European Water Polo Championships, Belgrade – Day 12, Summary

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Montenegro goes to Rio, Hungary and Holland play for it in women’s final

Montenegro beat Hungary in the fight of the fortnight in the men’s second semi-final and qualified for the Olympics – as well as set up a mouth-watering end to the event as they will meet arch-rival Serbia on Saturday. The Magyars had some consolation, their women’s team upended Italy and will meet the Netherlands on Friday evening in the final. The Dutch, just like two years ago, won a penalty shootout, this time against Spain.

Montenegro overcame Hungary in an enormous battle, attended by thousands from the neighbouring countries, creating a great atmosphere in the Kombank Arena. It was a real fight this sport can offer, for every metre and every square-centimetre. It took more than four minutes to draw first blood, Hungary’s Denes Varga sent the ball home from an extra, later he buried a penalty, but the Janovic family kept up with the tournament’s leading scorer, first Nikola, then younger brother Mladan equalised (2-2).

Hungary’s mighty attacks suffered the first blows in the second period when they were limited to 1 for 4 in man-ups by the Montenegrin defence, led by Milos Scepanovic who was equal to Viktor Nagy. The Hungarian goalie also produced some great saves at the other end. Nikola Janovic put Montenegro ahead for the first time but the Magyars’ rookie, Krisztian Manhercz managed to score the lonely 6 on 5 goal for his team. Still, next came the Brguljan cousins, Darko netted a magnificent action goal which secured a 4-3 lead at halftime and with a great man-up shot Drasko Brguljan doubled the Montenegrin lead. However, young Manhercz pulled one back for 5-4, and Nagy managed to catch Mladan Janovic’s penalty shot 76 seconds before the last break.

It could have been a turning point, combined with Viktor Hosnyanszky’s brilliant shot from the distance which levelled the score right at the beginning of the fourth, so it stood 5-5 instead of 6-4. But the Hungarians couldn’t build on this momentum – few would have guessed that they would not score any more in the remaining 7:35 minutes. Both goalies came up with a series of saves, then, while the Montenegrins exchanged two players and everyone thought that the on-going attack had been sacrificed, Aleksandar Ivovic broke in front of the Hungarian goal, received a great pass and tipped the ball in from close range for a 6-5 lead.

That proved to be decisive: Hungary’s hero, Denes Varga took the responsibility to push the Magyars on but Scepanovic produced brilliant saves on his shots (after netting two goals in the first Varga went 0 for 5 in the rest of the match). And with 2:10 it was over: Nikola Vukcevic scored from a 6 on 5 for 7-5, Hungary missed its last one and Aleksandar Ivovic netted one more from the ensuing counter for an 8-5 win.

This means that Montenegro grabbed the Rio berth on offer here in Belgrade – Hungary has to take part in the qualification tournament for the first time ever –, and the boys from ‘Crna Gora’ will play Serbia in the final. It happens every fourth year: this will be the two nations’ third gold medal match at the Europeans after 2008 and 2012.

The women’s semis brought enormous battles, as it was expected. The Netherlands took a flying start (2-0), but Spain brought them back to Earth netting three unanswered goals in 1:34 minutes. From that moment the game turned into a thriller, both sides produces fantastic spells, the Dutch jumped to a 5-3 lead from 2-3, but the Spaniards hit back soon, this time they needed 2:03 minutes to blast three in a row for 5-6. At half-time it stood 6-6, and the best was yet to come.

The Dutch seemed a bit more powerful and with 3:03 to go in the third they were 8-6 up again. A fine distance shot from Judith Forca pulled one back for Spain, but in the fourth the Netherlands started with a goal again for 9-7. However, the title-holder wasn’t done and with 4:47 remaining on the clock it was even again at 9-9.

Though this time is agonizingly long in this sport, neither side could score till the end of the game, though tension was touchable in and around the pool. It came down to the penalty shots, the battle of the Lauras (both keepers, Aarts and Ester bear this name).

Lieke Klaassen hit the post right from the first shot, then in the fourth round Aarts managed to stop Clara Espar’s ball (what a drama: the Spaniard was the most precise shooter of the tournament so far…). Finally, in the 7th pair Pilar Pena’s ball bounced off from the post, hit the virtual goal-line but never crossed it. This couple of centimetres decided the outcome: the Dutch advanced to the final – just as in the previous edition in Budapest 2014 where they also won the semi-final after a shootout – and reserved the chance to play for the spot in Rio.

They will face the Hungarians whose defence was simply amazing against their arch-rival Italians. The Magyar women quickly gained a 2-0 lead and never looked back. Their goalie, Edina Gangl produced one save after the other – even though at halftime it stood 5-3, in the second half the Italians seemed to start losing confidence behind their shots so they would rather opt to pass around. Though man-ups didn’t work at either side, Hungarians scored three action goals, the last two came within 53 seconds while the Italians were shut out for 9:21 minutes so it was already decided by the start of the fourth (8-3).

Nothing has changed in the last eight minutes, only action goals came, two apiece, Italy finished with 0 for 13 in man-ups, Hungary had 1 for 8, but it was Gangl’s saving percentage which was really outstanding: 14 saves on 19 shots for 73.7%. Consequently, the Setterosa’s shooting percentage was terribly low: 15.6% (5 goals from 36 shots).

Hungary has reached the final – at the Europeans they did it for the first time since 2003, at the majors 11 years after they won the world title in Montreal. For the Dutch this is going to be the thirds straight final, however, this team is yet to win a gold after they lost to Spain in Budapest 2014 and to the USA in the Kazan 2015. The game tomorrow is not just about the title – the winner qualifies for Rio.

Results, Day 12

Men
Semi-final: Montenegro v Hungary 8-5
For places 5-8: Italy v Croatia 8-6
For places 9-12: France v Netherlands 11-8
For places 13-16: Turkey v Georgia 11-12

Final Round
Friday: For places 15-16: Malta v Turkey. For places 13-14: Slovakia v Georgia
Saturday: For places 11-12: Germany v Netherlands. For places 9-10: Romania v France. For places 7-8: Russia v Croatia. For places 5-6: Spain v Italy.
Bronze medal game: Greece v Hungary
Final: Serbia v Montenegro

Women

Semi-finals: Netherlands v Spain 9-9, pens: 6-5, Hungary v Italy 10-5
For places 5-8: France v Greece 6-12, Germany v Russia 2-22

Final Round (Friday)
For places 11-12: Turkey v Croatia. For places 9-10: Portugal v Serbia. For places 7-8: Germany v France. For places 5-6: Russia v Greece
Bronze medal game: Spain v Italy
Final: Netherlands v Hungary

Press release from LEN

Images courtesy of Giorgio Scala / deepbluemedia

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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