Serbia and Italy have qualified for the 2022 FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final in France this July following a day of nailbiting encounters in which three matches produced one-goal victories and the other by two goals, thanks to a buzzer-beating 20m Italian goal. Serbia defeated Spain 11-10, Italy shut out host Montenegro 9-7, Croatia beat France 13-12 and Hungary outlasted Greece 14-13. Spain and Montenegro will battle for bronze and the final Super Final qualification spot on Saturday.
15:00 Greece v France
17:00 Hungary v Croatia
19:00 Spain v Montenegro
21:00 Serbia v Italy
HUNGARY 14 GREECE 13
In a topsy-turvy match that had Hungary in front for about 13 minutes and Greece for 11, it came down to the final quarter when a three-goal, 90-second Hungarian spurt dragged the Hungarians from one down to two ahead, from which Greece could only pull one back inside the final 40 seconds.
For Hungary, Gergo Zalanki finished off counter from the deep right for the winner and his third goal. Gergely Burian, who scored twice in the opening quarter, gained his third with the 12-12 leveller. Greece’s omnipotent Konstantinos Genidounias came alive with a pair in the second, three in the third and his sixth was the go-ahead 12-11 score in the final quarter. This comes atop a pair on day one. Konstantinos Kakaris scored three of Greece’s opening four goals.
After a 2-0 Greek lead, Hungary grabbed the match by the throat and went to 5-2 midway through the second period. Greece turned the match with a 5-2 spurt for 7-7 two minutes into the third quarter. Hungary went one ahead before Greece again took the lead at 9-8 and 10-9 by the third-quarter buzzer. Greece kept going ahead until 12-11, then Hungary went three straight by 0:40 for 14-12 and Greece’s reply at 0:25 was not enough.
Stats don’t lie
Hungary won with three less shots than Greece (29-32), had the better extra-man stats at 5/14 compared to Greece’s 5/16. However, Hungary turned the ball over 10 times to Greece’s five. The goalkeeper saves favoured Hungary — 11-8. Greece missed one of its two penalty-goal attempts and Hungary nailed its one chance.
Hungary is the Olympic bronze medallist and Greece the silver medallist, but three top-liners are not here for Greece and it showed. Genidounias made the most of his opportunities, spurring the team close to victory. However, as with all the teams in Podgorica, newcomers are blending in well with the old-stagers and the scene is ripe for fruition in Budapest come June.
What they said
Akos Konarik (HUN) — Player of the Match
“It’s difficult. It’s a world tournament while we are in the middle of our club season. We have limited time to prepare together. We have a young team, a new team – like everyone – so I think it’s hard for everyone to play very well now. I am very happy that we could win today and I hope we can also win tomorrow. For the team, we really want to win – especially in Budapest. We’ve had two tournaments in Budapest in the last few years and we did very well, so I just hope it will be the same. Lots of people will come to the pool and Margaret Island is always a fantastic feeling for everyone.”
Theodoros Vlachos (GRE) — Head Coach
“Of course, it’s not easy to speak about the game. In the end, in the last three minutes, the Hungarian team scored two or three times. We didn’t find the goal or score in the same situation. And that was, I think, the decision of the game’s winner. Still, today we still enjoyed the game more than yesterday. Today, we played with more tactics, more passion, more precision. Of course, it’s not the same game as yesterday; that was a game for qualifying (to the Super Final). Still, this is an official game in an international tournament, and we want to present every day our best face. We will use this for the rest of the competitions this summer.”
FRANCE 12 CROATIA 13
You have to wonder when France will break through to the medal round of a tournament, such is its determination and progress in recent years. A one-goal loss to Montenegro on day one was followed by this loss to Croatia. France levelled five times — at one, two, six, seven and eight two minutes into the third quarter. Croatia pushed it out to 10-8 before France came back for 10-9 down at the final break. A three-goal procession by Croatia, including two Konstantine Kharkov goals, sent Croatia 13-9 ahead. Three goals in three minutes from France showed its aggression and never-say-die attitude, but it was one shy of a shootout.
Kharkov was the everywhere man for Croatia, scoring five times, including two penalty goals and one on counter. Josip Vrlic was a dominant force at centre forward for Croatia and was named player of the match. Mehdi Marzouki, a six-goal scorer against Montenegro on Thursday, netted another three, including the extra-man goal that narrowed to score to 13-12 at 0:59. Team-mate Alexandre Bouet also scored three, all on extra-man attack.
The main turning point was the opening goal and from there France had to play catch-up. The big blast came after 8-8 when Croatia turned on the afterburners and went 5-1 for the 13-9 lead.
Stats don’t lie
France did well on extra-man attack with 7/14 compared to Croatia’s 4/13. France took eight fewer shots than Croatia (24-32), turned the ball over 14 times to eight and made nine goalkeeper saves to seven. Croatia scored both penalty opportunities.
France is on the way up; Croatia is already there. The overall strength and skills of the Croatians came to the fore today and they will be sorely needed in the play-off for fifth position against Hungary on Saturday. Sadly for France, two one-goal losses means it has to play Greece for seventh classification.
What they said
Jure Marelja (CRO) — Assistant Coach
“The game came with a lot of suspense in the end. But, fortunately, we won this game. It’s an important game for us because we are going to compete with this team (France) in the groups in the European Championships (August-September). It was very interesting for us to see how they are playing. It seems that they are playing at a very high level.”
