Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

World champion Spain proved why it is one of the top contenders this year, hoping to go back to back in Fukuoka next month. It showed Germany the back door with a 6-2 opening quarter, making it 9-4 by the long break and 14-6 heading into the last, which it won 4-3.

It was a real battle of the centre forwards, but in the end, Spain had the goods, scoring both penalty goals in the first quarter and two on extra as it established the platform for victory. Germany was not wanting on attack with plenty of chances failing to make their mark. However, there was no denying Spain as it scored three of the last four goals with Alberto Granados spearing in the final goal on full time after a German exclusion.

Match heroes:
Alberto Munarriz was on song with five goals from eight chances with a pair just before halftime that stretched the advantage to five goals. Mateo Cuk netted three for Germany, two of the three centre-forward goals on lob. Roger Tahull was the other centre forward to excel with two for Spain

Turning point:
From the start, with the three-goal charge that had the quarter break at 6-2.

Stats don’t lie:
Spain was more dangerous on the extra-man plays with five from nine compared to Germany’s three from six. Spain converted both penalty chances and in overall shooting, Germany had the better total at 37-32.

Bottom line:
Spain is on another plane and showed that with its all-round play and ability to score by any player. It takes on Hungary in the semifinals while Germany goes to the classification 5-8 semifinals against Greece.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

What They Said

David Martin (ESP)  — Head Coach

What could you have done better in today’s win?
“For us, it was very important to start strong on the defence with the typical press we like to play in. Afterwards, we changed the defence to more of a zone to try another defence in preparation for tomorrow because the match will be very different.”

What did you do well in this match?
“We want to win this competition and it will be very difficult because there are some very strong teams like Italy, Hungary, Greece, Serbia, and the USA. However, we showed today that we are ready to compete. We are not 100 per cent because we are still training for Fukuoka, but no matter what we will play a strong match against these teams.

Alberto Munarriz (ESP) — Player of the Match/Five Goals

What went well in this match?
Our rhythm was pretty good because we wanted to start the match very fast and strong, which I think we did. We allowed too many goals by the end of the match, but I think it’s normal at the beginning of a tournament because the defence needs time to adjust. Every match we will play will allow the defence to get a little bit better. Overall, we are pretty happy with the game because we just travelled two days, so we are adjusting here.  I think this match was a really good way to start and we will see what happens tomorrow, but no matter what, it will be a hard battle.”

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Milos Sekulic (GER) — Head Coach

What positives can you take from this loss to Spain?
“For us, it was a great match because we are playing in this tournament with some of the best teams in the world. This team is a very young team so, being able to play against and learn from this experience is very important. One match against Spain is always a great game because it is a very good experience and we were able to score nine goals. Spain are world champions and better than in terms of experience and players. Once again, I am very satisfied because we played very well today.”

Mateo Cuk (GER) — Captain/Three Goals

What are your thoughts?
“We knew that it would be a very tough match against Spain who are world champions. We are a very young team, but we tried our absolute best against them. This was one bad experience for all of our young guys, and just to see how much they need to train to try and come near this level.”

What did you do well?
“In some aspects of the attack, we were impressive because we were aggressive and able to make good entry passes into the centre. Also, we were able to press and steal the ball a few times without fouling.”


Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

World League champion Italy made a statement of its own with a thunderous opening half against Romania. Thoughts of that world-title penalty-shootout loss to Spain in Budapest last year may have been foremost in the players’ minds as they build for Fukuoka.

Italy utterly controlled the first 15 minutes, going 5-0 at the quarter and 10-1 before Romania called a timeout, drew not one, but two exclusions and Tudor-Andrei Fulea sent the ball skudding around the Italian cage as if to say: “About time”. It was a much-needed fillip for the Romanians who showed in the Berlin Division II series that it deserved to be here in Los Angeles.

Francesco Di Fulvio made amends for a penalty shot that was saved by Romanian captain Marius-Florin Tic (who handed over the fourth-quarter duties to Eduard Dragusin, the oldest player in Los Angeles at 39 years of age) in the first quarter with a spectacular counter-attack goal where he turned his opponent and baulked twice to score for 4-0. He scored again in the second and third as Italy pushed the 5-0 quarter advantage to 10-1 at halftime and 15-1 at the final break. As the fog rolled in briefly in the third period, Romania could not find a way through, but did stop allowing the Italians to work into four-five metres for a free shot as they did several times in the second period. Luca Marziali had three goals in the first half with a pair in the first quarter. The final quarter went 5-1 to Italy as Romania converted a penalty goal by Andrei Neamtu.

