Pro Recco made history once again. By winning the 2023 Champions League trophy, the Italian giant improved its record to the 11th title and became the only second club to win three trophies in a row.
More than fifty years ago, Mladost was the first to achieve the mentioned feat (the seasons 1967/68 – 1969/70), but Recco’s success differs from Mladost’s. Pro Recco won three straight titles as being visiting team or when the tournament was played in a neutral field, unlike Mladost, which clinched three consecutive trophies when the finals were played on the basis of home-away matches.
The season was long and packed. Almost all teams had ups and downs. Nobody finished the season unbeaten. However, all teams that were expected to play in the Final Eight arrived in Belgrade. Besides the six huge favorites, Jug and Vouliagmeni earned the tickets for the F8.
We summarized the group stage two weeks ago. Barceloneta and Brescia deserved the top spot in the groups. They were on a constant level throughout the season. Barceloneta’s only failure was a convincing defeat to Recco in Spain (5:11), but they bounced back quickly. Brescia didn’t have significant oscillations in the group stage. The Spaniards kept the momentum at the Final Eight and played three very good games, which was enough for the bronze medal. Unlike Barceloneta, Brescia didn’t show its best at the Final Eight.
Recco’s worst group stage since 2014, but domination at F8
But, let’s summarize Recco’s season first.
Recco didn’t arrive at the F8 from 1st place in the group as it used to. The group stage was different from the previous seasons. In addition, Recco’s way to the throne at the Final Eight was different than the tournaments in 2021 and 2022.
I For the first time after the season 2013/14, Recco suffered more than one defeat in the Champions League group stage. Nine years ago, Recco finished 6th in the Final Six, which has been the worst-ever Recco’s result in the history of the Champions League Final Four/Six/Eight.
This season, Recco lost to Olympiacos in Piraeus in the first round, and was defeated by Barceloneta in Milan, which was Recco’s first loss in international competitions on a home field after 2020.
The Italians finished 2nd in the group behind Barceloneta. The European champion secured 2nd place in a group in a dramatic match against Olympiacos, after coming back from a 3:7 deficit.
Of course, Pro Recco was one of the most serious contenders for the title. Still, considering what the other favorites showed during the group stage and that host Novi Beograd was improving its shape as the F8 was approaching, many though that Recco might be dethroned The tournament quality was very balanced, so many underlined “everything can happen when one match decides.”
But, in Recco’s case, nothing unexpected happened. There were no thrilling finishes, unlike the previous year.
It was a really well-deserved title, just like the previous two. But, this time, Recco the road to the title was different.
Two years ago, the series of the Final Eights in Belgrade started with a “bubble tournament”. Then the F8 was played on a neutral field since Novi Beograd didn’t participate. Recco finished the season with a perfect record (13 wins in as many games), but it had some troubles and had to make comebacks in some matches at the 2021 F8
This year, Recco dominated the tournament and won the title with three quite convincing wins at the Final Eight. It hadn’t happened for long that the champion won the title with three comfortable victories at the tournament. In previous years, the champions played at least one even contest on their way to the title of the Final Eight. Something like the dominance that Recco displayed in Belgrade this year wasn’t seen for a long.
It all looked very easy. Of course, it wasn’t easy. Recco demonstrated its power and all matches. Because of Recco’s great performances, everything looked effortless.
In the quarterfinals, it displayed a perfect defensive play in an 8:4 victory over Ferencvaros.
The new-old champion started slowly in the semifinals against Vouliagmeni. Still, probably nobody expected that Recco would lose. The only question was when the Italians would start to break Vouliagmeni’s resistance. It happened at the finish of the first half. Recco netted seven straight goals and turned around a 3:5 deficit to a comfortable 10:5 lead.
As for the final, Novi Beograd leveled just once (1:1). By the end of the first quarter, Recco built a 4:1 lead, and from that point on, the difference was never smaller than two goals. Recco played with five men in the field (due to Echenique’s brutality), but during that interval, it scored two, conceding one goal. The Italians never let Novi Beograd, which is undoubtedly a team of high quality, endanger their lead.
Silver isn’t disappointing for Novi Beograd
Despite having another turbulent season and playing without Dusan Mandic, Novi Beograd hoped it could claim the title. After a lot of ups and downs and unexpected losses in all competitions, Novi Beograd reached a high level of shape. The hosts proved they were prepared well for the tournament in the quarterfinal game against Olympiacos, then in the second half of the match against Barceloneta, when they overcame a 3-goal deficit. But, in the final, Recco proved too strong. Yes, there were mistakes in Novi Beograd’s play, especially in defense, but it’s true that the Serbian champion lost to a better team.
