martedì 3 febbraio 2015

Hungary: Szolnok and Eger showcase water polo masterclass

With both teams at full strength, including 6 Olympic champions and multiple world and European champions, there was plenty star power in the water Tuesday night at the round 16 Hungarian league match between title favorites Szolnok and Eger. Szolnok has been dominating Hungarian water polo this season and already claimed the Hungarian Cup in November last year. The difference in points between the current number one (Szolnok) and visitors Eger in second place was 5 points before the start of the match. A victory for the home side would increase their lead to 8 points and almost certainly secure the top spot for Szolnok in anticipation of the play offs later this year. In other words, a must-win game for Eger and plenty at stake for Szolnok as well.

The match started at a pace that we can expect from 2 powerhouses like Eger and Szolnok.
Both goalkeepers had plenty of work but did not look very good at the first goals of the game. Left-hander Boris Vapenski found the left bottom corner, surprising Szolnok goalie Attila Decker (who was picked once again over Viktor Nagy), and Szolnok captain Dániel Varga (pictured) fired a seemingly effortless shot past Eger goalkeeper Branislav Mitrovic to make it 1-1.

Especially Decker was pressured a lot by Eger in the following minutes with shots from outside the center area. He kept his goal clean though and this allowed Norbert Madaras to put Szolnok in the lead. With only seconds before the end of the first part Eger’s Dániel Angyal took a wild shot from halfway across the pool. Again Decker did not look great as the ball bounced underneath his body and hit the back of the net to make it 2-2.

After the break Eger continued to try and get center Balázs Hárai involved in the game but Szolnok were fantastic in preventing the supply to the 2013 world champion. As an alternative game plan the visitors tried to take shots from the outside area but missed accuracy and merely seemed to empower Attila Decker who got more energetic with each save. Only Serbian International Milos Cuk’s attempt resulted in a goal for Eger while Szolnok’s offence was a lot more efficient. Dániel Varga added another 2 to his total and Stefan Mitrovic also scored to make it 5 for Szolnok.

In the second half the pace continued at the same level and Eger finally managed to reach Hárai who immediately forced Szolnok defender Milan Aleksic to make a foul. An interception by the outstanding Dániel Varga put an abrupt end to Eger’s offence though and Zivko Gocic made it 6-3 for Szolnok on the following attack. Another foul drawn by Harai finally helped Eger to their 4th goal. Hárai himself cashed in on the opportunity. Szolnok was defending with a very high line to keep Eger’s shooters far away from Decker’s goal. This led to Eger desperately trying to find space for a shot or a pass towards the center. Despite the efforts of the defending champion, it was once again Szolnok that hit on the break. Dénes Varga made it 7-4. 

The hard labor of Eger finally paid off when they reached Krisztián Bedő in the center and were awarded a penalty for a foul on the young international. 3-time Olympic champion and Eger captain Péter Biros calmly took the chance and started Eger’s comeback. Although Szolnok managed very well in keeping Eger away from shooting range, Cuk confirmed his status as sharp shooter by beating Decker from far out and 3 seconds before the end of the period Márton Szivós fired home to level the score with just the last quarter remaining.

Unhappy with Decker’s performance in the 3rd period, Szolnok coach Sándor Cseh decided to bring Viktor Nagy into the game. The water polo show went on as Dénes Varga scored a penalty for Szolnok and Szivós quickly followed with an amazing display of skill to keep the teams together. Eger goalie Mitrovic was then caught by surprise when Aleksic produced one of his famous long range attempts to keep his team in the lead. The one-goal advantage once again did not last very long though. Milos Cuk, standout at Eger’s side, found the far corner from a free throw.  Without a second of rest the teams went on and Aleksic scored his second to make it 10-9 for Szolnok. Encouraged by his earlier goal, Szivós noticed Viktor Nagy’s positioning was a little off and fired a long range shot out of reach of the Szolnok goalie. With a 10-10 score and less than 2 minutes go it was still everybody’s game.

When Boris Vapenski intercepted the ball and stormed towards the Szolnok goal with under a minute to play, the Serbian had the ultimate opportunity to bring the game home for his team. However the left-hander could not get the ball past Viktor Nagy. Nagy quickly found Dániel Varga at the other side of the pool but his shot was also blocked. When Márton Szivós’ final attempt also failed to breach the Szolnok defence it was clear that these two teams, at least for today, were not going to give in to each other.

The final 10-10 result means that Szolnok drops points for the first time this season and although Eger might not have won, they definitely showed that they can match Szolnok head on.

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