Serbia, Croatia, Italy, Spain march on, Hungary out for the 1st time since 1991
For the first time since 1991 Hungary will be missing from the semi-finals of the men’s tournament at the European Water Polo Championships: the Magyar side was ousted by the Olympic champion Serbian team with ease. Another eternal classic is due instead: Serbia will play Croatia since the world champions managed to overcome Montenegro. Italy also reached the semis after another outstanding display of defending against Russia. Spain blew away Greece with a 137sec whirlwind when a 4-0 rush decided the outcome of the last quarter-final.
The writing was already on the wall for the Hungarians after their sometimes embarrassing performances till now – a heavy defeat against Italy and struggling against Germany and the Netherlands –, and they couldn’t do any miracles in the quarters. Facing Serbia with 11 Olympic champion players from Rio didn’t promise too much for this young and inexperienced Hungarian side – after the first period it became inevitable that a mighty march would finish in Barcelona. The record-winning 12-time champion nation always made the semi-finals since 1991, that run was halted here.
The Serbs took a flying start, won the first period 4-0 and they just kept the distance in the remaining three. The Magyars were unable to create clear scoring chances, their defence at least began to work so when they finally managed to put away the ball from their fifth man-up after 15:36 minutes (24 seconds before the middle break), the Serbs were only 5-0 up. The second half was balanced, twice the Hungarians came back to three goals but the response arrived immediately from the other side, showing that the Serbs’ win was never in danger.
Though this game lacked the usual tensions, the next one will perhaps not as the Serbs will face arch-rival Croatia in the semis. The Croats outpowered the Montenegrins in the second QF. Montenegro controlled the game in the first half, led 2-4, had a man-up to break three goals clear in the third, then had a shot at 3-5 but missed both chances. Soon the Croats caught them in 74 seconds and held on for 6-6 before the last break.
And they rolled on in the fourth, in a span of 2:32 minutes the world champions netted three goals for a 9-6 lead and from here there was no way back for the Montenegrins who seemed to run out from gas for the finish. In the last ten minutes they could score only one goal, thus they have to settle for the 5-8th places (in 2016 they played the final with the Serbs), while the Croats return to the top flight after 2010.
When Italy beat Germany 14-1 in the opening round, many thought that besides their tremendous efforts in defence the German’s bad day also contributed to the strange result. Well, now it was repeated, in the quarters, where the Italians limited the Russians a single goal (11-1). That arrived deep into the third period when the Settebello was already 7-0 up. They were truly outstanding in front of their goal (Russia was 1 for 15 in man-ups, including two 6 on 4s), and Marco del Lungo’s hand reached everywhere – he finished the game with 93.3% (14 saves on 15 shots), including a saved penalty.
Dani Lopez was close to his Italian colleague, after the third period the Spanish goalie stood with 13 saves on 16 shots for 83.3% – and his team led 8-3 against the Greeks. The first half was a battle of the equals, the Greek climbed back from 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 and at 4-3 they had three man-ups but missed all – and this cost them dearly. In a span of 2:17 minutes the Spanish won the match as they scored four goals from four successive possessions while the Greeks crashed under the pressure, their otherwise lethal weapon didn’t work this evening, at one stage in the fourth there were 2 for 10 in man-ups.
Spain paraded and completed the clean sweep for this day when only teams wearing the white caps won the matches – and returns to the semis after 2006. Thus the hosts became the only nation here with both its teams reaching the semis. From historical perspective, the second men’s SF featuring Italy and Spain is going to be another mouth-watering clash on Thursday – 26 years after their famous Olympic final played in the same pool.
In the matches played for the 9-12th positions Germany and the Netherlands earned easy victories over France and Romania respectively. Georgia hit back to Slovakia for the defeat two years ago and finished 13th, and Turkey did the same with Malta: just as in Belgrade, the penalties decided the 15th place but this time the Turks prevailed in the shootout.
European Water Polo Championships, Day 11
Serbia v Hungary 8-5
Croatia v Montenegro 9-7
Italy v Russia 11-1
Spain v Greece 10-6
For places 9-12th
Netherlands v Slovakia 12-7
Germany v France 12-5
For places 13-14th
Georgia v Romania 8-6
For places 15-16th
Turkey v Malta 7-7, penalties: 6-5
Semi-finals on 26 July
20.30 Serbia v Croatia
22.00 Italy v Spain
Fixtures, Day 12
17.00 Netherlands v Hungary
18.30 Greece v Spain
For places 5-8th
13.15 Germany v Italy
14.45 Russia v France
Press release from LEN, photos courtesy of Deepbluemedia/Giorgio Scala