Super Final 2012 (Men): Italy and Croatia top respective groups

World League

ITA vs USA - credit: Saken NigmashevKAZAKHSTAN, Almaty (June 14) – The last day of the group stage was opened by a scoring festival, courtesy of Croatia, then came three thrillers offering tremendous excitements – a great way to turn into the knock-out phase. Besides Croatia, Italy clinched the top spot of their respective group after a nailbiter against the U.S. – the Americans settled for the second place here –, Spain came second in the other quartet after bouncing back from 1-4 against Australia. To the sorrow of hundreds, the locals lost their second consecutive penalty shootout, this time to China.

Match reports

Game 9: 14:10, Group B, CROATIA 20 – BRAZIL 3
(3-2, 7-0, 6-1, 4-0)
Referees: Ni Shiwei (CHN), Alan Balfanbayev (KAZ)
FINA Delegate: Boukezouha Badreddine
CROATIA: Josip Pavic– Damir Buric 1, Miho Boskovic 3, Niksa Dobud 1, Maro Jokovic 5, Andelo Setka 3, Petar Muslim, Andro Buslje, Ivan Krapic 1, Samir Barac 1, Igor Hinic, Ivan Buljubasic 5, Frano Vican (GK). Head coach: Ratko Rudic.
BRAZIL: Thye Bezerra – Caio Lima, Henrique Miranda, Gustavo Coutinho, Cesar Queiroz Junior, Bernardo Gomes, Jonas Crivella, Felipe Silva 1, Bernardo Rocha, Ruda Franco, Gustavo Guimaraes 2, Danilo Correa, Vinicius Antonelli (GK). Head coach: Carlos Carvalho.

Croatia: 2 for 4
Brazil: 1 for 6

Croatia: 2 for 2
Brazil: none

CRO vs BRA - credit: Saken Nigmashev
CRO vs BRA - credit: Saken Nigmashev

In the most one-sided game of the tournament the Croatians staged a scoring festival against the Brazilians. The Croats – already won the group after two rounds – took a rather slow start and the Brazilians found themselves being 2-1 up after three minutes. That might have been too embarassing for the European powerhouse, they turned the score within 57 seconds and started to play their usual game from the second period. They tightened up their defence, and offered some appetiser from their tremendous shooting power – they also scored a handful of goals from fast counterattacks as they managed to grab the ball thanks to their hard pressing game. The only question was whether they reach the 20-goal barrier – and the answer was yes, thanks to Maro Jokovic‘s fifth goal of the afternoon. So Croatia marched to the quarterfinals as the only team winning three out of three in the regular time.

Game 10: 15:30, Group A, ITALY 7 – USA 5

(2-3, 3-0, 0-2, 2-0)
Referees: Daniel Flahive (AUS), Nenad Peris (CRO)
FINA Delegate: Gyorgy Martin
ITALY: Stefano Tempesti – Amaurys Perez, Valerio Rizzo 1, Pietro Figlioli 1, Alex Giorgetti 2, Maurizio Felugo, Niccolo Figari, Valentino Gallo, Christian Presciutti 2, Deni Fiorentini 1, Daniel Premus, Arnaldo Deserti, Tamas Marcz. Head coach: Alessandro Campagna.
USA: Merryl Moses – Peter Valleras, Peter Hudnut, Jeff Powers 1, Adam Wright, Shea Buckner, Layne Beaubien 1, Tony Azevedo, Ryan Bailey 1, Tim Hutten, Jesse Smith, JW Krumpholz, John Mann 2. Head coach: Terry Schroeder.

Italy: 1 for 8
USA: 2 for 8

Italy: none
USA: 0 for 1

ITA vs USA - credit: Saken Nigmashev
ITA vs USA - credit: Saken Nigmashev

The battle for the first place of Group A was a real show of present day water polo, a great contest with twists and turns, fantastic goals and huge misses.
After a quick exchange of goals, Italy missed two extras – a scenario repeated a bit too often later on –, then came two hits, one apiece, when the shooter beat the shotclock by milliseconds (Jeff Powers here, Valerio Rizzo there). John Mann’s fine centre-shot gave the USA a 3-2 lead by the end of the first and few would have guessed that this would be the Americans' last goal for a while. But it happened as they also started to waste their 6 on 5 opportunities. Italy did the same but in the meantime, they found the net three times, including two one-on-one counters, a rare scene at this level. Tony Azevedo could have pushed his team back on track but his penalty-shot was sensationally stopped by Stefano Tempesti. Interestingly enough, the Italians lost their momentum in the third period: after they succeeded to kill a U.S. powerplay, they had a man-up for a 6-3 lead, instead, they missed it and John Mann, the man who scored the last goal for USA, hit another one from the centre, and within a minute Layne Beaubien sent home an extra to tie the score at 5-5.

The last quarter brought sheer excitements: Italy finally managed to score from an extra – though they needed strange circumstances to do so. The U.S. goalie was ejected for delaying the game and Presciutti had an easy job to beat Tony Azevedo in the goal (6-5). When Merryl Moses stood in front of the cage, Italy was denied again – but the Americans weren’t at their best either, as they missed two man-ups at the other end. Both sides fought desperately and the world champions got the upper hand: they earned a 6 on 5 with 36 seconds on the clock, didn’t shoot the ball, just in the very last moment of their attack and Alex Giorgetti’s let his fine lob fly just in time to decide the outcome (7-5). Courtesy of this well-deserved victory, the Italians clinched the top spot of the group while the US had to settle for the second place.

