In the final, Spain could withstand the pressure until late in the third period
as they managed to come back from 1-3 to 5-5 and trailed by one with 2:20
remaining in the third at 6-7. Then they missed a man-up in a crucial moment
and soon they found themselves 6-9 down before the last break. The Croats
marched on and led 7-11 with 5:23 remaining, and even though their rivals
pulled two back but Loren Fatovic, playing the match of his life (so far),
scored his 6 th goal and that sealed the home side’s triumph as well as secured
the top prize of €20,000. Spain returned to the podium after six years: their
last medal dates back to 2012 when they also came second, that time in the
World League, and just like here they lost to Croatia in the final.
The bronze medal game brought real thrills. Italy could do what few teams
were capable of in the past: came back from 1-5 down to beat Serbia. The
Olympic champion side looked to sail comfortably but lost their momentum
soon and even if they were 4-6 up at halftime, the Italians produced another
surge in the third and with a 4-0 rush they led 8-6. The Serbs managed to
climb back to 8-8 before the last period but as tensions ran high the Italians
controlled the proceedings much better, killed 6 of 7 Serbian man-ups alone
in the last eight minutes. It was just as a feat as coming back from 1-5 – the
Settebello deservedly brought home the bronze medal.
In the games for the lower ranks Montenegro demolished the Hungarians for
the 5 th place and Greece downed the French to win its first match in Rijeka
and clinched the 7 th position.
LEN’s brand new competition for national teams turned out to be an instant
success and another great celebration of water polo as the final two days saw
a turnout of 4,000 people as well as a series of outstanding games. LEN
invested heavily, offering €80,000 in prize money (men and women
competitions combined) and further financial assistance to the teams which
showed their very best in return, rightfully validating the existence of the LEN
Europa Cup which will see a grand expansion in the next season.

Europa Cup Final: Spain v Croatia 9-12

Two and a half minutes passed when Andro Buslje opened the scoring: the
Croatian captain returned with a great lob form his suspension. Loren Fatovic
doubled the home side’s lead from a man-up but that was followed by two
missed 6 on 5s and this hit back soon: instead of 0-3 the first period ended
with 1-2 as Sergi Cabanas made Spain’s first real chance, a man-up with 12
seconds from time.
Fatovic went on scoring from the side but the Spaniards also found the way of
scoring from the wing position, Alberto Munarriz and Albert Espanol both
netted a bouncing shot from the respective 6 on 5s, between the two the
Croats missed a rare 5 on 4. Fatovic came again, from the same place though
at equal strength this time, opening a flood of action goals in the next
minutes. Marc Larumbe posted a great lob, the former Spanish international,
Xavi Garcia, playing for Croatia now blasted one but Blai Mallarach
immediately replied with 32 seconds to go for 5-5. However, the hosts have
the last laugh as Fatovic netted his 4 th from a man-up, with just one second
before the middle break (5-6).
The Fatovic-show continued in the third, after a missed Spanish man-up the
son of the former Croatian world champion player Elvis buried another 6 on 5
for 5-7. Bijac posted three saves, but the other hero, Fatovic hit the post from
the next extra. And Munarriz could score from the Spanish extra, though Ante
Vukicevic reset the two-goal cushion immediately. Then came some crucial
moments when the Spaniards could only hit cross bar from a man-up while
the Croats made their 6 on 5, this time Maro Jokovic found the back of the
net with six seconds before the last break for 6-9 and this seemed to be
decisive.
Of course, the Spaniards fought on and Munarriz brought them a bit closer
from a counter but an immediate reply came from an easy 6 on 5 which Josip
Vric put away. Spain missed a man-up and Vukicevic put the writing on the
wall for Spain as he scored a great action goal for 7-11 with 5:23 to go. Bican,
the LEN Award winner goalie made a couple of outstanding saves before
Mallarach pulled one back from a man-up but the Spaniards couldn’t even
shoot from the next one and even if they killed the Croats’ man-up and
Alvaro Granados netted theirs only 1:58 minutes remained and they were still
two goals down. And soon it was three again, who else than Loren Fatovic
netted a fantastic distance-shot which obviously decided the outcome with
1:34 before the end. Two more great saves from Bijac – he ended the match
with 12, while Eduardo Bejar made 5 – marked a worthy ending of the match
and the Croats could celebrate winning the Europa Cup, a nice addendum to
their 2017 world title.

