Final four berths decided for London Olympic Games

London 2012 Water Polo

Edmonton (April 6) - Montenegro, Romania, Spain and Greece booked the final berths for the 2012 London Olympic Games when they clearly won their quarter-finals at the men’s Olympic Games Qualification Tournament at the Kinsmen Sports Centre here today. It was a Good Friday for the four teams as they completed the 12-team roster for London, making sure of their berths with some emphatic performances.

Montenegro, spearheaded by captain Nikola JANOVIC (4 goals) and Aleksandar IVOVIC (5 goals), were too strong and always knew that they would book a flight to London, using the match as a showcase of the players’ individual skills. Turkey kept in the game at 5-2 and, but for a toiling effort in the third quarter that brought three goals to Montenegro’s one, had to enjoy the chance of playing one of the best teams in the world.

Romania was the next team to qualify, making up for that disappointing loss to Canada at the 2008 tournament in Oradea, Romania. The strong opening and at 7-0 before Brazil made the scoreboard, Romania set the tone of the match. Romania didn’t want any mistakes, led 9-2 at halftime and 15-3 at the final break before finishing 19-8. A flag immediately emerged from the costume of one Romanian and he waved it in delight before the team joined him in celebration. Captain Cosmin RADU finally gets his reward — a first Olympic Games.

Spain clinched position 11 in London with an 11-7 victory over the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. It was the inspirational play of captain Guillermo MOLINA, the wily veteran, who slipped five goals past the MKD keeper. Four of those goals came in the second half when most needed as the giant-killer MKD stayed focused and drew the final quarter 3-3.

It all came down to the last match of the evening for the 12th and final place and the in-form Greece proved worthy of that position with a 10-6 victory over the heavily supported Canada. For ageless captain Georgios AFROUDAKIS (35), who scored four goals, it will be a Greek record fifth Olympic Games while his younger brother Christos AFROUDAKIS and Argyris THEODOROPOULOS will make their third appearances. Goalkeeper Nikolaos DELIGIANNIS (36) dared to dream a fourth Olympics and he gained his wish. Greece only led 4-2 at the half but had a three-goal margin heading into the last. In Oradea four years ago Canada was the giant killer but in 2012 there are no such heady celebrations.

The four from Edmonton will join Serbia, winner of the 2011 FINA World League; world champion Italy, Croatia and Hungary — qualifiers from last year’s FINA World Championships in Shanghai; the United States of America as the Americas qualifier; Australia from Oceania; and Kazakhstan from the Asian qualifiers. The first qualifier was Great Britain as the host nation, taking the European berth. The last two days of competition will decide the final placings for the Olympic draw.

Match Reports:

Game 31: 14:00, Quarter-final, MONTENEGRO 19 TURKEY 6
Quarters: 4-1, 4-1, 7-3, 4-1
Referees: Doriel TERPENKA (CAN), Adrian ALEXANDRESCU (ROU)
Extra Man: MNE: 5/7. TUR: 0/8
Pens: MNE: 3/4
MONTENEGRO: Zdravko RADIC, Drasko BRGULJAN (2), Vjekoslav PASKOVIC (2), Antonio PETROVIC, Filip KLIKOVAC (1), Aleksandar RADOVIC (2), Mladan JANOVIC (1), Nikola JANOVIC (4), Aleksandar IVOVIC (5), Boris ZLOKOVIC, Vladimir GOJKOVIC (1), Predrag JOKIC (1), Mikos SCEPANOVIC. Head Coach: Vido LOMPAR.
TURKEY: Atilla SEZER, Ali Can YILMAZ, Berk BIYIK (1), Oytun OKMAN (1), Berk GUNCUT, Emre COSKUN, Osman GULENG, Ali Can GAGATAY (2), Nadir SUNMEZ, Anil SUNMEZ, Halil BESKARDESLER (2), Can GUVEN, Ali Ozcan KILIG. Head Coach: Halil AVCIOGLU.

