Spain, Croatia join Italy and Serbia in the quarters
After Italy and Serbia had already completed their missions in two rounds, world champion Croatia and host Spain also booked their respective berths in the quarter-finals. The Croats beat Greece with a superb performance while Spain played a thrilling draw with World League winner Montenegro and that was enough to finish atop in its group. Hungary was almost upset by Germany, the Magyars had to be the happier team after the 4-4 draw.
The evening session drew more than 3,500 fans to the stands who were ready to enjoy the very best of water polo, featuring four of the world’s best teams – playing for the top spots of their respective groups and direct berths in the quarter-finals.
The first duel was rather a power demonstration from the world champion Croatian team. They shut out the Greeks in the opening period, then came an action-packed 9-goal quarter when the margin grew to three goals and in the third they rolled over the Greeks and built a 6-goal lead. Despite a short spell when they missed three man-ups in a row, it was a great performance from the world champions. The Croats netted three counter-attacking goals and sent some rockets to the net from the distance (Javier Garcia netted 4 goals), while killed a series of 6 on 5s on the other end. In fact, the Greek team is built around Champions League winner Olympiacos Piraeus but in this match they missed brilliant goaltending, effective shooting and defending on the centre-forwards – these were mostly delivered by their three Croatian players in the season…
The last match catered all demands, it was the first real thriller of the men’s tournament, between Spain and Montenegro. Aleksandar Ivovic led the Montenegrin charge, he scored four goals in the first half and played pivotal role in pushing his team to a 5-3 lead while they were dominating the game. When they had back-to-back 6 on 5s to go three goals up, all looked bright but missed both and all of a sudden Spain gained ground. In 49 seconds the host were back to even and soon with a fine man-up play they went ahead for the first time in the match.
The Montenegrins’ attack fell apart, in the fourth the Spaniards had a man-up to double their lead but the post saved their rivals. And this time Montenegro played the role of the Phoenix, after a drought lasting 13:19 minutes, they regained the lead in 1:41 minutes at 7-6. But one more twist was still to come, Alejandro Bustos netted Spain’s last man-up, halting the team’s 8:59min long silence after the brilliant third period. The Montenegrins couldn’t score in the remaining 82 seconds and the draw was enough for the Spaniards to land in the quarter-finals.
Earlier Germany caused the first ‘semi-upset’ of the championships by holding Hungary on a 4-4 tie in the game played for the second place in Group A. The current Magyar team visibly lacks the same quality and depth it’s been admired for (four players remained on board from those winning the world title here five years ago). They could net a single goal in the first half, were unable to do serious damage to the well-composed German defence where Moritz Schenkel posted 15 saves on 19 shots in their goal (78.9%), including a penalty stop.
In fact, at times Hungary was saved by its second goalie Soma Vogel who had 16 saves on 20 shots for 80.0%. In the good old days a Hungarian team would have destroyed its rival with such a goalie performance in the back, this time they needed to survive two man-downs to secure the draw and their second place (thank to their better goal-difference) which set up an eight-final against Netherlands – otherwise they should have played with Greece for a place in the best eight.
The other matches saw France booking its eight-final berth with a convincing win over Malta and the Netherlands achieved the same by beating Turkey with ease. Russia outpowered Romania for the second place in Group D, here Serbia earned its third win by beating Slovakia. Italy also maintained its clean sheet by delivering another demonstrative victory over Georgia.
European Championships, Day 7 – Men’s Round 3
Hungary v Germany 4-4
Georgia v Italy 3-14
1. Italy 9, 2. Hungary 4 (21-21), 3. Germany 4 (15-27), 4. Georgia 0
Malta v France 6-12
Montenegro v Spain 7-7
1. Spain 7 (35-15), 2. Montenegro 7 (32-18) 7, 3. France 3, 4. Malta 0
Turkey v Netherlands 5-22
Croatia v Greece 11-7
1. Croatia 9, 2. Greece 6, 3. Netherlands 3, 4. Turkey 0
Serbia v Slovakia 13-5
Russia v Romania 12-7
1. Serbia 9, 2. Russia 6, 3. Romania 3, 4. Slovakia 0
Eight-finals on Sunday, 22 July
17.00 Hungary v Netherlands (winner faces Serbia in QF)
18.30 Germany v Greece (winner faces Spain in QF)
20.30 Montenegro v Romania (winner faces Croatia in QF)
22.00 France v Russia (winner faces Italy in QF)
For places 13-16th
13.30 Georgia v Turkey
15.00 Malta v Slovakia
Fixtures, Day 8 – Women’s Round 5
14.00 Serbia v Turkey (B)
15.30 Hungary v Germany (B)
17.00 Israel v Croatia (A)
18.30 France v Italy (A)
20.30 Greece v Netherlands (A)
22.00 Spain v Russia (B)
Press release from LEN, photos courtesy of Deepbluemedia/Giorgio Scala