Serbia: as usual, Greece: second time after 1999
An extraordinary day in the Kombank Arena, with the first penalty shootout of the tournament which might be decisive on the spots in the Olympic Qualification Tournament (the Germans won over Slovakia). Followed by three women games, all ended with exactly the same result: 11-10! And finally the two quarter-finals in the evening which saw the Greeks defending brilliantly against Spain while host Serbia was back in form and downed the Russians with ease.
Greece proved that their bronze-medal winning performance last summer at the Worlds didn’t come out of the blue: though they had to play twice within 24 hours they showed something tremendous in defence and beat the Spaniards 6-2.
It’s quite unusual at this level to hold a team on two goals but the Greeks managed to do that: Spain had only 21 shots and 11 were on target – Konstaninos Flegkas stopped 9 of them for a 81.1% saving percentage. Though Spain’s Dani Lopez’s 68.4% would have been a winning goalkeeping performance in most of the cases but when your attackers produce a 9.5% shooting percentage, the outcome of the match cannot be any different. Spain’s best shooters were painfully off the target, the top scorer of the 2014 edition, Albert Espanol had 0 for 7, Guillermo Molina was 0 for 4, only Blai Mallarach could score twice. First at 0-3, then at 1-5, with 0:11 to go in the third. But soon Ioannis Fountoulis’s 3rd goal of the evening put an early end to the contest in the fourth, sending the Greeks to the semis, for the second time in history after 1999.
They will meet the Serbs after the hosts found their fine form again. Though the first period was as sluggish as against the French and the Slovaks but the follow-up was worthy of the world champion team. Soon after 4-3 they jumped to a 7-3 lead by halftime and the gap was wide enough to forget all worries – a 4-0 rush in the closing quarter secured quality entertainment for the 11,000 fans who filled the stands of the arena again. Serbia reached the semi-finals of the Europeans on the 7th consecutive time (ironically, it was also in 1999 when they were ousted in the QF for the last time).
The morning matches of the men’s tourney had big importance as only the winners could dream on the Olympics (or at least some additional available spots in the Olympic Qualification Tournament, due to the potential withdrawal of representatives of other continents). Romania knocked out Malta (12-7), Tiberiu Negrean netted 5 goals, just 13 hours after losing a hard-fought battle to Greece.
Then came the big drama featuring Slovakia and Germany. The Slovaks got a flying start (4-1), but the Germans regrouped themselves and in the third they went 5-6 up. Still, their rivals hit back and with 3:42 to go they were again in the lead, with 8-6. But the Germans couldn’t be written off, not even in water polo – thanks to a fine double from their Montenegrin-born leftie, Marin Restovic they managed to equalise and save the match to a penalty-shootout. And we all know what the usual outcome is if the Germans are involved… Again, they won the thriller in the 9th round after Martin Bruder’s shot was saved by Moritz Schenkel who was sent in only for the shootout and Erik Bukowski finished off the duel.
This was followed by an extreme day in the women’s tournament: perhaps first time in the entire water polo history all three games ended with the same scoreline: 11-10, favouring the teams in white caps. Portugal managed to beat Turkey, coming back from 3-5 down in the second but controlling the game in the second half.
Later the two big clashes followed almost identical patterns. The Greeks finally rediscovered their game and seemed to upset the Dutch as they led 10-6 deep into the third period. Hardly anyone guessed they would not score any more in the remaining 11 minutes, while the Dutch saw some hope after a goal 4 seconds from time in the third. Then the whirlwind hit the pool, with a 4-0 rush in the fourth they managed to clinch their 5th triumph in Belgrade. The winning goal came with 1:01 to go, courtesy of Maud Megens.
Then, just as in the preceding game, the Hungarians kept the contest with Russia under firm control, led 6-2 at half-time and 10-6 early in the fourth with Rita Keszthelyi scoring 6 goals, only to see their rivals staging a great come-back. It stood 10-10, but here the Hungarians had the last laugh as Anna Illes sent the ball home in the closing minute. Unlike the clash of the Dutch and the Greeks, where the respective placements couldn’t have changed, here the second position was at stake and an easier match-up in the quarters. With the win the Hungarians are about to meet either France, Germany or Serbia, while the Russians should take on the loser of the Italy v Spain encounter.
Results, Day 9
Spain v Greece 2-6, Serbia v Russia 15-5
For places 9-16
Malta v Romania 7-12, Slovakia v Germany 8-8, pen: 7-8
Netherlands v Greece 11-10, Hungary v Russia 11-10, Portugal v Turkey 11-10
1. Netherlands 15, 2. Hungary 12, 3. Russia 9, 4. Greece 6, 5. Portugal 3, 6. Turkey 0
Press release from LEN
Images courtesy of Giorgio Scala / deepbluemedia