Montenegro booked the first London berth from the competition and the ninth spot with an accomplished game with plenty of flair, speed and excellent passing. Shots came from everywhere and the outside bombs were few and far between as they penetrated deep into the defence, finding some big gaps. Turkey was in the play at 5-2 midway through the second quarter but three late goals by the Montenegrins had the halftime score at 8-2. This became 10-2 before Turkey took its opportunities and made three goals — two on extra and one from a five-metre foul — for 11-5. Montenegro struck four times on the trot with IVOVIC with a deft lob at the two-metre line as the goalie was going down; KLIKOVAC with a huge turn at centre forward; and then two Nikola JANOVIC strikes either side of a PASKOVIC penalty attempt that was stopped by SEZER. BESKARDESLER scored off a five-metre foul to start the fourth to grab back one goal for 15-6. In the mop-up operations captain Nikola JANOVIC struck twice as Montenegro gained two penalty goals. It was well known the tournament favourite would win but the elation on the players’ faces — or was it relief? — was obvious once the final buzzer had sounded. High fives and hugs were the norm.

Montenegro vs Turkey - credit: Russell McKinnon

Vladimir GOJKOVIC (MNE) — One goal, on Montenegro’s prospects for an Olympic medal: “We have two-and-a-half months to prepare for London. I think we can go for a medal because at the last European Championship we finished second.”

Nicola JANOVIC (MNE) — Team captain — Four goals, on looking ahead to London: “We have a good chance because we have a very good team. I hope that we’ll go for a medal.”

Halil BESKARDESLER (MNE) — Two goals, on the team from Montenegro: “Against Montenegro, they are really a good team. They are powerful and we all respect them. And I hope they’ll take a medal in the Olympic Games.”

Game 32: 15:30, Quarter-final, ROMANIA 19 BRAZIL 8
Quarters: 4-0, 5-2, 6-1, 4-5
Referees: Nenad PERIS (CRO), Nikolaos VASILEIOU (GRE)
Extra Man: ROU: 3/6. BRA: 3/9
Pens: ROU: 3/3
ROMANIA: Dragos STOENESCU, Cosmin RADU  (3) Tiberiu NEGREAN (4), Nicolae DIACONU (1), Andrei IOSEP (2), Andrei BUSILA (1), Alexandru MATEI GUIMAN (1), Mihnea CHIOVEANU (2), Dimitri GOANTA (1), Ramiro GEORGESCU (4), Alexandru GHIBAN, Kalman KADAR, Mihai DRAGUSIN. Head Coach: Istvan KOVACS.
BRAZIL: Vinicius ANTONELLI, Bernardo GOMES, Henrique MIRANDA (2), Gustavo COUTINHO, Marcelo FRANCO (1), Gabriel ROCHA, Jonas CRIVELLA, Felipe SILVA (2), Bernardo ROCHA, Ruda FRANCO (1), Gustavo GUIMARAES (1), Danilo CORREA (1), Marcelo CHAGAS. Head Coach: Goran SABLIC.

The Romanian celebrations were almost as long as the match. Romania was very happy to win as the popping of the cork on the champagne bottle in the warm-down pool attested (before the police ordered the empty bottle from the pool). Romania kept the lid on celebrations until the final buzzer but displayed water polo at its best and proved it was a worthy recipient of the 10th berth in London. From a 4-0 opening quarter to 7-0 halfway through the second, Romania was in control. SILVA and CORREA scored successive goals but the third came at 10-3. Romania piled in five straight, including two from IOSEP. The final quarter was a goal fest with Brazil winning the period 5-4 as both coaches gave their players and benches full rein. Brazil deserved to be in the quarter-final match but it was no match for a Romanian side looking for redemption as many of the team remember that dark, damp day in 2008.

Romania vs Brazil - credit: Russell McKinnon

Cosmin RADU (ROU) – Team Captain – Three goals, on qualifying for the Olympics: “It’s an awesome, awesome feeling because it’s my first time going to the Olympics. It’s a thing that I worked my whole life, and I am very, very happy.” On a comparison with the failure to qualify four years ago in Romania: “It’s the opposite! It’s very hard to find the words for how I’m feeling right now.” On Romania’s chances at the Olympics: “That’s very tough competition. We’ll have to see because we don’t even know the groups right now.”

Andrei BUSILA (ROU) — One goal, on qualifying for the Olympics: “It’s extraordinary. It’s my first time qualifying for the Olympics. Two times I failed…I’ve been thinking about this qualification for the last four years. I am very, very happy.”

Henrique MIRANDA (BRA) — Two goals, on the Romanian team: “They were really well prepared. They’re a strong team, big guys. I just have to congratulate them and say ‘good luck’ in the Olympic Games.” On what Brazil needs to do to improve: “We need to play at their level…We need to be in Europe playing their game.”

