How Sintez won Brescia, but it was little

Losing 0-5, Sintez performed an incredible comeback (8-7) and almost qualified for the Water Polo Champions League

How Sintez won Brescia, but it was little Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Silver medallist of the Russian Water Polo Championship, Sintez wants to go to Europe! The club that won the LEN Trophy 10 years ago has gone through two qualifying legs of the Champions League and lost to Italian Brescia in the third round. The guests' loss of two points left Andrey Belofastov's players good chances for a win in total after two matches. The return match decided whether Kazan managed to solve the task and reach the main draw of the prestigious tournament that famous commentator and permanent author of Realnoe Vremya Aleksandr Norden visited.

How to wallop Brescia?

The road of the Kazan club to the main club tournament of the Old World is complicated and tortuous. In September, Belofastov's players had a chance to participate in two qualifying rounds, play every day, travel the length and breadth of Europe. At this qualification stage, apart from easy meetings with Banja Luka and Portuense, Sintez had to sweat blood for the sake of a victory over Spanish Terrassa (6-4) and feel the power of Hungarian water polo when it lost to OSC Budapest 6-10.

Kazan spent the second leg in Romania. Here there were not rivals to score more than 20 balls. And they had to work hard to lay the road to the next round. Having won against Vougliameni 10-7, the Tatarstan water polo players lost to one of the strongest clubs of Europe Crvena Zvezda 8-10 and solved the task of reaching the next leg in a very stubborn fight with the host team – Oradea – 9-8. In Brescia, the Russians lost a bit – just two balls (9-11), and the match in their own swimming pool was the moment of truth.

In addition, Kazan certainly should not discount the result of the first match. Their rival was from the elite of continental water polo — that's the ticket. Brescia Leonessa has been founded recently – in 2012. But it managed to have the prefix 'top' during these years. Sintez felt the power of the Italians in April 2016 when the teams met in the final of the European Cup and the Russians were walloped by the Apennines messengers – 4-1 at home in Kazan and 6-12 in Brescia.

Brescia Leonessa has been founded recently – in 2012. But it managed to have the prefix 'top' during these years

And today the southern club holds the top club's bar. The silver medallist of the Italian championship, which is considered one of the strongest players on the continent, the Lions are second in the current championship after 26 matches by losing two points to Pro Rezzo and having just one defeat and one tie under its belt. Although the Lions' squad doesn't have such 'stars' as Champions League winner Nemanja Ubovic and Luca Damonte, LEN Trophy owners Valerio Rizzo and Zeno Bertoli, Montenegrin players Vjekoslav Pasković, Mlađan Janović and Nikola Vukčević are strong, as usual. Alessandro Bovo who won all titles of world water polo – Olympic Games, championship and World Cup, two European championships and got the Italian Cup as coach – chairs the team like before. So the task to win 'just' two balls against Sintez did not seem too complicated at first sight.

Italian blitzkrieg

The rivals gathered in the centre of the pool to loud music – there were not individual races at the beginning of every 8 minutes any more. The guests got the ball, and Vukčević did not leave chances to Anton Antonov in the first attack. Two attacks of the host team faced a protection barrier, and it was good that Prescuitti ended an individual swim on the left wing touching the goal bar. But in the next attack of the guests, Rizzo just defeated the Kazan goalkeeper. And by the third minute, our players needed to win not two but four balls – 0-2. Belofastov's players hurried up, they were nervous and each time faced stretched arms of Brescia's defence – the ball did not reach the guests' goalie Del Lungo. Klikovats' technical mistake was the culmination of unconfident actions – our centre defender just held the ball for more than regulated 30 seconds, and the right to attack shifted to the guests.

Kazan's game in minority was the bright spot. During Stepanyuk's expulsion, Antonov reflected Pasković's powerful shot, and his partners even had a dangerous attack, though Klikovats just touched the ball. Belofastov took timeout and gave instructions how to get rid of the extra player – Prescuitti was expulsed. Arslan Zakirov was to perform the final shot. Our active forward attacked the defender and goalie, but Del Lungo cleared the ball. In the last minute of the quarter, Klikovats scored a goal but it was after the whistle.

The second quarter did not change the game as well. The host team took the ball away, attacked, but Zakirov was not accurate again. Sintez still looked better than when the squads were equal – the Lions did not use Giniyatov's expulsion but acted confidently against six players. Bertoli scored the third ball to our net in the third minute of the second quarter – 0-3. When Janowicz performed a double in the middle of the quarter and did it without opposition, it became clear that if the Brescia players did not sink all of a sudden, Andrey Belofastov's team would need to postpone dreams of the Champions League until better days. Luck finally turned its back on Sintez – Stepanyuk finally whitewashed Del Lungo. But the ball licked the bar and jumped into the field. 0-4 after two quarters. And we could be speaking about a prestige goal only.

The second quarter did not change the game as well

''Russo rinascimento''

The presenter asked to support the Sintez players with applause before the second half of the meeting – ''Come on, guys!'' But Rizzo scored the fifth ball in the first attack and caught up with Janowicz. It happened – Klikovats completed his teammates' efforts in getting rid of the extra player in front of the goal from centre – 1-5, success.

Applauses calmed down as soon as the Italians' return attacks ended. Pasković easily found a weak link in the Kazan defence again and recovered the margin – 1-6. But, bravo, Sintez probably remembered Nikolay Starostin's popular phrase ''everything is lost except honour''. Our guys rushed forwards. Marzuki Mahdi performed a shot first. In one minute, central defender Artyom Odintsov considerably increased the margin – 3-6!

In the fifth minute of the third quarter, Belofastov's players managed to score goals for the third time in a row (!) performed by Fatakhutdinov – 4-6! Antonov made miracles in the goal by making a corner shot after Eduardo Manzi's shot and reflecting Prescuitti's very powerful shot as centre forward. Vukčević was expulsed, and Belofastov took timeout – these minutes of the third quarter that was crazy for Kazan could decide many things if not everything. They had to play for more than a minute. And Brescia probably sank because it did not expect such a Russian renaissance after 0-5.

The fourth quarter began. Did Kazan have enough power for a final dash after such a race? They had the power – Odintsov hit the bar as powerfully as he could, but Pliskevich was expulsed. Time passes like ice cream melts under the sun. Odintsov reduced the margin to the minimum – 5-6! All the shots of Italia were blocked or became a bag of Antonov who was on a roll. The guests opposed the attack of Sintez thanks to constant breaches of the rules. Bertolli almost drowned Mehdi and was expulsed until the end of the game. Why was not there a penalty shot for the Lions? It would be handy. Here goes! Another Italian player was expulsed for three fouls, and Bugaychuk levelled the score two and a half minutes till the end.

Brescia probably sank because it did not expect such a Russian renaissance after 0-5

There were not any miracles, but happiness was very close

Was it a miracle? No, there were two expulsions in our team. And Rizzo gave his verdict – 6-7. How cool were our guys! Mehdi made the score 7-7 with a penalty shot. 1 minute and 38 seconds left. There was a fight in every part of the water surface. It was not a surface, the water was boiling like in Jaws. There were enough sharks from both sides.

What is more, they managed to win! The score was 8-7 in favour of Sintez when 13 seconds left till the whistle. Sintez was a team that was losing in the third quarter and had 5 points less. Of course, the experienced Italians did not sink in the last seconds and did not give the ball to the hosts. Sintez covers the already known route to the European Cup, but happiness was very close.

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  • Oleg Tikhonov
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By Aleksandr Norden. Photo: Maksim Platonov