Bronze medal game: Italy v Serbia 10-9

Italy missed four man-ups in the first period and it cost them dearly: Serbia
took a 1-3 lead in eight minutes and added two goals early in the second to
go 1-5 up. Dusan Mandic was on fire, he netted a 6 on 5, a penalty and a
counter in little more than ten minutes.
After a huge blast from Francesco di Fulvio, the Italians gave signs of life and
despite missing a couple of fine chances they could pull two more back later
for 4-5. The Serbs seemed to have been lost a bit in the big rush, but a great
combination created enough space for Milos Cuk to halt the Italian march (4-
6).
However, the Italians began the third with a brilliant run, a fine goal from the
centre by Guillermo Molina, followed by a nice action shot from Nicholas
Prescutti brought them to level in a span of 71 seconds. Luck also took their
side as a wicked deflection helped them to take the lead from a 6 on 5. They
were in a 6-1 rush after 1-5, while the Serbs crashed in offence, missed three
man-ups in a row. On the contrary, Italy rolled on, this time a rebound
pushed them further on for 8-6 – the Serbs could score once in 12:42 minutes
but then a fine man-up play led them back to the normal track and soon they
got back to even, after a 10m rocket from Filip Filipovic. Italy hit the crossbar
twice from the following 6 on 5 so the last period started from 8-8.
The Serbs couldn’t bring on the psychological advantage, opened the last
chapter with two missed man-up, between those Bodegas netted a
spectacular goal from the centre to give back the lead to Italy. The third man-
up also gone for the Serbs as Marco del Luongo managed to catch the ball
coming from just centimetres. And they couldn’t stop this negative trend as
they missed the fourth too – unlike the Italians, as Pietro Figlioli sent the ball
home from their 6 on 5 with 3:02 to go for 10-8. The fifth gave them some
hope, Strahinja Rasovic finally broke the bad run while 2:26 were remaining
on the clock. But it turned out to be an exception, soon the Serbs earned
back-to- back man-ups but were unable to put either one away. In the last
period they were 1 for 7 in the 6 on 5s, though it’s also a praise for Italy as
they defended like superhumans towards the end of the match and that
earned them the bronze medal and the cash award of €5,000.

For places 5-6: Hungary v Montenegro 7-15

After missed man-ups at both ends Montenegro opened the scoring with a
double in 50 seconds and they managed to maintain this lead towards the
end of the first. In the second they were still 3-5 up when Hungary had a
couple of fine chances to come closer but they missed all, partly thanks to
Milos Scepanovic who came up with a series of fine saves.

These missed chances hit back when Bogdan Durdic netted an extra for
Montenegro for a 3-6 lead at halftime but especially in the third when they
scored three easy goals on their first three possessions. Hungary’s incoming
substitute goalie Soma Vogel couldn’t stop any shot being on target as
Montenegro widened the gap to seven goals. Durdic was in great form, he hit
five already in the third – these eight minutes saw as many goals from the
Montenegrins as the first half as they downed their rivals 1-6 in the third.
Durdic and his team rallied on in the last quarter, even though Viktor Nagy
came back to the Hungarian goal, not even he could prevent his team from
sinking further down. Their defence collapsed as they were facing a
disastrous defeat which were close to double digits – something never seen
in the previous three decades. At the end they escaped that, still, losing by 8
goals and conceding 15 (including 12 on equal strength) did not happened to
the Magyars since the 80s. In fact they got 15 at the 2012 Olympics from
Romania but scored 17, this time it was a different story. At the same time
the Montenegrins – also lacking a couple of key-players – played a kind of
happy water polo and finished the tournament on a high.
For places 7-8: Greece v France 12-4
It was a quiet game and Greece earned its first win here as it was expected.
After the prelims which ended in disappointment for last year’s World
Championships semi-finalists with a draw and back-to- back losses, the Greeks
downed France without problems. The French held on for a while, managed
to score some fine early goals but soon the favourite side switched gears and
the Frenchmen couldn’t catch them up. Playing four matches in four days is
quite demanding even for the well-trained professionals, like the Greeks but
it took its toll heavily on the lower-ranked ones like the French players. The
gap started opening up in the second half after 6-3, while the Greeks could
add the same number of goals even playing on a modest pace, the French
could net a single goal in the entire second half, despite playing in man-ups
for six times.

LEN Europa Cup Super Final 

Rijeka, 5-8 April

For places 7-8
Greece v France 12-4
For places 5-6
Hungary v Montenegro 7-15
Bronze medal match
Italy v Serbia 10-9
Europa Cup Final
Spain v Croatia 9-12

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