Game 34: 17:00, Quarter-final, FYR of MACEDONIA 7 SPAIN 11
Quarters: 3-2, 0-3, 1-3, 3-3
Extra Man: MKD: 2/11. ESP: 2/7
Pens: MKD: 2/2
SPAIN: Inaki AGUILAR, Mario GARCIA, Oscar CARRILLO, Balazs SZIRANYI, Guillermo MOLINA, (5) Marc MINGUELL, Ivan GALLEGO, Albert ESPANOL (1), Blai MALLARACH (1), Felipe PERRONE (2), Ivan PEREZ, Javier GARCIA (2), Daniel LOPEZ. Head Coach: Rafael AGUILAR.

Spanish captain MOLINA ensured that Spain would be present in London with a stunning display, scoring five goals against the team that a day before sent Germany home from the tournament. The fairy-tale ending for MKD was not to be but heads will be held high after a good stay in Edmonton. MKD made the early running after PERRONE opened for Spain. LETICA (pushing in a rebound), AKSENTIJEVIC  (counter-attack) and CUK (centre forward) inflicted pain on Spain for 3-1 just before the quarter break. PERRONE found an immaculate gap over a defender’s shoulder and into the top right from well outside nine seconds from time for 3-2. The second quarter went all the way of Spain as MKD struggled to get the defence. MALLARACH levelled and captain MOLINA drilled one from the top for the 4-3 lead. Romania used a timeout to no effect while Javier GARCIA scored from outside just as the possession hooter sounder for 5-3, the last score of the half. The story was worse for MKD in the third period when Spain responded to IVOSEVIC’s goal for 5-4 by sending in three goals courtesy of ESPANOL on extra, MOLINA from the top and Javier GARCIA on counter. The fourth period was all about how good MOLINA is as he scored twice on extra and once from nine metres for five goals. The closest MKD got was 9-5 but MOLINA took the game beyond the reach of MKD at 11-5. MKD scored two penalty goals to close the match. Spain needed to put up a good showing and, after a slow start, did just that.

Spain vs FYR of Macedonia - credit: Russell McKinnon

Guillermo MOLINA (ESP) — Captain — Five goals, on his reaction to the victory: “Today is a good day because we make the qualification for the next Olympic Games. Now we must work because to win a medal is very difficult.” On the Olympic Qualification Tournament: “It’s been a hard competition, maybe the most important and the most difficult I’ve played in all my years.”

Felipe PERRONE (ESP) — Two goals, on the pressure to qualify: “Ever since 1976 in Montreal, Spain has been to every Olympic Games so we were under a lot of pressure to qualify for London. So now, we are just enjoying that moment.” On the unique competition at the Olympics: “The Olympic Games is a special competition…and we know that it’s completely different. When you begin the Olympic Games, it’s every team starts from zero.”

Danijel BENIKJ (MKD), on his reaction to the loss: “We were hoping maybe to reach the Olympics today but against Spain it was very difficult.” On the strengths of the Spanish team: “We started well, but when we needed to score another goal or two, they scored. Let’s say we weren’t surprised because they were more patient. We couldn’t score when we needed to.”

Game 33, 18:30, Quarter-final, GREECE 10 CANADA 6
Quarters: 2-1, 2-1, 4-3, 2-1
Referees: Daniel FLAHIVE (AUS), Sergio BORRELL (ESP)
Extra Man: GRE: 1/5. CAN: 2/11
Pens: GRE: ½. CAN: 1/1
GREECE: Nikolaos DELIGIANNIS, Emmanouil MYLONAKIS (1), Andreas MIRALIS, Konstantinos KOKKINAKIS, Theodoros CHATZITHEODOROU, Argyris THEODOROPOULOS (3), Christos AFROUDAKIS, Evangelos DELAKAS, Georgios AFROUDAKIS (4), Iannis FOUNTOULIS, Konstantinos MOURIKIS (1), Matthaios VOULGARAKIS, Filippos KARAMPETSOS. Head Coach: Dragan ANDRIC.
CANADA: Robin RANDALL, Constantin KUDABA, Oliver VIKALO, Nicolas CONSTANTIN-BICARI (2), Justin BOYD (1), Scott ROBINSON, Luka GASIC, Kevin GRAHAM (2), Aaron FELTHAM (1), John CONWAY, Devon DIGGLE, Jared McELROY, Dusan ALEKSIC. Head Coach: Dragan JOVANOVIC.

