Sabadell are through to their second successive Champions League final after coming out on top of a closely-fought duel with Italian champions, Ekipe Orizzonte (13-12).
The hosts – who were playing in Blue – had to work really hard to overcome their semi-final opponents today, even coming from behind having trailed by three goals in the second quarter.
While Sabadell struck first, Ekipe led for the majority of the match. The Spaniards only regained the lead three minutes into the last quarter, and held on from there.
Ekipe Orizzonte played fairly well throughout the game, defending excellently, particularly when down to six players on the Sabadell powerplay. The Italians lost their way heading into the last exchanges of the game, and couldn’t recover. Martina Miceli’s team were by no means outplayed today, and that’s why they’ll be disappointed with the missed opportunity to add another European crown to their trophy cabinet.
Judith Forca, who proved to seal the winning goal, netted three in the match. Also operating dangerously on the right was Bea Ortiz, who also notched a hat-trick for Saba. Sabrina Van der Sloot, who remained calm on penalty duty, tucked home at important moments too for the Spanish champions.
It was no secret before the contest that Bronte Halligan is Ekipe’s most influential player. Her three goals, four steals and two blocks today more than reinforces that the Australian is one of the globe’s top players. Alice Williams, and also Claudia Marletta, contributed well from the top.
Ultimately though, this group of players at Sabadell have the experience and know-how to deal with problems that come their way. They didn’t crumble in the second period, and stayed calm in the face of adversity. Tomorrow, they await the winner of Mataro and Dunaujvaros. Ekipe will hope to take something back to Catania, but for the record-holding European Champions, the best they can now hope for is a bronze medal.
Ekipe Orizzonte 12 – 13 Astralpool Sabadell (2-2, 4-4, 5-4,1-3)
Ekipe:L. Celona, B. Halligan 3, C. Grasso, G. Viacava 1, V. Gant, D. Bettini 2, V. Palmieri 1, C. Marletta 2, G. Gagliardi, A. Williams 2, A. Longo 1, M. Leone, A. Condorelli
Sabadell: L. Ester, M. Ortiz, P. Leiton, S. Van der Sloot 2, M. Serrano, M. Steffens 2, E. Ruiz, M. Garcia 1, J. Forca 3, B. Ortiz 3, N. Perez, I. Gonzalez 2, M. Carrasco
The first highly anticipated semi-final got off to a thrilling start, with both teams evenly matched and inseparable after just eight minutes of play (2-2).
Sabadell, the home team, started the game with their trademark attacking flair, utilising dynamic movement to create opportunities for their players. However, it was Ekipe who initially dominated the first quarter, with their strong centres providing a solid attacking foundation for the Italian side.
The first goal of the match was scored by Sabadell’s Maggie Steffens, who cleverly peeled off her marker to tap in an unmarked shot at the far post. But Ekipe responded quickly, with Dafne Bettini scoring a well-placed extra-player goal to level the score at 1-1. The Italian side then took the lead through Claudia Marletta’s thunderous shot from the top of the perimeter (2-1), only for Sabadell to equalise soon after with a composed penalty conversion from Van der Sloot.
In the second quarter, the match became a game of two halves, with Ekipe dominating the early stages to establish a commanding lead, before Sabadell launched a spirited comeback to level the scores by half-time (6-6).
Following their impressive start in the first quarter, Ekipe continued to put on a show in the second, stunning Sabadell with a series of quick-fire goals. Giulia Viacava and Dafne Bettini both converted expertly on the power play, before Alice Williams drilled home a powerful strike from the left to give Ekipe a commanding 5-2 lead.
However, Sabadell, spurred on by their passionate home crowd, refused to give up without a fight. Maggie Steffens, who had already scored earlier in the game, showcased her skill and precision with a sublime backshot from the centre to bring Sabadell back to 5-3. Goals from Ortiz and Forca then followed, bringing the home team level at 5-5. The young Italian international Morena Leone briefly steadied the ship for Ekipe, but Sabadell managed to level the scores just before half-time thanks to a simple finish at the back post by Spanish Olympian, Irene Gonzalez.
The second half began with a bang, as Irene Gonzalez, who had scored the final goal of the first half, struck again for Sabadell with a perfectly executed lob that left Aurora Condorelli with no chance in the Ekipe goal. However, the Australian Stinger, Bronte Halligan, quickly responded with two stunning goals for Ekipe, firing two rockets into the Sabadell net from either side (8-7).
The match then turned into a goal-scoring frenzy, with both teams struggling to keep their opponents at bay. Bea Ortiz’s well-placed lob for the home team was cancelled out by Valeria Palmieri’s strike from the center, before Judith Forca produced a magnificent effort from the point to level the score once again (9-9). Despite Sabadell’s efforts to take control of the game, Ekipe continued to find the back of the net and frustrate the home team’s man-up plays. As the quarter drew to a close, Martina Miceli’s team held a narrow one-goal lead (11-10).
As the match entered the final quarter, the momentum swung back in Sabadell’s favor. Bea Ortiz restored parity for the hosts with a precise strike on the right, making it 11-11. Soon after, Maica Garcia found herself in the right place at the right time to tap in Alice William’s cross from an exclusion, giving Sabadell the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.
With the clock ticking down, Ekipe knew they needed to find an equalizer, but their efforts were in vain. A breakaway goal was disallowed due to an off-the-ball incident spotted by the near-side referee. The Italians lost their cool in front of goal and squandered a couple of opportunities despite having a numerical advantage.
Sabadell, on the other hand, seized the moment and extended their lead to two goals with a sublime lob from Judith Forca that sent the home crowd into raptures. With just 45 seconds left on the clock, Bronte Halligan’s third goal of the game reignited Ekipe’s hopes of a comeback, but it proved to be too little, too late. A heroic steal from Halligan gave Ekipe one last chance, but Dafne Bettini’s fumble ended their hopes, sending Sabadell into their ninth Champions League final.
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