Montenegro claimed its third FINA World League crown with an Aleksandar Ivovic-inspired 9-8 victory over United States of America.

The gold goes alongside the 2009 and 2018 victories and it almost back-to-back wins as it did not compete in the Super Final in 2019 and last year’s event was carried over to this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Montenegro also has a silver and two bronzes at this level. As Serbia & Montenegro (conjoined countries), victories were obtained in 2005 and 2006 with a silver in 2004.

For USA, it was so tantalisingly close to a first crown, having lost the 2008 and 2016 finals to Serbia — also both Olympic years. USA’s other medal was bronze in 2003. Six times it has lost the bronze-medal encounter, proving it is a true contender at this event.

In the first match of the tournament, Montenegro also beat USA — 10-6.

The final was far different and the towering Ivovic (35) was inspirational, scoring in each of the quarters and twice in the third period. Two were from the penalty line and the others spread around the pool. Scoring for 7-5 and 8-5 either side of the final break was breathtaking.

“USA played much better than in our group game (won 10-6) and congratulations to them and also I congratulate all my team. This is an important step going into the Olympics.”
By Vladimir Gojkovic (MNE) — Head Coach

Montenegro led 2-0 at the quarter, tied the next two — 2-2, 3-3  — and then lost the last 3-2.

However, it was enough and the final lived up to expectations as all teams played better and better as the tournament unfolded, more so than normal because of the pandemic and the lack of regular international competition.

Montenegro had the perfect start by shutting out USA until Hannes Daube and Ben Hallock levelled early in the second period. Montenegro pushed it out to 4-2 and with two minutes left in the third, a healthy 6-3. Alex Bowen and Max Irving converted consecutive penalties and it was 6-5 with 12 seconds left on the clock. Ivovic, in typical fashion, said the period was not over and screamed in a long shot with four seconds remaining.

“We lost tonight; we were close in the end. We should be satisfied, but it is just part of the journey going to the Olympic Games.”
By Dejan Udovicic (USA) — Head Coach

He started the fourth with a penalty and Johnny Hooper and Hallock again drew USA to within one. Dusan Matkovic scored from outside at 1:43 and USA had it all to do. Daube sent in his third, but at 0:39 there was little time to force a shootout. Both teams took chances, to no difference in the score. Montenegro had claimed the gold.

Montenegro’s Vladan Spaic had an excellent match at centre forward and team-mate Marko Petkovic scored in each half.

Classification 1-2
Quarters: 2-0, 2-2, 3-3, 2-3
Referees: Alessandro Severo (ITA), Nenad Peris (CRO).
Shots: MNE: 9/26. USA: 8/29.
Extra Man: MNE: ¼. USA: 1/6.
Pens: MNE: 2/2. USA: 2/3.

Full match statistics —

Greece turned the tables on world champion Italy, coming from an 11-8 loss on day two, to winning the bronze medal 10-8 today.

Italy is yet to win a World League gold medal and inexplicably left Tbilisi without even a medal after winning its group. Italy has three silver medals, the most recent in 2017, and one bronze from previous editions.

For Greece, it was retribution for losing to Italy on Sunday and then playing poorly against Montenegro in the semifinal on Wednesday. Greece won the last of its three bronze medals in Huizhou, China in 2016 and now has four.

Italy played without the services of star centre forward Matteo Aicardi who was rubbed from the match because of a brutality foul against United States of America on Wednesday night.

“It was a strange tournament for us, just before the Olympic Games. I believe no team is totally prepared for that. We played much better than yesterday against Montenegro and our first game against Italy (lost 11-8). We have to learn how to play and win and why not against a team like Italy? I’m not entirely satisfied with the way we played at this tournament.”
By Theodoros Vlachos (GRE) — Head Coach

Italy scored first and before long was 3-1 ahead. Michael Bodegas scored from centre forward for the first of his haul and then Greece’s Alexandros Papanastasiou jumped on to a rebound deep left, grabbed the ball, surged forward and then turned and flipped the ball into goal while smothered by goalkeeper Marco Del Lungo, for 3-2 down. Bodegas scored on extra off the post position and Konstantinos Genidounias sent a missile in from the top with one second remaining for 4-3.

That impetus continued into the second period as Stylianos Argyropoulos, on extra-man attack, and Dimitrios Skoumpakis, from outside, gave Greece the lead for the first time at 5-4. Bodegas nailed No 3 off a cross pass on extra to level the match at 1:19. Gonzalo Echinique scored from top right nearly two minutes into the third quarter to give what was to become Italy’s last lead. Greece rattled in two more, watched as reserve goalkeeper Konstantinos Galanidis was red-carded from the bench, and then witnessed Genidounias convert the penalty for 8-6 — his second of the quarter and third for the match. In the first quarter, captain Ioannis Fountoulis was fouled out twice and was a quiet player by his estimation for quite some time. Then he exploded from wide left to pump the ball into the left side of the goal, narrowly missing the upright, at 0:13, giving his team a three-goal advantage.

“100 per cent defence today after yesterday’s very bad offence (against Montenegro), where we deserved to lose. Today we came with a better mindset and now we go to Tokyo with a win.”
By Konstantinos Genidounias (GRE) — Player of the Match

Bodegas rose high at centre forward on extra to score the easiest of his goals for 9-7 at 5:32 — plenty of time for Italy to come back. Neither team scored for four minutes and a regained Greek ball finally made it to Fountoulis to score at 1:39 and 10-7. Francesco Di Fulvio bludgeoned a foul off a free throw and then scored from the next foul at six metres for 10-8 at 1:24. It was the last throw of the dice.

Match 23, 18:15, GREECE 10 ITALY 8
Classification 3-4
Quarters: 3-4, 2-1, 4-1, 1-2
Referees: Michael Goldenberg (USA), Sebastien Dervieux (FRA)
Shots: GRE: 10/29. ITA: 8/28.
Extra Man: GRE: 3/9. ITA: 4/7.
Pens: GRE: 1/2.

Full match statistics —

Individual awards went to:

Leading goalscorer — Yusuke Inaba (JPN) with TWPC Member Alan Balfanbayev

Top goalkeeper — Drew Holland (USA) with TWPC Member Bill Shaw

Tournament MVP — Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) with TWPC Honorary Secretary Wim Keman