With a packed house of more than 1000 screaming spectators, mainly cheering on Canada, this was the game of the tournament. It did not disappoint with the more powerful Greeks controlling but Canada defiant at every stage. Greece managed to slip in goals from nothing, took chances and played its usual game. Canada sometimes thought too much and on others, like FELTHAM’s extra-man goal in the third quarter, looked brilliant. Greece has the experience and it had a captain willing to take chances. Like his first goal where Georgios AFROUDAKIS worked for and received a high ball on the cross pass at two metres to score, Canada had two defenders and a goalkeeper nailed to him but he still scored. He went on to score three more, once on the left and another from his trademark movement sideways to accept another high pass and then a straight-forward centre-forward goal. Younger brother Christos AFROUDAKIS took a penalty shot in the last two minutes of the second quarter but goalkeeper RANDALL stopped it with his right hand (pictured).  However, just after GRAHAM scored cross-cage on extra for 3-2, Christos AFROUDAKIS sent in a heavily defended five-metre shot for 4-2 nine seconds from halftime. GRAHAM and CONSTANTIN-BICARI brought the game to 4-3 and 5-4 down either side of a Georgios AFROUDAKIS goal but the captain scored his third for 6-4 on a cross pass. THEODOROPOULOS scored twice either side of a FELTHAM look-away extra-man goal to close the third period at 8-5 up. MYLONAKIS made it 9-5 at the top of the fourth but at 5:05, BOYD scored. When Christos AFROUDAKIS gained his second major foul for kicking off at 4:33, Canada went to a timeout. Canada messed up the attack and several players had exchanges with FELTHAM gaining the major foul and Greece used its second timeout. No goal came from that and Canada botched a pass at the other end. On the next attack Georgios AFROUDAKIS punched the ticket for London with a big centre forward goal, his fourth of the match and 10-6 at 2:17. Canada, playing without the guidance of head coach Dragan JOVANOVIC, who was serving a one-match suspension for a red card on day five, could not come through in the final minutes and turned the ball over three times.

Greece vs Canada - credit: Russell McKinnon

Dragan ANDRIC (CRO) — Greece head coach, on beating Canada for the final London Olympic berth: “We knew we must be ready for today as the Canadians are a very young team and play well defensively. Also there were the spectators. We knew we had to give our best.” On the pressure in the first two quarters: “We lost some chances in attack and missed the penalty (attempt).” On qualifying for the Olympics: “It was a big target considering missing major competitions. It was a big target (to get to London) but we have clearly proven that we should be in the Olympic Games. It was a good job and we deserve.”

Georgios AFROUDAKIS (GRE) — Captain and four-goal hero, on about to play his fifth Olympic Games: “It will be a Greek record but I don’t think about myself, only the team.” On what it means to qualify for the Olympic Games: “For us it has been a struggle since after Beijing (Olympics). Many things changed; (former head coach Sandro) CAMPAGNA (ITA) left and we did not qualify for the World Championships in 2009. Then Dragan ANDRIC joined us and we put in many hours work last year but we had no major competition in 2010-2011. Some older guys came back and our aim was to go to the Olympics. Not going to two World Championships made it hard. It is important for the game in our country.” On the elation of qualifying: “We will celebrate now but then we have to work and speak about what we will do at the Olympic Games. We were very nervous before today’s game and the month before.”

Nikolaos DELIGIANNIS (GRE) — goalkeeper, on qualifying for his fourth Olympic Games: “I had the dream but it was a wild dream. I was not in the team for the last two and a half years. Our coach called and said we could do something. There is lots of room for improvement. The Olympic Games will be two levels up.”

Dragan JOVANOVIC (CAN) — Head coach, on the determination of the Team Canada players: “I have to congratulate them for that, for that spirit. And that’s how we will build a winning mentality eventually for sure.” On the future of Canadian water polo: “I’m extremely proud of these young men… even though we lost, the future is really bright for this team.” On the disappointment of not qualifying for the Olympics: “It’s tough, it’s not easy at all. It’s really painful, it’s hurting. But, you know what, I’m extremely, extremely proud of these kids.”

Nicolas CONSTANTIN-BICARI (CAN) — Two goals, on looking into the future: “I missed my chance to go to the Olympics, but I’m confident for the next one. And I know I’ll have more opportunities in the future.” On Greece: “The Greeks have so much experience and they controlled that game way more than we did.”