Match heroes:
Italian captain Marco del Lungo was named best in pool in what was a hard decision, considering five players scored a hat-trick — Di Fulvio, Andrea Fondelli, Giacomo Cannella, Eduardo Di Somma and Matteo Iocchi.

Turning point:
Ten goals to dominate the first half.

Stats don’t lie:
Italy shot 38 to 21 and claimed four from six on extra-man attack compared to Romania’s one from seven. Both teams missed a penalty with Romania having two attempts to one.

Bottom line:
Italy was by far the stronger team. Its experience proved too much for Romania and every player gained pool time ahead of the semifinal against United States of America. Romania needs to regroup and get ready for its main competition — the five-eight semifinals where it will will have the daunting task of overcoming Olympic champion Serbia.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

What They Said

Alessandro Campagna (ITA) – Head Coach

What are you most impressed with in such a dominant win?
“I think the best thing was the mental power and concentration that we had until the end of the match. We knew that we would win this match, and it used to be that these kinds of matches are easy. This means that you would start the match strong, but then lose concentration and start giving up easy goals even. The fact that my players did not do that and continued to play their best is one of the most beautiful things. There was a huge difference in the teams and Romania appeared a little bit tired from the jet lag.”

Marco Del Lungo (ITA) – Player of the Match/Goalkeeper/Captain

What made you so successful today in only giving up one goal in the cage?
“The success of our team during the match came from our defence. The mentality for defence in every possession and every moment allowed us to control the game from the start and is the main reason we were so successful.

“We wanted to win this match, perform well during this tournament, and continue to grow as a team. We are very focused on World Championships in Fukuoka and if we continue to play defence at the same level, we will continue to win matches.”

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Bogdan Rath (ROU) – Head Coach

What can you take away from a tough loss like that to a world-class Italian team?
“I don’t think today was our best moment and there are a lot of emotions for such a young team. We have less matches at this level and I think it was very good for us to understand the level we are currently at versus the level of competition that the top teams have. We will try to improve from here because the matches will get closer as the teams get more evenly matched. I would also like to tell the Italians that the level they played at is very impressive.”

Marius-Florin Tic (ROU) – Goalkeeper/Captain

What did you learn from that tough loss?
“We can improve everything because we were totally out of this match. It’s a shame because that result is one of the worst in the history of Romanian water polo and we need to work very hard in order to improve our play in all aspects of the match. We have to regroup for the next match that we play so we can continue to get better from game to game. I think we are a better team than we played today and I hope we can show that by the end of the tournament.”


Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

This was a clash between two class teams — World Cup champion and Olympic bronze medallist Hungary with Olympic silver medallist Greece. The fact that one of these teams would not make the medal round shows the depth of world water polo.

Hungary fronted with former captain Denes Varga —making a return from a long break — and he did not disappoint, being closely marked often and even scored from the top and the penalty line. At age 36 he is 16 years older than team-mate Vince Vigvari who just celebrated his 20th birthday a week ago. Hungary controlled the heavy match with better defence, even though Greece was also strong in this sphere.

Greece could have been called hard done by in the first quarter when, two goals ahead, it was denied a penalty attempt when the player turned and sat one metre from the left corner of the goal and was fouled from behind. The protesting was still going on when shortly afterwards, Alexandros Papanastasiou was excluded and centre forward Szilard Jansik turned and seemingly struck him in the face. The referees were unfazed and play progressed with captain Jansik converting for 2-1.

It set off a Hungarian revival with world junior and youth champion Vince Vigvari converting extra-man attack for 2-2 at quarter time and Gergo Zalanky needing a VAR decision for his goal at the top of third quarter. It proved to be the only goal of the eight minutes with Greece scoreless and both teams displaying excellent shot blocks.

Greece redressed the imbalance in the third period with Efstathios Kalogeropoulos and captain Ioannis Fountoulis scoring from the same top-left position. The first goal broke a 13-minute drought. Zalanky sent a penalty attempt skyward and the match was levelled through Varga with a wrist-flick from the top for 4-4.  A Greek timeout failed to produce a shot.

