Twelve long years have passed since Ethnikos Piraeus’s last European triumph, but the odds are stacked heavily in their favour to win their second LEN Trophy tomorrow night in front of a home crowd. Defending an all-important four-goal lead from the first leg, the Greek’s welcome Dunaujvaros – who are on the verge of losing their second successive European final against Greek opposition.
This LEN Trophy final is very much being framed as Ethnikos’s to lose, and with good reason. Ethnikos were by far the better side at Eva Fabo in Hungary four days ago in a really strong and mature away performance. If they can channel any of the momentum from that game into the second leg, they will be home and dry.
Many will point to the defensive stalwart Ashleigh Johnson as being a big part of Ethnikos’s defensive strength. Added with the two Haralabidis and Benekou sisters, as well as the quality and experience of Karolina Ioannou, Eleni Elliniadi, Verica Bakoc and Rebecca Parkes at Centre, Roumpesi Antigoni is definitely creating something special in the White and Blue of Ethnikos. There is no doubt that a European title would add much credence to the idea that Ethnikos is fast becoming a big player in European Women’s water polo.
As for Attila Mihok and his Dunaujvaros side, they really have nothing to lose. The damage may well have already been done in the reverse leg in Hungary, but we may have to tread lightly when saying Dunaujvaros have no chance in this one.
For all the lack of investment in bringing in big stars and trusting in youth at the club, Dunaujvaros still have enough quality to threaten any side in Europe. The likes of Dorottya Szilagyi and Greta Gurisatti, who have been so pivotal over the past seasons for Dunaujvaros, can still be considered amongst Europe’s elite and are definitely ‘big game players’. Neither had an amazing game in the first leg, but if they can change that in Athens, they may give their side half a chance. Alongside those two, Krisztina Garda, Geraldine Mahieu and Brigitta Horvath have had very respectable seasons – they all have been at the club for many seasons and are vastly experienced players.
However, there is a paradox with Dunaujvaros that on the one hand, the club is frequently in European Semi-Finals and Finals and often is written off too soon. They were not expected to beat Olympiacos in 2017/2018 in the LEN Trophy final, and they did. Later that year, they defeated Euro League winners, KINEF Kirishi in the LEN Super Cup, again in a game they were very much underdogs But the big problem is that many of the players in the team when Dunaujvaros won those games are not in the squad now – in fact only Szilagyi, Gurisatti, Mahieu, Horvath and Garda played in the 2018 LEN Trophy win against Olympiacos in Mataro. The rest of the squad are entirely new faces, many of whom are relatively inexperienced.
The game will be fascinating, and if Dunaujvaros can really take the match to the Greeks, who may have a slight hint of arrogance, we could have a contest on our hands. However, Ethnikos, with their four-goal cushion, are strong favourites for the tie and the trophy.