Italy returns to world stage with extra-time victory
Italy has returned to the top tier of men’s world water polo, wresting the FINA World Championship crown from the Balkans in a spectacular gold-medal final at the Natatorium on Saturday.
The climax to the 14-day water polo programme saw Italy take world champion Serbia to extra time after the game was locked at 6-6. A 2-1 first period had Italy in the box seat and the second period yielded no goals for the 8-7 victory.
The game had everything, although water polo purists may say it was too much. It had a huge crowd players and coaches red-carded, coach antics poolside and a fantastic celebration afterwards that had the spectators cheering and dancing in the aisles.
Following the presentation of the medals, the entire Italian team, dressed in tracksuits and shoes, jumped into the water with their medals to celebrate.
It lifted Italy above Serbia after finishing runner-up to the Serbs at the recent FINA World League Super Final in Florence with the same score.
The tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Filip FILIPOVIC (SRB) scored three goals but had the ignominy of having one of two penalty shots blocked by the tournament’s top goalkeeper Stefano TEMPESTI (ITA).
TEMPESTI was the key to Italy’s success with a massive 69.6% save statistic — 16 from 23 shots. He was the rock and Matteo AICARDI the hammerhead with three power goals The final marked the end of a chequered career for one of the world’s leading water polo referees, Erhan TULGA from Turkey.
Team Italy Celebrating - Credit: Giorgio Scala
The neutral referee was officiating no less than his sixth major FINA final when he controlled the men’s gold-medal match with Mark KOGANOV (AZE).
TULGA refereed the same match at the 1998 and 2001 FINA World Championships. In 2007 and 2009, the controlled the women’s championship matches. He has also taken charge of the 1999 Junior Men’s World Championship Final. He also refereed three Olympic bronze-medal matches; four FINA World League Super Finals; one FINA World Cup; six European Final Fours; three European men’s championship finals and one women’s.
In all, he has attended three Olympic games, seven FINA World Championships, three junior men’s worlds, two junior Europeans and one youth Europeans.
Fellow referee Mark KOGANOV also officiated this match in Rome two years ago.
The bronze-medal final ended in acrimony when two Croatians were sent from the pool deck at the height of their glorious
12-11 victory over triple Olympic champion Hungary.
Andrija BUSILJE and four-goal hero Miho BOSKOVIC were not on immediate hand to burst into spontaneous excitement and celebrations but quickly returned to savour the moment.
Hungary sat dumbstruck, much like it had in the first half when it trailed 8-4 and then 9-4 early in the third before making a comeback.
An apparent touch of the ball by an excluded player sent Hungary’s legendary coach Denes KEMENY running down the far end of the pool protesting.
His efforts earned nothing but a yellow card. Hungary was left to Spain beat the United States of America 11-10 for fifth position. The win was largely thanks to the enormous contribution of 40-year-old Ivan PEREZ, the second oldest man in the men’s water polo competition and probably entire FINA World Championships.
PEREZ scored three goals and made at least five ejections, making him Spain’s leading goal-scorer with 12.
In the play-off for seventh place, Montenegro defeated Germany 8-5 after a shutout final quarter. Montenegro had the better shooting average while Germany’s could be best described as not good, missing all 10 extra-man attempts.
The Media All Star team was headed by TEMPESTI in goal and Romanian Cosmin RADU as the standout centre forward, also finishing as the tournament’s highest goal-scorer with 20 strikes. FILIOPVIC was one behind him. This trio was joined by Miho BOSKOVIC (CRO), Alex GIORGETTI (ITA), Norbert MADARAS (HUN) and Andrija PRLAINOVIC (SRB).