It is time we stop looking at Pro Recco as the main title contender. For the second year in a row, Olympiacos showed more passion, more grit and an outstanding team performance. They will be defending their Champions League title against Ferencvaros.
The first semi-final couldn’t have been any more thrilling. Though Recco took the
lead but Olympiacos hit back with four straight action goals for a 1-4 lead and was 3-5 ahead after an action-packed first period. As the game went on, the two Croatian goalies got in the focus since Marko Bijac struggled to have a hand on the ball (Olympiacos netted 6 goals on their first six shots on target) while Josip Pavic (his predecessor in Croatia’s goal) could make a couple of great saves. This gave Olympiacos a 5-8 lead shortly before the big break but after the eighth goal, a controversial judgment of Niccolo Figari’s roughness caused a huge upset on the pool deck (he got a red card) though the five-minute interval cooled down the sides (temporarily).
Pro Recco seemed to come back more composed and they quickly equalized for 8-8, but before they could have capitalized on their momentum, Paulo Obradovic netted a brilliant backhander to give back the lead for the Greeks. Soon they jumped to 8-11 with two man-up goals and the red cards were back too as the tensions ran high again.
Luka Bukic pulled one back with a nice move in only 13 seconds in the fourth but Olympiacos managed to keep the ball for an unbelievably long, 2:47min, including four corners and a man-up at the end. They missed it and even though they killed much time, Recco found the right gears. Aleksandar Ivovic put away a man-up and 32 seconds later Matteo Aicardi managed to score a brilliant goal from the centre for 11-11, with 2:10 remaining.
Recco was back in the game, Bijac came up with a big save in the best moment, in a man-down, but Pavic denied Filipovic too. Olympiacos’s attack looked weak again when the prelims’ top scorer Konstantinos Genidounias let the ball fly from a seemingly hopeless situation but it got a slight deflection and found the back of the net with 38 seconds remaining. Ratko Rudic called for a time-out but the grand maestro had to see their last possession ending in a Greek steal, and the title-holders started wild celebrations while Recco, defeated after 15 straight wins, need to wait one more year (since 2015) to have another shot at the trophy.
“I don’t know what to say… We came here to defend our title and my players were fantastic, they fought in every moment with their heart. Sometimes I tried to push them even harder to overcome moments which were really tough to handle. In the end, we could beat once again the team what was the best in Europe in the last ten years. But Olympiacos is now is the best team in Europe as we are the title holders and we can prepare for another final.” – Theodoros Vlachos, Olympiacos head coach
“At the beginning, we received too many easy goals which put us in a difficult situation. We had to prepare ourselves to become more dangerous and in this phase, there were some moments when the emotions were taken over. But we still came back but at the end luck wasn’t on our side, the ball touched the defenders’ hand and flew to the goal instead of a block at 11-11 and the last possession for us. But Olympiacos had all the merits for this win, they deserved it, we have to congratulate them.” – Ratko Rudić, Pro Recco head coach