Novi Beograd shouldn’t be unsatisfied, as Recco the Italians proved they were “Simply the Best” this season.
Barceloneta and Vouliagmeni with smiles at the end
Barceloneta, as mentioned, finished third but didn’t lose a game in the regular time in Belgrade. The Spanish champion proved that it hadn’t won 1st place ahead of Pro Recco and Olympiacos by chance. The Spaniards continued playing in the same way as in Group A. Their performances were at the expected level. Tiny details were decisive in the semifinals against Novi Beograd, just like in the bronze-medal match.It could happen that Barceloneta plays in the final or finishes 4th. All in all, the Spanish team proved that it was still one of the best in the world, even though Alvaro Granados left the club last summer.
Before the Final Eight, players and coaches were talking, “There are no favorites and underdogs. All teams have chances.” These words were not just politeness. Vouliagmeni showed that everything was possible. The Greeks defeated Brescia, one of the contenders for the title, in the quarterfinals. Vouliagmeni imposed its rhythm, earned an advantage in the first half, and knew how to keep the lead and advance to the semifinals. A new miracle still wasn’t possible. Pro Recco stopped Vouliagmeni in the semis. However, Vouliagmeni proved that it was able to go high in the bronze-medal match. It lost to an excellent Barceloneta after a penalty shootout. The team will be changed for the next season, but it’s likely that we will watch Vouliagmeni, at least, in the group stage of the 2024 Champions League.
Olympiacos’ slim consolation
Ferencvaros‘ defense was solid at the Final Eight, the Hungarians didn’t concede too many goals, but scored only four in the match against Pro
Recco. Their attack had the same output in the 5th-place match and a 4:9 loss to Olympiacos. It’s clear what didn’t work well in their play and what the team that will be coached by Balazs Nyiri, who was Zsolt Varga’s assistant until now, in the next season has to improve. After the F8, Zsolt Varga’s said goodbye to Ferencvaros, because he will coach only the national team in the future.
Jug finished 7th, which isn’t so bad for a young team, which achieved success by reaching the Final Eight. The Dubrovnik-based team fought bravely against big favorite Barceloneta in the quarterfinals. The loss to Barceloneta was followed by a catastrophe in the 5th-8th place semifinals. It seemed that Jug hadn’t shown up to the match. But, the Croats recovered and beat Brescia quite convincingly in the last match
It isn’t difficult to find an answer to the question “Which team was the biggest disappointment of the season. After a shocking loss to Vouliagmeni, Brescia sank completely and finished in 8th place. They didn’t play so badly in the semifinals for 5th-8th place and lost narrowly to Ferencvaros, but the last game of the season was really disappointing. A few players will leave Brescia this summer (Di Domma, Vapenski), but the team will be of high quality and the next season will be an opportunity for a makeup exam and for a new chase for the title.
Thanks to Total Waterpolo Arena and the team that runs our live scoring system, we have a lot of statistical data, and we could choose the best players based on the WER ranking system, their team’s results and performances at the tournament in Belgrade
We considered the players who participated in the Final Eight.
Two players from Pro Recco are among the Top 7 – goalkeeper Marco Del Lungo and lefthanded goal-getter Gergo Zalanki. However, many other players of the reigning champion could be chosen because the new title is a fruit of the team effort.
Novi Beograd is represented in the Total 7 by Alvaro Granados, who was officially picked as the MVP of the Final Eight.
Vouliagmeni’s Dimitrios Nikolaidis is the best center-forward, and Marko Zuvela is the best center-back.
Brescia had a poor performance at the Final Eight. However, it played excellently in the group stage. Edoardo Di Somma, the universal player, was the leader of the team in the group stage and deserved a place in the Total 7 of the Champions League.
The top seven wouldn’t be complete without Barceloneta’s power engine and the best scorer this season Felipe Perrone.
Total Waterpolo Arena provides many other statistical data. After the Final Eight, the best scorer of the season is Alvaro Granados, who overturned Felipe Perrone, the best scorer of the group stage. Marc Larumbe is the best assistant. Edoardo Di Somma is the best “thief” with 27 stolen balls, and Thomas Vernoux is the best blocker. Based on the statistical data, Unai Aguirre is the best goalkeeper, but tiny differences separate 2nd-placed Marko Bijac and 3rd-placed Marco Del Lungo. Recco’s results and Del Lungo’s performances at the Fina Eight were decisive for picking him in the top seven.