Florian Bruzzo (FRA) — Head Coach
“We missed a little experience. We need to learn how to manage to not go too deep when we don’t feel good in the water. We have moments; we have big waves. Our waves between good and bad play are too big, you know? Some moments we play very well; some moments we play very bad, too deep. We didn’t control this. Then, what can I say more? It’s our second loss by one goal. Ah, we have to prepare for the next game tomorrow. We will go against Greece. This is it. So, let’s see tomorrow.”
MONTENEGRO 7 ITALY 9
In a day of one-goal wins, Italy made it by two over Montenegro. The crowd groaned when Italy regained the ball in the dying seconds and Andrea Fondelli took advantage of the Montenegrin goalkeeper’s presence in the front court to send in a screaming bouncer from 20m out on the buzzer. The home team led 2-1 at the quarter and when Fondelli scored the second of his triple at 5:55 in the third period it led to a 4-1 charge and eventually to 7-5 up at the last break. The margin went to three before a Montenegrin pair brought it to within one at 2:54, only for Fondelli to spoil Montenegro’s day. The referees saw red — or more precisely Luca Damonte (ITA) — as he was carded from the match for sinking Marko Mrsic after he scored an extra-man goal in the third period. An Italian team-mate was lying poolside with a bleeding forehead at the time.
Fondelli was the master and the only multiple scorer for Italy. Vlado Popadic scored twice for Montenegro, as did Mrsic, gaining his second from the penalty line.
Going from 3-3 to 6-3 in the space of four minutes in the third period was a telling blow against Montenegro. The comeback pair of goals for 8-7 down with three minutes left was most encouraging for Montenegro and had the sell-out crowd humming. However, both teams shut up shop for the final minutes until that spectacular shot from somewhere up the Adriatic.
Stats don’t lie
Both teams converted three from 11 on extra-man attack and there were 11 saves apiece with Montenegrin Petar Tesanovic’s effort enough for the Player of the Match award.
Italy has the all-round team and while head coach Alessandro Campagna said he is not worried about results here, he will be pleased with another major tournament to attend this northern summer. Italy had control of the match for all of the second half — no easy task in front of a parochial opposition crowd. Montenegro still has a shot at Super Final inclusion when it plays Spain in the bronze-medal decider.
What they said
Sandro Campagna (ITA) — Head Coach
“What I know for sure is that we fixed the calendar. Now we know we’re going to Strasbourg (France, for the Super Final) at the end of July. With the World Championships, the Super Final and Europeans, the summer will be very, very busy. I think the match was very good, especially for the spectators here in the stands. It was a very intensive game. Montenegro surprised us with their play, especially at the start of the match. They created something new that, at the beginning, we were a little surprised by. After the second quarter, we understood how to play and afterwards we play very well for us. We could have managed better, the last minutes. But, anyway, we cannot complain about these moments.”
Vladimir Gojkovic (MNE) — Head Coach
“I think it was one good game from both teams. We missed a lot of our chances, especially when we had an extra-man — I don’t know, one or two goals. In the end, we tried to get back in the game and show some character, which is good. We will analyse more when we watch the video.”
Dejan Lazovic (MNE) — Player of the Match
“I can’t be happy because we lost, but overall it was a great, great game. For us, we had many young players and they’re showing that they can play against these really great players from Italy. I think we showed character, even though we lost. It’s all part of the process.”
SPAIN 10 SERBIA 11
Serbia is the maestro when it comes to big matches and taking on Spain is always a tricky encounter. Serbia led 2-0, was pulled back to 4-4 midway through the second quarter, led 6-4 at halftime and 10-7 at the final break. A three-goal haul from Spain levelled the match at 4:29 and a cross pass to Nikola Jaksic in front of goal on extra just managed to find his hand and drop into goal for the winner at 2:43. Even with the Spanish goalkeeper taking a front-row seat in the last attack was not enough for the draw.
Marko Radulovic (SRB) took out the Player of the Match award for his three-goal effort and Strahinja Rasovic chimed in with two goals at 8-6 and 10-7. For Spain, Marc Larumbe and Alberto Granados scored their third goals in that three-goal charge early in the final quarter.
Spain’s mini surge to level at 4-4 in the second quarter; Serbia’s third-quarter domination and then Spain’s three goals in two minutes for 10-10 were the major turning points. The most vital point was Jaksic’s climb to the heavens to claim the winner.
Stats don’t lie
Serbia’s second excellent extra-man statistic — 5/9 — was one conversion better than day one and the standout of the session. Spain gained four from 15 chances. Serbia took five more shots than Spain (36-31) and only turned the ball over five times while Spain did 14. The Spanish goalkeepers were kept busy, recording 18 saves between them.
Serbia is here to win and anything can happen on any day, as the results have shown. It will come up against Italy in the final, but the immediate target has been achieved with Super Final inclusion and a chance to defend its crown. Spain should be pleased with its resolve and will now focus on gaining the final berth available for the Strasbourg Super Final with a win against Montenegro on Saturday.
What they said
Marko Radulovic (SRB) — Player of the Match
“The difference, I think, was in defence. We had a little bit more blocks. Our goalkeeper was on a really high level today. So, that was the little difference today. We now have Italy on our minds. We came here for first place. We’re always motivated for the first place. We don’t have anything to hide. We want victory, we want gold.”
David Martin (ESP) — Head Coach
“Yes, yes, with Serbia, it’s always a war in the water. It’s always very, very difficult. You’re assured a hard game. We always have problems in the beginning of the game, but the last quarter, it’s true that we are alive. But, finally, the energy is empty. But it’s okay. They are a good team. Tomorrow is another game. And we will continue to fight.”