Ready for the Finals?
April is gone, and as always May is the month when most of the club titles in European water polo go to their old/new owners. End of April and beginning of May is the time when most of the play offs in national championships are held, as well as the decisive matches in the European competitions. This time I will make a retrospective of the matches already played and make some announcements and analysis of the ones yet to come.
To start with the biggest competition – Euroleague. Italian city of Naples will be the host of this years Final Four on 14-15th of May. The competition for this years title will be stronger than ever, and four really best teams have come to the very end of this competition. Besides the title defender Primorac from Kotor who will face the strongest Croatian team – Jug from Dubrovnik. In the other semifinal we’ll see the clash between the water polo dream team – Pro Recco and the only unbeaten team in all of competitions played this year – Partizan from Belgrade.
The reigning champion – Primorac ensured his place among the best four teams, after a double quarterfinal victory against their biggest local rival – the neighbouring Jadran from Herceg Novi (9-14 and 10-6). The return match between rivals from Boka Kotorska, was played in the magnificent atmosphere created by Primorac fans. Even the LEN director Mr. Marco Birri was thrilled with the atmosphere after the match, especially because the renowned TV network Eurosport was transmitting live this game throughout Europe. This was another way how the waterpolo fans from Boka Kotorska promoted water polo troughout the world, and Primorac once again showed that it was not by chance that he reached the top of European water polo. At the end, players received standing ovations with cheers towards the head coach Ranko Perovic “Come on Chapro, take all the titles!” (Chapro is Mr. Perovic’s nickname).Players from Kotor managed to overcome once again their counterparts from Jadran and they showed a level of play in the rank of an European champion. In a very compact team with stars like Azevedo, Kiss, Brguljan and others, we can highlight the performance of the Hungarian center Adam Steinmetz, who seemed willing to repay to the fans for being sent of the previous game in the second quarter, with goals. This time the public was cheering to Adam. Among the spectators, there were representatives of the Hungarian Embassy in Podgorica, who were thrilled by the role of their countrymen but also with the support which they have in Kotor. There were many celebrities on the stands in Kotor pool, and we can definitively say that Primorac’s games became the real spectacle which can not be fully by words. You have to be there to feel it.
Some of the Primorac fans were so anxious for the match to start that they even entered on the last training before the match, and made some positive atmosphere. Take a look:
Primorac’s opponent in the semifinal match in Naples will be the Croatian Champion Jug. The managed to come victorious in both of the quarterfinal games against the Spanish Barceloneta. (7-9 and 10-9). The return match was a real thriller, and completely different than the first match where Jug managed to control the whole match and relatively easy gain away victory. The Spanish team is extremely well prepared, and they played a very good tactical game, with lots of contacts, lots of exclusions, because they are a very fast team who plays its man up/down very good. There was a lot of noise from the crowd before, during and after the match, but the fans from Dubrovnik ended up singing. They celebrated their teams sixth consecutive and eight overall Euroleague Final Four. After a long series of tough matches where they managed to finish them all as winners (they secured the first place in the Adriatic league before the Final tournament), now they have some easier matches, before preparation for the mid May madness. The Euroleagu Final Four, Adriatic League Final Four and Croatian playoffs – players from Gruz pool dream of three trophies this year. Will Jug’s third trip to the Final four in Naples be the lucky one? They lost at the same place in 1987 after overtime to Posilipo in the Cup winners Cup, and in 2005 they played a semifinal against Honved, and also lost after overtime.Elvis Fatovic, Jug’s actual coach, was the youngest team player 23 years ago when they played in Naples, and being the youngest he was in charge of carrying the trophy from Dubrovnik to Naples. He didn’t return it home back then. Five years ago when Jug became champion he was the captain and now he will be in charge of creating the team tactic from the bench.
As for the other semifinal couple, players from Budva tried to make a surprise in the quarterfinals against Pro Recco, but failed. They lost both matches (9-5, and 10-12) but they showed will and character. After the game, Damir Buric, the Croat who plays for the Italian team said: “Budva is a good team, and no matter we had a four goal advantage from the first game, we played our maximum. We wanted to win for our own self-confidence. We are going to the Final Four, and our ambitions are clear from the very beginning, we will try to win the trophy. We know we have a tough job to do, but in this moment the most important thing for us, is that we managed to pass the quarters.”
What we can see from team roosters is that practically the whole Serbian national team will be playing at the Final Four. In the semifinal match colleagues from the national team will be playing in different caps. Partizan is anyway called the small Serbian national team, but the same thing goes for the Italian team whose players Vanja Udovicic, center Slobodan Nikic and Filip Filipovic are also standard Serbian representatives. There’s no doubt that Serbian players will need to forget their friendship and to hit on each other like the “life depends on it”, because that’s the only way to get to the final game and possible title.
