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Euro League, Final Four, Kirishi (RUS) – summary

Kirishi clinches the trophy on its 11th try

After five lost finals and five further appearances, Kinef Kirishi managed to clinch the Euro League trophy on its 10th try in the Final Four. The Russians beat 2015 champion Olympiacos (GRE) in a 7-6 nailbiter. Title-holder Sabadell came third this time, ahead of fellow Spanish side Mataro.

Kinef Kirishi reached the Final Four in 2005 for the first time and narrowly lost to the giant of the sport, 8-time winner Orizzonte Catania (ITA). This was followed by two more losses in the finals in the next two seasons and further two in the coming years. The Russians were constant participants in the season-ending showcase but they left the pool without the trophy on ten occasions (they were runners-up 5 times, bronze medallist 4 times and came 4th once).

On their 11th appearance they could play at home and this time they didn’t fail to deliver. In the semis they were quick to build a 3-0 advantage against Mataro and rushed to a 7-2 lead by the middle of the second period. The winners of last year’s Euro Cup couldn’t recover from that, Kinef could maintain the gap for most of the time and passed the first test with ease.

The other semi-final ended up in a thriller. Four-time winner Sabadell seemed to gain control by half-time: staging a 4-0 rout in the second period, the title-holder Spaniards led 5-1 in the middle break but Olympiacos started coming back in the third. Before the last period they trailed 6-5 and even if Sabadell scored the first goal in the fourth for 7-5, the Greeks’ Italian ace Roberta Bianconi (winner of the last two LEN Awards) netted two goals, the second with 24 seconds to go, saving the match to a penalty shootout. The Piraeus players put away all four shots, Sabadell missed two, thus Olympiacos reached the final for the second time in its history (this was their 5th F4 participation till date).

Sabadell, missing the final for the first time after four years, got some consolation by beating Mataro in the all-Spanish bronze medal match. They almost blew it, though, as they conceded five connecting goals after taking a 4-0 lead. But after 4-5 they netted three goals while newcomer Mataro remained scoreless in the last 9:32 minutes.

The final saw a brilliant battle. Kirishi was on fire at the beginning, took a 3-0 lead with three action goals but in the second Olympiacos hit twice to close the gap. Still, the hosts were 5-3 up at half-time and held on for 6-4 before the final period. The Greeks missed a crucial 6 on 5 early in the fourth and an action goal from Ekaterina Prokofyeva made it 7-4 with 5:22 remaining. The Greek staged a late surge, scored twice in quick succession for 7-6 but couldn’t force another penalty-shootout this time in the remaining 1:33 minutes. Soon the Kirishi players celebrated their first ever win, and the first Russian triumph since 1999.

There is one more big show left in the club competition season: the men’s Champions League Final Six in Budapest on 25-27 May.

Euro League, Final Four – Kirishi (RUS)

Semi-finals
Kinef-Surgutneftegas Kirishi (RUS) v Mataro (ESP) 11-8
CN Sabadell (ESP) v Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) 7-7, pen: 2-4

Bronze medal match
CN Sabadell (ESP) v Mataro (ESP) 7-5

Final
Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Kinef-Surgutneftegas Kirishi (RUS) 6-7

For more details, play-by-play stats visit www.len.eu

29 April 2017

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