Olympic host Japan had one of its best finishes at a FINA World League Super Final, leaving with fifth place after a 7-1 final quarter to dismiss Kazakhstan 17-10.

Japan was sixth in Belgrade two years ago, losing to Hungary. The previous year it lost out to Spain in the bronze-medal match, its highest finish in six previous visits to the Super Final.

“Kazakhstan played rather slowly on offence and it was not easy for us to score, but we showed patience and got the job done. We lost to Kazakhstan at the Asian Games in 2018 and wanted to show that we are the best in Asia.”
By Yoji Omoto (JPN) — Head Coach

Kazakhstan, such a happy winner after the sudden-death penalty shootout against Georgia on Wednesday, achieved its best result in 2012 — fifth place. Today it could not continue that pace against a fast, hard-pressing and counter-attacking Japanese.

Japan quickly established a 3-1 lead and kept Kazakhstan chasing until 8-8 midway through the third quarter. The margin went to 10-8 and 10-9 by the final break before Japan fired the after-burners and accelerated away with final spurt.

There were five different scorers in the first quarter and 10 different scorers at 6-4 in Japan’s favour. Then Mikhail Ruday scored his second goal from his favoured centre-forward position. Toi Suzuki grabbed his second and Srdjan Vuksanovich scored on extra for his second and 7-6. Yusuke Inaba brought up his 20th goal of the tournament from the penalty line, reversing an earlier miss when his shot hit the keeper. Dushan Markovich pulled one back on extra to turn at 8-7 down.

“On team defence, it was not only me, but also my colleagues who were playing so well today.”
By Katsuyuki Tanamura (JPN) Goalkeeper and Player of the Match

Rustam Ukumanov hit the left upright with his penalty attempt that could have levelled early in the third. Vuksanovich converted his penalty for the 8-8 score but had his next penalty attempt blocked by Katsuyuki Tanamura, who was named player of the match for his vital contribution and 11 saves. Atsushi Arai converted consecutive extra-man plays and Ruday brought up his 11th goal on extra, three seconds from the buzzer for 10-9. The final quarter promised much.

However, there was not to be the heroics of the previous night when it won the final period 4-1 and forced a penalty shootout against Georgia. Japan slipped into high gear and four of its seven goals were on counter. There was some consternation at 12-9 when Ruday rose high on the cross pass and shot at Tanamura, who blocked his shot. The whistle went and it was thought a penalty was being called, but instead it was called as a goal. The referee did not entertain a VAR decision as asked by Japanese head coach Yoji Omoto and at the other end a Japanese player had his head hit with no consequences. Japan was defiant and rattled in the next five goals, showing it was the best in Asia and almost ready for Tokyo 2020. Inaba was looking for his 21st goal from a penalty, only for it to be saved by the goalkeeper — an inglorious end for such a fine athlete.

The extra-man statistics praised both teams with Kazakhstan converting 6/9 and Japan 8/14. In total shots, Japan took seven more than Kazakhstan — the margin of victory. Both teams could yet meet in Tokyo, although they are playing in opposite sides of the draw.

Full match statistics — http://results.microplustiming.com/TBILISI2021/index_web.php

France took out seventh position with a smooth performance against host Georgia — 10-5.

It was a second appearance for France, having finished sixth in Belgrade in 2005, and the outing at this level will put it in good stead for Paris 2024 where it needs to play outstanding water polo in front of a home crowd.

“It’s normal, very big opposition to play here and be seventh and not eighth. It’s not important. What is to improve and play the best teams in the world and play better and better.”
By Nenad Vukanic (FRA) — Head Coach

For Georgia, it was a first appearance at this level and its ability is not far from the leading teams. It just needs more competition at this level because it has many talented athletes.

France raced to a 3-0 lead and that impetus set it up for future quarters. With 3-1 at the first break, it became 6-2 at halftime, the springboard for French success. France lost to finalist United States of America by just the one goal in the quarterfinals and one goal to Kazakhstan in the rounds. With 19-year-old Thomas Vernoux possibly the standout centre forward in Tbilisi, France looks set for greater things. He was named player of the match.

“It was a hard game and we played very well in defence, so we are really happy; not happy with seventh place as we were hoping to be in the final and possibly win it.”
By Thomas Vernoux (FRA) — Player of the Match

Georgia put the clamps on France’s scoring in the third quarter, limiting it to 2-1, Vernoux producing possibly the goal of the tournament where he spun his opponent at two metres, baulked the goalkeeper and sent it over his head. That was 7-2 and his second of the match and 13th for the week. When Charles Cannone scored on counter-attack for 8-2 at 2:07, Georgia responded on the next attack through Saba Tkeshelashvili on extra from top left for 8-3 to close the period’s scoring.

“France team, from the beginning, we respected. The problem was that France seemed more motivated on winning and this is what we have to improve on. We gave a chance at this tournament for the younger players, for the future.”
By Dejan Stanojevic (GEO) — Head Coach

Romain Marion Vernoux opened the final quarter on extra, adding to his classic six-metre-foul goal at the top of the second period. Georgia responded again, this time thanks to Andria Bitadze, who backhanded on extra on the left-post position. The small Georgian crowd that had been following the team all week, erupted again at 2:13 when Nika Shusiashvili drilled a shot from the left-hand-catch position on extra for 9-5. France hit double figures when Andrea De Nardi walked in from the top to slam in his first goal.

Full match statistics — http://results.microplustiming.com/TBILISI2021/index_web.php