It was Jansik who provided a swift push shot from deep right after a Gergo Fekete backward pass when defended by two men at the centre-forward position to break the deadlock. Greece could find no solace in those last 14 minutes and Jansik earned a penalty foul to set up Varga (below) with his second and the match winner at 6-4 with 2:15 remaining.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Match heroes:
Hungarian goalkeeper Soma Vogel was named player of the match with his nine saves in a largely defensive match. Jansik and Varga scored two each and Greece’s best was goalkeeper Emmanouil Zerdevas with six saves.

Turning point:
The two long periods where Greece could not breach the Hungarian defence — 13 minutes in the first third and 14 minutes in the third and last.

Stats don’t lie:
Hungary was cleaner with its shooting, sending in 23 to 27, while both teams converted two from six on extra. Hungary converted one from two on penalty.

Bottom line:
Hungary was the team to come through what was always going to be a tight encounter. It now will face world champion Spain and Greece will clash with Germany in the classification five-eight semifinals.

What They Said

Zsolt Varga (HUN) – Head Coach

Did you change anything to bring the match back from the initial 2-0 deficit?

“I think from the first whistle, we played very hard defence. At the start, we were not playing efficiently on offence, but because our defence remained very tough, we were able to turn the game around. This proved that we can win these low-scoring types of matches. Getting a win like this was very important because it was our first official match of the year.”

What did you say before the fourth quarter that finalised the win?
“I told them to focus on the concentration and asked them to really focus on the defence that we have played all match and the offensive opportunities will come. Greece is a fantastic team and gave us a really tough match, but we were able to be the better team at the end when it mattered most.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Soma Vogel (HUN) – Player of the Match/Goalkeeper

What changed after you gave up two quick goals to start, but then only allowing two more the rest of the match?
“I think that the way we finished our attacks and opportunities hurt us early on because we were not able to score. However, we started to put more energy into our defence. This made the match very low-scoring and in the last quarter we had more energy than the Greek team, which allowed us to maintain our defence and build up our offence. Before the fourth quarter, Zsolt Varga reminded us that we were the more powerful team and to keep the same energy going because if we swim hard and play good defence, our offence will come, like it did.”

Theodoros Vlachos (GRE) – Head Coach

What changed after the initial 2-0 lead you gained in the fourth quarter?
“It was a really tough match, especially because both teams played very good defence throughout the match. By the end of the match, my players were very tired, but the Hungarians seemed to be in a similar condition. Both teams did not seem to be ready for this moment because the quality of play felt low for how talented they are when they are at their best. For this match, the Hungarians were more careful and disciplined at the end of the game, allowing them to score two goals in the fourth quarter and win the match.”

Konstantinos Genidounias (GRE) – Driver
“I feel like they only controlled the game when tying the match up at the start because other than that, we had more chances and quality opportunities that we missed. They did not have a traditional centre, so they were trying to post up and I feel like we did a good job controlling them. However, they did a good job capitalising on our mistakes and scored several easy goals like that. Other than that, we are satisfied with our defensive effort, but we need to improve our offence and finishing. Soma Vogel (goalkeeper) played great today, but we missed some really good opportunities and the chances we got on six on five that we missed ultimately cost us the game.”


Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

USA provided the upset of the opening day and pleased its huge following with a stunning fourth-quarter revival than pulled the match back from three down for the second time in the encounter. It was built on resilience and belief and the support of the home crowd.

That belief produced a shutout final quarter as two Johnny Hooper (above) strikes were followed by two Daube scores to secure what will be remembered as an incredible escape from jail.

When these two teams last met in Texas in January it was 14-11 to Serbia. Here it was a four-goal turnround from that result.

USA came back twice in the opening quarter before taking the 3-2 lead after two Max Irving scores. However, Serbia sent in three straight for 5-3 at the first break and another to start the second period. It was Strahinja Rasovic who made it 6-3 with his third counter-attack goal. Nikola Jaksic had his penalty shot hit the post and a Serbian timeout brought nothing to the scoreboard.

