Mladost defended the Croatian Cup on Sunday, lifting the trophy for the tenth time. Their opponent, Jug, remained with 14 titles and failed to reach their 66th trophy in history.
Mladost opened the match well, especially with an extra man (which was a great bonus for them throughout the match), and led 4:2 at the end of the first quarter. Mladost was up by two goals in the middle of the second quarter (7:5). Jug fought back with four consecutive goals (Fatović penalty, Papanastasiou, Fatović, and Kržić) for a complete turnaround – 9:7 for Jug!
At half time, the Mladost coach replaced goalkeeper Ivan Marcelić with Jerko Jurlina, which proved to be one of the key decisions of the Mladost bench. However, at the beginning of the third quarter, Merkulov scored from a distance for 10:7, which, combined with Popadić defending a penalty, opened the door for Jug.
Mladost did not give up, and with a great defense and goals by Kharkov and Visković, they were just one goal behind before the last quarter (11:10 for Jug AO). At the beginning of the last quarter, Miloš equalized at 11:11. The last time Jug lead was thanks to Garcia (12:11 – six minutes before the end).
Kharkov attacked with three more goals, and four and a half minutes before the final buzzer, Mladost took the lead at 14:12 and managed to keep that advantage until the end.
The left-handed youngster, Russia national team player Konstantin Kharkov, was chosen as the best player of the final tournament. In addition to 3 goals in the semifinals against Primorje EB, he puzzled the mighty Jug defense, scoring 7 goals in the final.
Zoran Bajić, Mladost coach, said after the match:
“To my boys, well done, they were fantastic. We were like a cat with 9 lives. We were behind and played great against Jug, a huge, fantastic team, but this is not the first time we have shown character. I have said many times that these are my warriors. Beating Jug in the last two and a half years in four finals is no small thing.”
Vjekoslav Kobešćak, coach of Jug AO, added:
“Congratulations to Mladost on the victory. They were a better team today, calmer, and they deserved the victory. We only played one quarter properly, that was the second. The rest wasn’t us. This is the second game in a row in which we received 15 goals from Mladost, and with so many goals conceded, serious water polo cannot be played, nor can we win a trophy.”
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