Unbeaten Italy, United States of America and Hungary have qualified for the World Aquatics World Cup finals in Los Angeles in June-July. Italy defeated USA 16-10 in the top-of-the-table clash and Hungary upset European champion Croatia 13-10 in final-day matches here. It set up a three-way tie for second and the unlucky Croatia finished third in the grouping and thus took fourth place and misses the finals. It was always going to be tough for the third European team as USA, as host, gets automatic inclusion in the finals. However, USA showed its prowess by gaining a berth on merit.
Hungary controls entire match for final qualification
HUNGARY 13 CROATIA 10
Hungary assured itself a berth in the finals with a solid victory over host Croatia, much to the non-delight of the crowd. Hungary started the better with two goals, increased the margin to 5-1, went to 6-3 and was 7-5 up at the long break. Goals were traded in the first four minutes of the third period as Hungary went 10-6 and closed the period at 10-7. The three Hungarian goals came off the left arm of Gergo Zalanki, who was having a sublime match, making it an amazing six goals by this stage. Rino Buric revived Croatia’s chances with a near-post goal on extra for 10-8 and Hungary’s Marton Vamos was denied a goal at 4:54 when the VAR decision called the ball as still being on the hand when the buzzer sounded. This proved a critical moment as Josip Vrlic converted a huge counter-attack goal and Andrija Basic scored on extra-man attack for 10-10 at 3:17. The dampeners went on the Croatian celebrations when Vendel Vigvari and Zalanki — his seventh — converted extra-man plays for 12-10 by 1:45. Hungary went to a timeout at 1:23 to slow proceedings, but could not score. Then Croatia threw all players on attack and when the ball was stolen and passed to Krisztian Manhercz, he had an easy skip shot into an empty goal from past the halfway line as Croatian goalkeeper Toni Popadic could only watch in despair from inside the opposition’s six-metre zone. It finished 13-10 and, disappointingly, finished Croatia’s involvement in this year’s World Cup.
Zalanki (above) with his incredible seven goals, including two penalty strikes. Manhercz chimed in with three with his second on penalty.
The 5-1 Hungarian lead and then Croatia’s heroic comeback from 10-6 down to 10-10 by midway through the final period.
Stats don’t lie
This was where the match was won. Hungary took only 25 shots to Croatia’s 30; converted all three penalty shots; converted seven from 13 on extra-man attack to Croatia’s six from 18; made 13 saves to eight and the only blemish being two more turnovers at 11-9.
Hungary deserved to win on the statistics alone. Croatia’s sluggish start proved suicidal and it came back to haunt the team when so close to making the finals. It will need to regroup ahead of the World Aquatics World Championships in Fukuoka in July-August.
Italy wins match, even before dazzling 13-goal final quarter
ITALY 16 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 10
World League champion Italy returned the cleanest sheet of the competition with an unblemished five matches, breaking free of USA late in the first half. It was 1-1 at the first break and 5-3 at halftime as Italy started a four-goal rush that had the match at 7-3 in under four minutes. Italy pressed out to 8-3 and 9-4 by the final break. With the benefit of a saved penalty attempt by USA, Italy went to 11-4 when Lorenzo Bruni sneakily swept in a shot on counter. The final six minutes delivered an incredible 13 goals as both teams freed up their attacks and obviously lacked concentration on defence. USA pulled it back to 12-8 and was 13-9 behind at 1:12. Hardly seen at this level of play, was four goals in 45 seconds. Italy sent in consecutive Italian goals — the second on penalty when Luca Cupido was penalised for playing the ball after the whistle. Tyler Abramson drilled from just inside six metres and Italy closed the scoring with the deepest of shots from the left, on extra at 0:01. It was a treat of goal-scoring with Italy a 7-6 winner in the period.
Italy’s Edoardo Di Somma crashed home five goals and was named best in water. His run started in the first quarter when he drove down the left and tipped in a long ball for 1-1. He scored in every quarter. USA captain Ben Hallock had a tip-in of his own on the way to three goals.
The five unanswered Italian goals, to shoot out to an 8-3 lead.
Stats don’t lie
Italy scored both its penalty chances and USA two from four; on extra, Italy converted five from eight and USA four from 12; USA turned the ball over 13 times to 10 and made 10 saves to Italy’s nine. Both teams shot 29 times.
Italy is the classier team with plenty of credentials to send it into another fine season, while USA has shown it can match it with the best in Europe, as it did last year in losing to Italy in the FINA World Cup Super Final gold-medal match.
Final Group A points:
Italy 15, USA 9, Hungary 9, Croatia 9, Japan 3, France 0.