When Irving fired in his third at 5:51 in the third period, it stopped an eight-and-a-half minute famine. Alex Bowen and Ben Hallock came good to narrow the margin twice and then Serbia had another purple patch with Rasovic snaring a fourth on counter and Marko Randulovic slipping in the ninth goal just before the buzzer.

Hooper opened the fourth on extra and with a penalty to draw to within one again. Serbia went to a timeout and nothing came and at the other end Daube countered down the right, thought about passing and decided to shoot, grabbing the 9-9 goal. At 1:14, he shaped up twice for the six-metre, free-throw shot and made sure with a blast that crippled Serbia for 10-9. In the last half minute, Serbia stole the ball off USA and fired the ball up the pool. It was swept into the two metres, but was snaffled by goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg and USA had a famous victory.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

Match heroes:
Daube might have been given the trophy for best in water, but, in fact, it was goalkeeper Weinberg (above) who was the sensation of the night with his spectacular 15 saves and probably a few steals. His forté was his ability to rise high with two arms and slap down balls at will. He stared down Jaksic into sending his penalty attempt into the upright.

Turning point:
Daube’s masterful counter-attack goal and six-metre, free-throw goal for the victory.  This completed a quartet of goals from the resourceful North Americans.

Stats don’t lie:
It was hard graft and Serbia rattled off 32 shots to 29, converted just one from five n extra-man attack and missed both penalty attempts. These stats were crucial and helped deliver USA the victory. USA scored two from eight on extra and made the one penalty attempt.

Bottom line:
USA has been working hard for years to achieve consistent results, proving its World League gold-medal final loss to Italy was no fluke. Serbia is still reshaping its team and has a lot of work to do before Fukuoka next month. Serbia has four players with two Olympic golds and a fifth player with one from Tokyo 2020. USA plays Italy on Saturday and Serbia fronts Romania.

Image Source: Catharyn Hayne/USA Water Polo/World Aquatics

What They Said

Dejan Udovicic (USA, above) – Head Coach

What did you say to your team before your 4-0 fourth quarter?
“I just asked the players to continue to believe in themselves and trust our defence because the opportunities on offence will come to us. In the end, it played out like that and we got the win.”

What else do you have to say about such a well-fought victory?
“It was a very physical match. Both teams started the match with a very intense rhythm and energy, but it is very hard to keep that pace for all four quarters. I am very pleased that we found the rhythm to fight back from a deficit three different times. Most importantly, I am pleased that we fought all the way to end with a win.”

Hannes Daube (USA) — Player of the Match

What changed going into the fourth quarter?
“We knew that we had a full eight minutes of play left, which is a ton of time to score three goals. We were relying on our defence throughout the match and knew the goals would come eventually. Finally, in the fourth quarter, we started executing our opportunities and were able to finish the game on top. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my team and all the work we put in together. Overall, this game represents our perseverance and character that is a huge part of our team identity.”

Uros Stevanovic (SRB) – Head Coach

What changed during the fourth quarter and what could you have improved on during that match?
“We must go back to the video and analyse everything. We were the better team for three full quarters, but we lost the fourth quarter four to nothing. There are several mistakes that we need to fix moving forward. We need to play the same way as the first three quarters the entire match so we will continue to work hard.”

Strahinja Rasovic (SRB) – Four Goals

What happened in the fourth quarter?
“We didn’t have a good attack in the last quarter because we made bad decisions at the end of the offence and missed a lot of opportunities. They were able to score a few shots that they didn’t score the rest of the game, which may have been a little lucky. In the end, what can I say other than it was a tough game and we lost. I thought it was going to be a close game like this, but after controlling the game by three goals multiple times, I did not expect it to end like this.”

Saturday Schedule

Classification 5-8 Semifinals
Match 5, 13:00, Germany v Greece
Match 6, 15:00, Romania v Serbia

Classification 1-4 Semifinals
Match 7, 17:00, Spain v Hungary
Match 8, 19:00, Italy v United States of America

Sunday Schedule

Classification 7-8
Match 9, 13:00, Loser 5 v Loser 6

Classification 5-6
Match 10, 15:00, Winner 5 v Winner 6

Classification 3-4
Match 11, 17:00, Loser 7 v Loser 8

Classification 1-2
Match 12, 19:00, Winner 7 v Winner 8