 2-0 advantage within the opening two minutes. Rino Buric displayed composure on the power-play, converting adeptly, before earning a penalty that was successfully converted by the local hero, Jerko Marinic Kragic. A rattled Jug side found themselves on the back foot as extra-play finishes from Zvonomir Butic and Rino Buric extended the hosts’ lead to four goals. Just before the quarter ended, Jug managed to salvage their first goal of the game through Marko Zuvela’s penalty, leaving only ten seconds remaining.
Jug exhibited improvement in the second period, narrowing the gap as they scored from both wings through Jokovic and Vukojevic. Split continued to create opportunities, but Jug’s defense began to find its rhythm, with Toni Popadic anchoring the team with a series of impressive saves, including a crucial goal-line clearance in the dying seconds of the half.
The third period commenced with a cautious start from both teams, resulting in relatively untroubled goalkeepers. While goal-scoring momentarily subsided in the initial four minutes of the third quarter, a flurry of goals ensued, with both teams finding the back of the net twice within a ninety-second span (6-5).
Jug displayed resilience in keeping their hosts on their toes, but Jure Marelja’s side concluded the third quarter with a crucial three-goal advantage. Rino Buric’s hat-trick goal from 6 meters caught Popadic off guard, followed by a well-timed time-out that facilitated a confident finish from Split’s left-hander, Ivan Domagoj Zovic (8-5).
Securing the next goal became imperative for Jug, and they achieved their objective with an excellent extra-player finish from Matias Biljaka. However, their momentary success was short-lived, as Jadran immediately reestablished their three-goal cushion through Marinic-Kragic (9-6).
The decisive blow struck Jug when Rino Buric inexplicably found himself unmarked on a breakaway, calmly dispatching the ball past Popadic. This elevated Split to double digits while leaving Jug in a desperate situation (10-6).
Franko Lazic managed to pull one back for Jug, but the game was effectively sealed shortly after as Luka Bukic restored Split’s four-goal lead. Kakaris delivered a truly brilliant strike from 7 meters with just over a minute remaining, yet it served as a mere consolation in the face of the inevitable outcome.