Serbia returned to the throne after winning an incredible final against arch-rival Croatia at the FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final in Belgrade. The match itself produced an outstanding battle which could have gone either way but Filip Filipovic’s penalty 17 seconds from time secured the home side’s triumph as well as a spot at the 2020 Olympics. The torrential rain hitting the venue did not disturb the party, the players did their best in the fourth period and all 3,000 fans soaked to skin but stayed on the stands to push the Serbs and celebrate another victory of the Dolphins. Australia landed the bronze after edging out Spain in a game which saw the first-ever goal by a goalkeeper from the attacking half. Earlier the first goals were called after video reviews.

The reigning Olympic champion against the reigning World champion – in stake was the World League crown, 100.000 US dollars but most importantly the prestige and the first bookable spot for Tokyo. It goes without saying that the Tasmajdan Pool was fully packed, though the first ten minutes buried the venue into silence as the Croats took a flying start and led 1-4. The Serbs found their game soon and they showed something from their very best which was simply devastating, a 5-0 run in 5:24 minutes. Before the world champs got lost completely, Ante Vukicevic pulled one back for 6-5 and they managed to regroup themselves during the middle break. 

Dusan Mandic netted four goals, one of them was a sheer beauty, he was one of the keys for the Serbian success - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

Thus the third period brought a spectacular twist, a counter-attack goal from Vukicevic, then a fine extra-player goal from Loren Fatovic while the Serbs were struggling to recall their big form from the second period. The drought lasted 6:42 minutes before the equaliser came but a fine distant shot put the Croats 7-8 ahead before the final period.

When it kicked off, the heavens opened and a huge rain hit the venue. With no lightning, the game could go on and Croatia took the lead twice but the Serbs could level the score a both occasions. Then at 10-10 came the first missed man-up from the Croats and the hosts responded with an action goal from Filipovic so the Serbs led again. The sides played so committed and on such a high level that no official gave a thought to halt the match even amidst the heaviest downpour. The Croats kept their nerves, earned a 6 on 5 and Vukicevic scored his 5th goal to equalise once more 46 seconds from time but the last twist was yet to come. A penalty 17 seconds from time, it had to be called, not even the Croats disputed that much. Filipovic stepped up and made no mistake from the 5m line. Since the their rivals couldn’t create a shooting chance in the remaining time, both the team and its fans began to fly and rose to the seventh heaven.

Not singing but celebrating in the rain: Filipovic&Co. was at its best once more

This was Serbia’s 10th title in this competition, so they will arrive to the World Championships in Gwangju with their Olympic tickets already being secured. The victory ceremony was moved to the indoor pool where Filip Filipovic received the MVP award, Croatia’s Marko Bijac could pose with the best goalie trophy while Japan’s Inaba Yusuke finished at the top scorer (with 26 goals). It was a bit special that the Serbian anthem was played through the outside venue’s PA system but that didn’t disturb the home players to sing it together with Sport Minister Vanja Udovicic who handed over their gold medals in a fully wet white shirt as – just as the 3,000 fans – he had stayed on the stands to cheer for his former team-mates.

The winners took it all: the golds, the money and the trophy

Even before the final started history had been made in the Tasmajdan pool at the FINA Men's Water Polo World League Super Final in Belgrade. In the morning session the first goals were called after video reviews while in the afternoon Spanish goalkeeper Dani Lopez became the first keeper in red cap who joined his team's attack and scored. It was too late, though, as Australia kept the ball in the remaining 24 seconds to claim the bronze medal.

The battle for the bronze was a balanced encounter which saw Australia taking and keeping control a bit surprisingly. The Aussies took a 7-4 lead in the third and even though the Spaniards climbed back and managed to equalise in the middle of the last period at 9-9, the Aussies could respond well, netted two for 11-9 and managed to win the game. Spain tried a 7 on 6 at the end, obviously the Aussies let goalie Dani Lopez make a try and the keeper sent the ball to the net much to the delight of the gathering crowd, still, the remaining 24 seconds were not enough for the Spanish to do a miracle and Australia managed to medal at one more FINA major event after their silver at last year's World Cup in Berlin.

It was a painful defeat for the Spaniards... - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

The morning session was quite entertaining, perhaps not for the coaches as the defences struggled to prevent the flood of goals in the games for the lower ranks. In the first match Canada was leading all the way but the Kazakhs came back from time to time and they managed to claim the 7th place in the penalty shootout.

After the Kazakh goalie was sent out because of constant violation of the line-rule in the shootout, Stanislav Shvedov stepped in but he couldn't make a save, still, they prevailed at the end

Hungary played with patience once more against Japan – as in the prelims when they had already beat them – and that bore its fruits as building on the strength of their big centre-forwards they could build a three-goal lead by the end of the third. Though at one point Japan had a man-up for 9-8 (from 9-5) but they missed it and the Magyars netted a goal to go 10-7 up. Then with a 4-0 rush in 2:37 minutes they decided the outcome in the fourth – still, the Japanese fought till the end and managed to score six goals to narrow the gap to two, though they never had a real chance to go even.

Krisztian Bedo's power was too much for the Japanese, the MVP of the game scores his third here

This match saw another historical milestone as Japan was awarded a goal after a video review – the first ever of this kind at a major FINA event. In the fourth it was even more spectacular as the review happened after Japan netted a goal, which was finally revoked and the Hungarian shot in the previous possession was called a goal (though it did not affect the outcome that much: 14-7 it stood instead of 13-8).  

Final rankings

1. Serbia - $100.000

2. Croatia - $70.000

3. Australia - $50.000

4. Spain - $35.000

5. Hungary - $30.000

6. Japan - $25.000

7. Kazakhstan - $20.000

8. Canada - $15.000

Most Valuable Player: Filip Filipovic (SRB)

Best Goalkeeper: Marko Bijac (CRO)

Top Scorer of the Super Final: Inaba Yusuke (JPN) with 26 goals