Game 11: 16.50, Group B, AUSTRALIA 7 – SPAIN 8
(2-0, 2-2, 0-4, 3-2)
Referees: Irfan Sadekov (RUS), German Moller (ARG)
FINA Delegate: Haluk Toygarli
AUSTRALIA: James Clark – Richard Campbell 1, Timothy Cleland, John Cotterill, Robert Maitland, Anthony Martin, Aidan Roach 1, Samuel McGregor 1, Thomas Whalan 3, Gavin Woods, Jamie Beadsworth, William Miller 1, Aaron Younger. Head coach: John Fox.
SPAIN: Inaki Aguilar – Mario Garcia, Blai Mallarach 1, Balazs Sziranyi, Ivan Gallego, Marc Minguell 3, David Martin, Albert Espanol 2, Xavi Valles, Felipe Perrone 1, Ivan Perez, Javier Garcia 1, Daniel Lopez (GK). Head coach: Rafael Aguilar.

Australia: 0 for 5
Spain: 4 for 9

Australia: 1 for 1
Spain: 1 for 1

AUS vs ESP - credit: Saken Nighmashev
AUS vs ESP - credit: Saken Nighmashev

Spain woke up in time to beat the Aussies for the second place of the group and to earn a chance to play a relatively easier quarterfinal, compared to the losers‘ task, an encounter against the United States. The Spaniards faced the same problem as on Day 2: their starting goalie, Inaki Aguilar struggled to find his rythm and conceded embarrasing goals. This forced head coach Rafael Aguilar to substitute him again (no relationship between the two Aguilars, just the names) and it paid off again. It wasn’t necessary the saves by Daniel Lopez but the double-efforts by the defenders to help the reserve goalie which halted the Aussies‘ campaign. In the meantime the Spanish found their pace in the rear, a last-grasp goal by Marc Minguell before half-time gave them hope (they trailed 2-4) and after scoring right from the first attack in the third it was clear that their struggle finished right there. In fact, they managed to stage a 5-0 run after being down 1-4, while the Aussies seemed to run out of ideas. However, luck mixed it up a bit in the second: after the Australians‘ scoreless struggle of 16:40 minutes, Richard Campbel’s shot hit the post, then the head of the goalie and crossed goal-line by a whisper... But luck a kind of neutralised this present immediately: on the next attack the Spanish earned an extra, the first shot was saved by James Clark but it rebounced into the hand of Marc Minguell who swept it to the net for 7-5. Thomas Whalan sent home a penalty, but the Spanish managed to answer immediately, also converting a penalty, by Javier Garcia. Still, there was some excitement left as Thomas Whalan scored his third of the game for 7-6 with 64 seconds left. But the Spanish managed to force a corner-shot and stayed in front of their rivals‘ goal for another half minute. Five seconds were left when the Aussies got the ball, called for a time-out, but then they couldn’t set up a fine shooting position in that short period of time.

Game 12: 18.15, Group A, CHINA 13 - KAZAKHSTAN 12
(3-2, 2-2, 2-3, 1-1, penalties: 5-4)
Referees: Mark Koganov (AZE), Joaquin Fernandez Escola (ESP)
FINA Delegate: Evgeny Sharonov
CHINA: Ge Weiqing – Tan Feihu 2 (1), Liang Zhongsing 2 (1), Yu Lijun 1 (1), Guo Jungliang, Zhang Jian, Li Bin (1), Wang Yang 1, Xie Junmin (1), Dong Tianyi, Zhang Chufeng, Liang Nianxiang 1, Gu Liang. Head coach: Rick Azevedo
KAZAKHSTAN: Nikolay Maximov – Sergey Gubarev 2, Nikita Kokorin, Murat Shakenov, Alexey Panfili 1 (1), Alexey Shmider, Vladimir Ushakov 2 (1), Rustam Ukumanov 1 (1), Evgeniy Zhilyayev 2 (1), Mikhail Ruday, Ravil Manafov, Sergey Gorovoy. Head coach: Sergey Drozdov

China: 3 for 8
Kazakhstan: 1 for 8

Double extra:
China: none
Kazakhstan: 1 for 1

China: 1 for 1
Kazakhstan: 2 for 2

China controlled most of this all-Asian game right from the beginning, though they had to wait until the end of the penalty shootout to earn their first win in this tournament. The Chinese took a flying start as they went 3-1 up in 3:30 minutes – but the hosts climbed back to 5-4 by half-time while China missed a 6 on 5 when the Kazakh goalie was excluded. Liang Zhongsing, arguably the best player among the Chinese, was cool enough to send home an extra for 6-4 in the third, but a double men-up and a great action goal put the Kazakhs on equal terms again (6-6). Liang Nianxiang netted an extra and soon after Zhang Chufeng had a golden chance but he chose a rather poor finish at a one-on-one and that was a costly miss as the home hero, Vladimir Ushakov beat the buzzer from a 6 on 5 (7-7). The fourth quarter saw a huge battle, Yu Lijun pushed the ball in from the wall on the first extra of this period, while the Kazakhs struggled in powerplay, two chances were wasted without a single shot, and a third one also gone as Ge Weiqing came up with a brilliant save. However, the hosts‘ efforts paid off finally when they were rewarded a penalty: Rustam Ukumanov converted it with 1:04 on the clock (8-8) – so more penalties came soon after, in the shootout. All shooters but one managed to find the net: the decisive moment came in the fourth round when Sergey Gubarev’s left-handed shot was stopped by Ge, while Liang Zhongsing remained cool again to score so a great celebration could start at their bench.