Men’s quarters, Part II – and two brilliant match-ups drew hundreds of foreign fans from the neighbouring countries, Montenegro, Croatia and Hungary. The Montenegrin fans had a lot to cheer for as their team was superior throughout the entire game against Italy. Again, it turned out that four one-sided matches may not prepare a team for a really heated battle – Italy couldn’t reach the same gear what the Montenegrins did already in the group where they had a tough tie with Spain.
The Settebello struggled in offence, they were shut out for 12:14 minutes from the middle of the first period till early in the third while the Montenegrins took a 2-4 lead. The Italians had a lot more man-ups (at the and this stat stood 8-16) but they couldn’t convert them, twice only a lucky rebound helped them but not even these fortunate moments saved their day. Though they climbed back from 5-9 to 7-9, but another missed 6 on 5 killed their momentum and Nikola Janovic’s 4th goal of the evening sealed the Montenegrin triumph (7-10).
This means that Italy should earn its berth to Rio in the qualifiers in April (they will host the tourney in Trieste) while Montenegro can dream on booking its place right here. Italy is stopped in the quarters for the first time since 2008, while Montenegro made the top flight for the 4th time in 5 appearances since coming to the stage as an independent nation.
They need one more step to Rio as Hungary won another classic against Croatia, thanks to its goalkeeper Viktor Nagy who came up big again, worthy of this name (which means big in English). He posted an amazing 72.2% saving percentage, making 13 stops on 18 shots. At the other end Josip Pavic had 6 catches on 14 shots – in today’s water polo this is where the difference is made at this level. Hungary jumped to a 2-0 lead and was clearly better in the man-ups-men-downs contest as well, though it’s also a familiar territory for the Croats. However, the world champ runners-up couldn’t set up really well their 6 on 5s, what’s more they missed a penalty in a crucial moment, at 5-3 down, just 5 seconds before the middle break. In the second half the Magyars remained rock solid in defence while their chief magician, Denes Varga was at his best again, netting 3 goals.
This means that Hungary’s streak is extended to 12 consecutive editions for reaching the semis at the Europeans (made the cut each time since 1993), which is currently the best of its kind in the men’s tourney, while the Croats will miss the top four for the third straight time.
In the lower half the possible extra Olympic qualifier’s spots were at stake in the matches for 9-16 places. With a 4-0 rush in the third period France finally upended Turkey, while the Netherlands won a thriller against Georgia. After a sluggish start the Dutch turned the match and led 7-9 before the last period but slowed down for the finish, the Georgians fought themselves back and levelled the score with 3 seconds to go (it was Damir Tsrepulia’s 4th goal). The Dutch missed the first attempt and soon Revaz Imnaishvili should only have buried the fifth penalty to send the Georgian team through but Eelco Wagenaar caught the ball and in the 8th round he managed to deny Tsrepulija as well, sending his mates to the seventh or rather the eighth heaven. (Wagenaar is the only player of the entire event who wasn’t substituted for a single minute.)
On the last day of the prelims in the women’s tournament Italy and Spain clashed for the top spot. For two and a half periods it was an even contest but after 6-6 the Setterosa managed to score twice and maintained its lead until the end. Serbia had a chance to reach the quarters for the first time ever but France was too strong for the hosts, even they pulled two back after 4-7 but the desired win was out of reach so the Germans could join the best eight. The memory of the opening match lost to Germany in the last seconds has become even more painful to the Serbs after this encounter…
Results, Day 10
Quarter-finals: Italy v Montenegro 7-10, Hungary v Croatia 8-5
In the semis: Serbia v Greece, Hungary v Montenegro
For places 9-16: Turkey v France 9-14, Georgia v Netherlands 9-9, pen: 6-7
Italy v Spain 9-8, France v Serbia 7-6, Croatia v Germany 9-20
1. Italy 15, 2. Spain 12, 3. France 9, 4. Germany 6, 5. Serbia 3, 6. Croatia 0
Netherlands v Germany, Hungary v France, Spain v Russia, Italy vGreece