Talking about this topic, the former left-handed bombardier from Partizan, and now one of the best players in Pro Recco, Filip Filipovic said: “It won’t be easy to play against them, for sure. But that’s sport, and I’m a professional and I will leave my emotions out of the pool. It will be an even game. We are talking about two serious clubs, and neither team is a favorite. I would never engage myself in predicting the possible income of any match in this year’s Final Four. The players who have more players with a good day will win at the end.”
Partizan is the only team this year with all victories in all competitions. They reached the semifinal game in the same convincing manner by demolishing Eger in two matches (4-12!! and 10-5). Coach Milanovic was satisfied after the second game: “I am pleased with the tonight’s reaction of the players, despite the big result in the first match. We need to prepare our team for the 14th of May when we should give our real maximum. The atmosphere in the team is excellent, and that is the foundation on which we build our hopes for the tournament. Players are very motivated, and I will take all of the pressure if necessary. And I dare someone to say something to the team if we lose to the most expensive team in the history of water polo. Water polo world reacted positively on our performances. Only the experts from our federation seem not to recognize that. Nobody remarks our success and so far not one national coach hadn’t come to check out how we do it. I see that Nenad Manojlovic and national coach Udovicic visited Genoa few times, to see how they train there. But never mind that, I’m not interested in that, because I intend to hide our system of trainings and play. When I came there was a complete chaos but I will try to bring harmony, order and hard work into it. I plan to spend all summer working with the most talented players. If I’m allowed, in the next four or five years, I’ll produce some top players from these generations. I don’t want to be in a situation like now, that we do not have no players from -88’ to 92’ generations in the first team. ” But like many other teams Partizan is facing serious financial problems. But despite the fact that the players haven’t received several monthly salaries, they do not intend to step down from fighting for the European title.
Vladimir Vujasinovic, the water polo legend says:”The participation on the Final four itself tells us that the chance exists. But it will be really hard. Especially in the semifinal against Pro Recco, who is a huge favorite on the paper. They are hosts, and they have probably the strongest team in history. And they will do anything to achieve their goal. The only problem which this team could face is that we haven’t received payments for months. Up to last year we managed to close the financial construction. Now it’s a very hard situation and we are afraid that it could influence somebody unconsciously. Everything else in the club is perfect and it would be a shame if that ruins our peace. Everybody is trying to give their best on trainings and on matches. But it is a thing that bothers and brings anxiety. I train and play water polo because I love it, and it’s sure that while I’m in the pool, I’ll be giving 100 per cent of my possibilities. I hope this won’t affect our performance on the Final Four. But there is this burden. That’s like somebody wears a backpack for 100m and doesn’t find it heavy, but after 100km it could “kill him””.
Yet another European trophy is staying in Kotor! Players of Cattaro won the great title against the Italian Savona after a dramatic game, finished after overtime. When the match ended, cheared by the full capacity crowd, the complete team players and coaches finished in the pool and celebrated – Cattaro is the new Len Cup Champion. This represents a magnificent and unbeliveable success for the youngest team from Montenegro which will be written in the golden book of LEN Cup winners. Although the Italian side came to the second game with a two goal advantage from the first final game (9-7), the Mirko Vicevic’s team played bravely, inspired with a huge support from home spectators. The game itself was very tight and unpredictable. The home team took their first lead only 2,24 sec before the end of fourth quarter. Only 17 seconds later, after stealing the ball from his opponent Djordje Filipovic managed to score for 7-5 and to secure his team with a needed two goal advantage. Before the end of the regular time, both teams had some good actions and chances to score, but there was no change in the result, and according to the propositions, overtime was to be played. Once again Filipovic managed to use an opportunity to trick an unprepared goalie of Savona, who went out from to goal in attempt to help his teammate in guarding the center. Filipovic used this moment and with a clever lob shot, he brought his team to a 3 goal lead and to a delirium on the stands.
This is the first trophy for the team, originally founded in 2007. There are 5 Croat players in this team (Mile Smodlaka, Teo Djogas, Aljosa Kunac, Ivan Zanetic and Zeljko Vukcevic), 2 Serbs (Gojko Pijetlovic and Djordje Filipovic), Hungarian Olympic Champion Tamas Varga, Slovenian Matej Nastran and a group of very good Montenegrin players. All in all a big legion of foreigners. After the match, one of the best world centers Mile Smodlaka said: “We didn’t enter the game well, we missed a lot of shots in the offense, and we had problems with their zone. After the halftime we agreed that there is no more time to wait. We were trailing by one goal, and our coach ordered hard pressing. Luckily for us, they didn’t really manage to cope with it. Speaking of the next season, firstly he have the finish of the Montenegrin national championship, and then we’ll see. I hear that there are possible new players for the next season, but a lot of that it’s just rumors. Especially if the rule which allows only two Croat players to play in Montenegro clubs becomes a reality. I do not know the real purpose of this decision and who really benefits from it. The initiative came from the Croatian national federation, but I don’t know the real reasons. Instead of protecting the interests of their players, by this decision they only jeopardize their existence. I don’t know what will be in the end, but it sure that people from the club won’t have an easy job getting rid of three Croats, but somebody else will come instead.
[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]