Montenegro burst into the gold-medal final with an 8-4 margin over Greece in the first classification 1-4 semifinal.

It was an unusual match in which Greece kept Montenegro scoreless for 12 minutes and then Montenegro returned the favour with a 14-minute shut-out. That defence proved crucial to the match, especially since it was in the second half.

Montenegro will be hoping to add to the 2009 and 2018 titles when it fronts Thursday’s final. Greece will have a chance to add a fourth FINA World League bronze medal to its trophy cabinet.

“We can be satisfied with the win for us and congratulations to my boys and Greece, as they played well. We played good defence and tomorrow we will try to take first place.”
By Vladimir Gojkovic (MNE) — Head Coach

The opening quarter was tight, as expected, with Marios Kapotsis starting the scoring a minute in. Goals were traded and at 2-2 it was a clear reflection of the jitters as teams settled into the match. Montenegro head coach Vladimir Gojkovic earned a yellow card in the dying seconds when the clock moved down and had to be adjusted.

It was refreshing to watch a period where the referees’ whistles were not dominating and players were allowed to get on with the match. The second quarter was all about pressure defence and forcing the outside shot, many of which hit wood and rebounded well back into play. The secretary had to wake up when at 0:11 when Konstantinos Genidounias rocketed in a shot from top left to gain a slender lead at the long break — 3-2. Both teams made simple errors with lost ball or passing.

“For us it was a big game and we played very good defence the whole match and deserved the win. We came here to play big matches…”
By Drasko Brguljan (MNE) — Captain and Player of the Match

Montenegro checked back into the match at 4:16 of the third period when Miroslav Perkovic was given a tough task at two metres while defended by two men. The ball scythed into him, and he turned and scored for 3-3 — more than 12 minutes since his team adjusted the scoreboard. Montenegro loved the goal and decided to step up and fire in three more, — Dusan Matkovic netting his second; Vladan Spaic and Aleksa Ukropina, all on extra-man attack. The last goal just beat the buzzer for a magnificent 6-3 advantage heading into the final quarter.

Greece’s woes continued in the final quarter as it struggled to get a good view of the goal. Most of the shots were blocked or not on target and even the likes of the prolific Ioannis Fountoulos  could not pierce the defence. The correct team won and Montenegro can be proud of its cleaner foul record — 8-3 — converting four of them.

Full match statistics —

United States of America upset world champion Italy 10-8 in the second semifinal and will play Montenegro for gold on Thursday.

The tight encounter erupted into violence early in the third quarter when Italian centre forward Matteo Aicardi was red-carded for allegedly punching his opponent. The referee deemed it violent enough to be a brutality foul by indicating with the crossed arms and then with his fist into a palm. The foul demands the opposing team take a penalty shot, which Hannes Daube converted, and the offending team to play a man down for the next four minutes. It was those four minutes that shaped the result, as USA scored two more goals. The penalty made it 7-7 and by the time Aicardi’s replacement re-entered the pool, USA was at 9-7 and within striking distance of victory.

“I’m proud of my guys, the way they played, and the energy was insane, if I can say that? This is what I want from my team every game. We have a very young team.”
By Dejan Udovicic (USA) — Head Coach

There was plenty of time for Italy to make a comeback, but power USA defence — especially with goalkeeper Drew Holland  in stunning form all match — and the inability for the normally confident Italians to penetrate the ball towards goal, was an unusual sight to see.

USA started the first quarter strongly, going two up and then 3-1. Italy reversed the lead at 4-3 — Pietro Figlioli, Matteo Aicardi for his second and Andrea Fondelli doing the delivering. Johnny Hooper levelled on extra-man attack with 10 seconds left on the clock.

“It was a hard-fought game and there was a lot of emotion out there. We went up for four minutes in the third and we took advantage of that and held it together in the final quarter, and made it into the final.”
By Hannes Daube (USA) — Player of the Match

The second quarter was most interesting with both coaches unhappy, each collecting a yellow card. Italy shot two clear with Andrea Fondelli gaining a second and then Alex Obert dragging one back for USA. Figlioli almost shattered the crossbar on penalty at 5:29 and four minutes later, Hooper had his penalty attempt blocked by Marco Del Luongo, who eventually stopped an amazing 14 shots — coincidentally, the same number as Holland. Francesco Di Fulvio converted his penalty and Daube kept USA in touch with a score on extra.

It was then the third period from hell for Italy.

In the fourth, Figlioli made it 9-8 from deep left at 6:30, ramping up the anticipation of a possible penalty shootout. However, at 3:08, Marko Vavic scored off extra man for 10-8, which completed the scoring. Nothing Italy did found success in the dying minutes.

USA returned the incredible statistic of 7/13 on extra-man attack compared with Italy’s 1/6.

It leaves Italy to play Greece in a rematch of Sunday’s group encounter where Italy won 11-8 and USA will face Montenegro, who won their group clash 10-6 in the event’s opener.

Full match statistics —