Jug’s domination in the Croatian League has come to an end.
The Dubrovnik-based side didn’t manage to defend the title and to win a sixth consecutive trophy of the national champion.
Mladost Zagreb defeated Jug in Dubrovnik in the fifth match of the playoffs final.
The big thriller was ended after a penalty shootout – 12:11 (7:7 regular time).
Mladost won its 11th title of the Croatian champion and the first after 2008. Jug was the champion between 2009 and 2013, and again between 2016 and 2020). Primorje clinched the trophy in 2014 and 2015.
Mladost finished the season with the “double crown “(it won the Croatian Cup a few months ago).
The final was extraordinary. Jug won the first two games of the series best-of-five and earned a 2:0 lead. The Dubrovnik-based side had three “match points “for the title (two in the games played in their home pool). However, Mladost produced a remarkable comeback – it recorded wins in the next three games and ended Jug’s domination.
Croatian Championship, playoffs
Final (best-of-five), 5th game
Jug – Mladost 11:12 (1:2, 3:2, 1:1, 2:2, PSO 4:5) – score in the series 2:3
Jug AO: Obradovic 2, Fatovic 1, Garcia 1, Papanastasiou 1, Zuvela 1, Benic 1.
HAVK Mladost: Buslje 2, Milos 1, Lazic 1, Viskovic 1, Kharkov, J.Vrlic 1
Penalty shootout: Fatovic – Marcelic saved, Radu 0:1;Papanastasiou 1:1, Kharkov 1:2, Benic 2:2, Bukic – Popadic saved, Merkulov 3:2, Buslje 3:3, Obradovic 4:3,Milos 4:4, Fatovic – Marcelic saved, Radu 4:5
The fifth game was the most exciting game of the final. A difference at the end of each of the previous four encounters was two goals or more.
Today, the distance between the teams was never bigger than a goal! Mladost was the team that took the lead seven times, while Jug managed to catch up with the rival shortly after each of these goals, but it didn’t go in front in regular time.
Mladost’s Josip Vrlic opened the scoring in the 3rd minute, Papanastasiou equalized in the 5th, but Kharkov responded immediately and gave Mladost a 2:1 advantage before the end of the first quarter. After the first break, the game continued in the same way, Mladost was earning a lead, but Jug was able to equalize on each occasion.
Before the fourth quarter, the score was 5:5. Six minutes before the end, Andro Buslje put Mladost in front (6:5), while Paulo Obradovic leveled at 6:6 with 03:20 minutes remaining on the clock. Just 25 seconds later, Buslje added one more goal for 7:6. Mladost was keeping an advantage in the following minutes. Jug wasted two man-ups in the 30th and 31st minute. Still, 35 seconds from the end, the hosts earned another power-play advantage. Jug’s captain converted a man-up for 7:7 with 17 seconds to go. Mladost’s coach Zoran Bajic called a time-out after that, but Mladost didn’t secure the win before the final buzzer.
The penalty shootout lasted for six rounds. The best scorer of the Croatian League Loren Fatovic (Jug) failed to score twice. The visitors’ goalkeeper Marcelic blocked both shots. On the other side, only Bukic didn’t find the net (3rd round).
A 40-year-old legend of Romanian water polo and Mladost Cosmin Radu closed the match with a goal in the 6th series. The fifth match of the final was Radu’s last official game because he will retire after this season. He said “goodbye” with the trophy!
All games of the final series: Jug – Mladost 12:9, 10:8, 10:12, 8:12, 11:12 (PSO)
All champions: Jug 16 titles, Mladost 11, Primorje Rijeka 2, POSK Split 1.