Aussie Aaron Younger helps Szolnok claim historic Champions League win

Aussie Sharks and dual Olympian Aaron Younger, helped spur his Hungarian water polo team Szolnok, claim a historic win in the final of the Champions League Final Six.  The Perth native has been a familiar force on the European water polo circuit and his form was impressive over the prestigious three day Tournament.

For Younger, he will soon rejoin the Aussie Sharks as they prepare for up coming FINA World Championships in Budapest which will be a familiar setting for the Aussie veteran.

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In front of 10,000 fans at the new Danube Arena in Budapest, history was made for Szolnok who claimed their first ever title after a convincing 10-5 win over title-holder Jug Dubrovnik (CRO). Recco (ITA) finished third.

Szolnok made the inauguration of Hungary’s brand new aquatic palace a memorable event for the home fans as the team clinched the most prestigious trophy with a brilliant display of water polo. After the struggles in the semis, Szolnok came up with a first class performance and outdid title-holder Jug in all parts of the game.

The Croats seemed to run out of power, their big wins over last year’s runner-up Olympiacos (GRE) in the quarters and 2015 winner Recco (ITA) in the semis took their toll on the players. At the beginning they did a better job, though, early in the second Jug was 3-1 up. Few would have guessed that in the remaining 22:11 minutes the Croats would score only two more goals (only one in the entire second half).

On the other end Szolnok started to roll, their Serbian warriors, Milan Aleksic and Andrija Prlainovic netted two goals apiece, then Marton Vamos ‘arrived’ to the tournament and with two great blasts the classy leftie gave his team a 4-6 lead by half-time.

Jug missed its 6 on 5s in succession, though it was mainly Viktor Nagy in the Magyar goal who prevented them from closing the gap. He posted a series of brilliant saves and finished the match with an amazing 66.6% saving percentage as he made 10 stops on 15 attempts (Jug could score only twice in 11 man-ups).

In the middle of the third the Croats came close one last time at 5-7 but Aleksic buried his third with 1:13 to go in the penultimate quarter for 5-8 and when Nagy stopped Jokovic’s shot in a man-down, the outcome seemed inevitable. Gocic’s perfectly aimed ball extended the gap to four goals and that virtually ended the contest. The 10,000 spectators roared in joy when Gabor Kis netted another one for 5-10, securing Szolnok’s historical first trophy which was later presented by LEN Treasurer Tamas Gyarfas and Minister Zoltan Balog.

The bronze medal went to Recco as they demolished Eger 15-6, showing some glimpses from their strength.

Szolnok doubled down the special awards, Viktor Nagy got the best goalie distinction, while Andrija Prlainovic was named the Most Valuable Player (for the second time after 2013). The Serb netted three goals both in the semis and in the final and perhaps he was needed for Szolnok to make it to the top at last. He joined the team for this season and it looks like he is a major factor in Champions League triumphs as he was part of the winning sides in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and now in 2017.

When three outstanding players, Olympic champion Daniel Varga, Norbert Madaras and Serbian world champion Stefan Mitrovic left Szolnok a year ago – the team finished third on home soil then –, many said that the club would never have such a strong line-up. While comparing the strength of squads can be subjective, the results achieved ensure a clear picture and that shows the team of Szolnok lifting the Champions League trophy in 2017.

Champions League, Final Six, Day 3

Bronze medal match

Pro Recco (ITA) v ZF Eger (HUN) 15-6

Champions League Final

Jug CO Dubrovnik (CRO) v Szolnoki Dozsa-Kozgep (HUN) 5-10

Final rankings:

  1. Szolnoki D-Kozgep
  2. Jug CO Dubrovnik
  3. Pro Recco
  4. ZF Eger
  5. AN Brescia
  6. OIympiacos Piraeus
  7. CN Barceloneta
  8. OSC Budapest
  9. Spandau 04 Berlin
  10. Partizan Belgrade
  11. Waspo Hannover
  12. Olympic Nice