Greece made it, in an exciting final they managed to beat Spain for the title and became Youth World Champion for the first time. Hungary and Serbia produced an outstanding battle for the bronze, the host side came from behind to clinch the third place. This led to a rare scene at the victory ceremony of a major men’s water polo event: no former Yugoslav team made the podium – among the youth it happened once in 2014, at other levels only in the mid-90s. The new rules tested at the tournament gained big success, can help to make water polo an even more thrilling and electrifying game.
The final day couldn’t have produced any more excitements: all four matches were decided by a single goal (just like the semi-finals), or, as in the game for the 5th place, a penalty shootout.
Greece outsmarted Spain in a tactical battle for the gold medal where the eventual winners might enjoy the benefit of coming first in the prelims which gave them an extra day off – something can become crucial when 17-18 years old boys had to take important decisions.
Ode to joy: the Greek boys won 7/7 in Szombathely to claim the title – Credit (all photos): Noemi Kondor
In that process the Greek did the better job, they were more effective in man-ups in the most crucial moments and ultimately that brought them the victory. In the final they managed to jump to a 3-goal lead by halftime and even though the Spaniards fought pretty hard, their chasing game burnt too much energy before they could narrow the gap to one goal. Once Bernat Sanahuja managed to score for 8-9 with his 6th goal in the game, there were 4:55 minutes to play but they could create their best chance only 1:44 from time, a man-up. However, the hero of the semis, Lluc Bertan (netted 5 against Hungary) was unable to beat the Greek goalie, and inside the last minute Oscar Asensio, who hit the game-winner from the centre a day earlier, couldn’t send the ball in from close range under pressure. Though the Greeks scored their last goal late in the third, they could withstand the pressure in the last 11:31 minutes, conceded only two goals, so just proved the good old saying: offence wins matches but defence wins titles. (All in all they won all seven games played here).
What went wrong? The Spanish won some big matches but came up short at the end
The bronze medal match offered a less tactical game, in fact it was an all-in effort from Hungary and Serbia, a tremendous display of attacking water polo with 69 shots altogether, leaving slim chances for the keepers. At the beginning the Hungarians were in the lead but the Serbs began to dominate in the third, at 8-10 they missed a big chance to break three goals clear and even if they led 9-11, then the Hungarians geared up and showed their very best by scoring three goals from various types of counter-attacks. They held their nerves in a decisive man-up battle, netted the crucial penalty for 14-12, the Serbs’ last lob came too late.
Hungary finished the tournament with two entertaining matches and they managed to win the second one to claim the bronze medal
Croatia had the game for the 5th place in hand against Italy, they should have buried at least one penalty of the two they earned in the fourth quarter but missed both. At the other end the Italians managed to score a goal which looked somewhat impossible in the dying seconds, but the ball arriving from the halfway line sneaked to the net. In the shootout they validated their psychological advantage to finish 5th.
The second missed 'match ball': Maurizi stops Penava's penalty with 53 sec to go
Australia tried to stage a big comeback once they fell behind by five goals at halftime against Montenegro and the boys from Down Under gave all they had, came closer but could never score the equaliser and lost by a goal at the end.
Szombathely was a great host once more, five years after the junior Worlds held here – the Magyar fans, filling the stands each evening as usual here, created electrifying atmosphere for the most important matches and the future generations of the sport offered performances being worthy of the environment.
The new rules tested in this tournament are quite promising, boosting the attacking water polo by offering more support for the players with the ball in scoring situations is definitely a good step (penalties can be called even the ball held in hand in case the defenders put a hand on the attacker from behind). Restricting the aggressive defensive manoeuvres is a good sign too, while setting the new shotclock to 20sec (instead of 30) after exclusions or after regaining the ball within the same possessions leaves at least four minutes more to change possessions and launch new attacks. That was clearly mirrored by the number of shots taken and the goals scored (and getting rid of the boring one-per-period time-outs also helped to enjoy the matches without too many unnecessary breaks). Some fine-tuning is needed obviously and to see how these rules shall be applied in the senior field, but at this level this set definitely made water polo more thrilling and all felt during the nine days that the teen boys enjoyed this edition pretty much.
Unai Augirre, the best goalie of the World Championship – see all individual awards below
9. United States
14. New Zealand
15. South Africa
18. Saudi Arabia
Most Valuable Player:
Nikolaos-Sry Papanikolaou (Greece)
Unai Aguirre (Spain)
Ahmed Elsapagh (Egypt) with 29 goals