Hungary won after 15 years, heading to Rio
Hungary returned to the European throne after winning an outstanding battle over the Netherlands (9-7) in the good old way: two centre-goals decided the match in the last period after 7-7. This was the first title for the Magyar women since 2001 while the Dutch lost their third final in as many years. Italy clinched the bronze medal, France booked the last available spot for the women’s Olympic qualification tournament while Slovakia also caught the flight among the men.
Three games within three days at the end: a rather demanding schedule for women’s teams so it was predictable that the power reserves will decide the outcome of the final. Which had nothing in common with the opening day’s match contested by the Hungarians and the Dutch. Thirteen days ago the Netherlands simply blew their rivals away, won 14-10 but led 11-3 in the middle of the third.
But what a difference 13 days can make: it was even after three periods and the Dutch were no way superior this time. They seemed to have the upper hand towards halftime as they led 5-4 and the Hungarians struggled in attack. But Barbara Bujka’s centre-goal gave life to her team and slowly the Magyars started to dominate, they went 6-5 and 7-6 up while the Dutch lost one of their key players, Lieke Klaassen through three major fouls. However, for the second time in the match a Holland goal with just tenths before the end of the quarter, Dagmar Genee equalised for 7-7.
The last quarter couldn’t have been any more thrilling: minutes gone without a goal, the pool turned into a real battle-field for the good reasons with plenty of swimming, fighting for positions, trying to stick to tactical moves in the fourth period on the 13th day of the event. After a time it seemed inevitable than anyone breaking the deadlock might emerge the winner. And it was the Magyars: a brilliant goal by their centre-forward Ildiko Toth gave them a 7-8 lead, then their defence held another demonstration while denying two Dutch 6 on 5s and with 46 seconds to go Toth made it two from the centre – recalling the good old days of water polo when centre-goals made the difference (7-9).
Now it was more than enough for Hungary, the Dutch didn’t have any gas left in the tank, they were shut out in the entire fourth period and moments later the Hungarian celebration erupted: this was a great two in one, a European gold (the first after 2001) and a berth at the Olympic Games in Rio.
At the other end, the Holland girls were hugely disappointed for understandable reasons: they had a magnificent tournament but after six wins they were defeated here, this was their third consecutive loss in a final in three years (2014 Europeans, 2015 Worlds and here)… And they are aware that in water polo the most cruel competition on Earth is the women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament… Even if it’s going to be played in their home, at Gouda, some team members can still remember how they bowed out four years ago despite being the Olympic title-holders then. Here, at 7-7 they were eight minutes from Rio. Now they have to play eight more games…
In the bronze medal match the Spaniards and the Italians produced their usual contest with a series of unexpected twists and turns. At the beginning the title-holders were in front, they led 4-2 but Italy start climbing back and they took the lead first at 5-6. Spain scored twice for 7-6 but the next two went to Italy, in 46 seconds, so the last period started from 7-8. Soon it was 7-9 and as the minutes passed the Setterosa seemed to be a clear winner. Then, in all of a sudden, in a span of 20 seconds (!) Spain levelled the score for 9-9. In detail: a big shot, a quick steal and a counter did the harm. But the next Italian attack ended in a 6 on 5 and Roberta Bianconi’s pinpoint shot decided the match. Spain’s last two shots were unsuccessful and the Italians started to celebrate their bronze medal – the 9th piece of a historical collection (5 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze).
In the other matches, the last berths of the respective Olympic Qualification Tournaments were at stake among the women and the men as well. The Germans stunned the French in the first period in the game played for the 7-8th places, as they led 4-1. France, beating them 12-3 in the prelims, woke up in time and with a 2-6 rush in the second they returned to the right track. The Germans fought, as usual, they stayed close for a while, trailed 9-11 before the last period but ran out of ideas for the last minutes and two more French goals put an end to the contest (9-13). This means that the French captured the last available spot for the Gouda tournament in March.
Among the men, due to the high number of withdrawals from the other continents, the game for the 13th place turned into a live-or-death battle. It was a thriller – the Georgians were constantly ahead throughout the match, led 8-9 with 2:36 to go, but the Slovakians equalised 76 seconds from time and thanks to a 6m blast from Juraj Zatovic with 14 seconds remaining on the clock they won the match and the chance to fight for Rio in Trieste in April.
Results, Day 13
Final: Netherlands v Hungary 7-9
Bronze medal game: Spain v Italy 9-10
For places 5-6: Russia v Greece 9-8, pen: 3-4
For places 7-8: Germany v France 9-13
For places 9-10: Portugal v Serbia 6-9
For places 11-12: Turkey v Croatia 4-12
Top Scorer: Rita Keszthelyi (HUN) 23 goals
Most Valuable Player (MVP): Yasemin Smit (NED)
Best Goalkeeper: Edina Gangl (HUN)
For places 13-14: Slovakia v Georgia 10-9
For places 15-16: Malta v Turkey 10-10, pen: 4-3