The two finalists from the FINA World Championships in Budapest earlier this month will play in the first semifinal of the World League Super Final in Strasbourg, France on Tuesday. World champion Spain beat Canada 13-6 and silver medallist Italy stymied 10-time champion Serbia 14-7. In the other quarter-finals, United States of America outlasted Australia 12-11 and host nation France downed Montenegro 12-9. The two winners will meet in the second semifinal. None of the top four has won a World League title, so this year a fresh champion will be crowned.
Day 5 semifinal schedule:
14:00 MNE v AUS
16:00 SRB v CAN
18:00 ITA v ESP
20:00 FRA v USA
AUSTRALIA 11 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 12
It proved to be the closest match of the day and six tied scores proved this, including the all-important 11-11 at 4:29 in the final quarter. USA, once it wrested control of the match at 3-2 after Australia had the 2-1 quarter-time lead, was then never headed, although the scores were locked at six, seven, eight and nine to close the three quarters. USA went 11-9 up and two extra-man-advantage goals had the Aussie Sharks level again. USA took a timeout but could not score off the extra-man ploy but did secure another extra-man goal through Ben Hallock off the right-post position at 1:03. Australia had three chances to force the shootout with one ball stolen at two metres and the other two shots blocked. There was some poolside turmoil for the Sharks when head coach Tim Hamill was red-carded for protesting a major-foul decision at 6:22 in the final quarter.
Australia’s Luke Pavillard (pictured) was the undoubted star with five goals to keep Australia in the match. He scored three straight with his brilliant left arm straddling the halfway break, nailed the 9-9 goal a second from three-quarter time and pulled the match to within one at 11-10, three minutes into the final quarter. Four of those were on extra-man attack and one when heavily defended at the top. Max Irving scored three goals for USA and in the battle of the goalkeepers, Australia’s Nick Porter claimed 12 saves and USA’s Adrian Weinberg 11.
USA coming from 2-1 down to 3-2, setting the tone of the match where Australia had to come back to level five times. For Australia, it was coming from 5-2 down to level at 6-6 midway through the third and maintain its chances of victory.
Stats don’t Lie
The stats reward Australia with a better shooting percentage, albeit by 1 per cent, five steals to one and five from eight on extra-man attack, to USA’s five from 12. And then there were Porter’s better saves. However, the main killer? USA scoring two from three from the penalty line.
This is the fourth time these teams have met this year with Australia winning the first at the Intercontinental Cup in Peru and USA claiming the final — both by one-goal margins. In Budapest, USA took the honours 14-9. Both teams played excellent water polo with USA now hoping to beat France in the semifinals to secure a fourth final berth and perhaps go one spot better than the silver last year behind Montenegro. Australia heads to what could be an interesting rematch with Montenegro, winning their Saturday encounter 9-8.
SPAIN 13 CANADA 6
World champion Spain had to turn a 5-4 deficit at halftime into a handsome victory. Canada was on fire and playing at its best in containing the Spaniards. However, the experience and skills came through in the third period with a 4-0 shutout and then a 5-1 final quarter. Seven of those last nine goals from Spain were scored in action and overall only four goals came on extra-man attack and one from the penalty stripe.
Nikolas Paul scored his three goals in the second quarter, dragging his team back to 4-4. All three came from the left side of the pool in action plays. Milan Radenovic kept strongly in goal for Canada with 10 saves.
The whole second half for Spain, levelling at the top of the third, and sending in another four before Canada responded through Aleksa Gardijan with a penalty goal. The final seven minutes belonged to Spain.
Stats don’t Lie
The biggest stat was the 37 shots by Spain compared to 27 for Canada. Canada pressured Spain when a man down and only let in two from eight attempts. At the other end, Canada converted two from three.
Spain deserves to be in the top four and possibly in the final. However, it has Italy to contend with. Canada threw in an excellent first half and if it can prolong that attack, the coming two matches will prove interesting with Serbia first up on Tuesday.
SERBIA 7 ITALY 14
Italy made sure of punching a ticket for the semifinals with an emphatic win over Serbia. Thoughts of Tokyo 2020 spring to mind when Serbia, en route to its second consecutive Olympic crown, shunted Italy out in the quarter-finals 10-6. Italy went 2-0 up, had the 3-2 quarter-time lead, had a two-goal advantage at halftime (6-4) and doubled the margin in the third (10-6). A 4-1 final quarter concluded Italy’s supremacy. Goals were traded from midway in the second to midway in the third period before Italy applied the accelerator for five unanswered goals.
In a superb team effort, it was hard to select the best, but Luca Damonte fired in a 10m beauty for 9-6 that started the scoring frenzy and he added two more as Italy had a 12-6 margin. Eduardo Di Somma also netted three with two crucial goals in the second period. Italy’s Gianmarco Nicosia made 11 saves from goal. Gavril Subotic scored consecutive Serbian goals either side of halftime.
The five-goal streak in the third and fourth quarters that had Serbia scoreless for 11 long minutes.
Stats don’t Lie
Serbia took three less shots than Italy and converted only two from seven on extra-man attack. Italy nailed five from seven.
Italy is the form team and Serbia is rebuilding with a new-look team, even from Budapest 2022. Italy will now try and overcome its gremlins from that Budapest final loss to Spain and Serbia faces winless Canada in the round of five-eight semifinals.
MONTENEGRO 9 FRANCE 12
France pleased the bursting arena no end with a spirited 12-9 victory over Montenegro, still reeling from the opportunity lost in the penalty-shootout defeat by Spain the night before. France did not enjoy the lead until the second half following a 3-1 advantage for Montenegro at quarter time and 5-5 at the long break. When sensational 20-year-old Thomas Vernoux blasted in from two metres with four defenders on him to start the second half, the inspiration gleaned set France on the path to victory. Stefan Vidovic responded for 6-6, then France rattled in four goals. Montenegro pulled back two by 2:34, however, Pierre Vanpeperstraete scored from the left and the three-goal margin was too hard to breach. Ugo Crousillat came up with the winner from wide right at 1:35 for yet another three-goal difference and the victory.
Crousillat (pictured) took the glory with three goals, including a second-quarter penalty goal and an eight-metre missile for the 7-6 lead in the third quarter. Vernoux also scored three, as did Montenegrin Marko Mrsic.
Crousillat’s blast for 7-6 that led to the four-goal advantage and ultimately the win.
Stats don’t Lie
They do here as Montenegro won the extra-man count by a light year, converting six from 10. France? Just one from the one foul awarded. Montenegro even shot three more times, but those figures just didn’t rate. Montenegro turned the ball over eight times to four.
France deserves to have a crack at the big time and its progress in recent years has led to this and augurs well for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Montenegro is still trying to find the form of last year when it won the title. This loss means a new champion will be found. Montenegro and Serbia, in particular, have had a vice-like grip on this event going back to 2013.