Super Final 2012 (Men): Spain upsets Italy, meets Croatia in final

World League

KAZAKHSTAN, Almaty (June 16) – World champion Italy couldn’t make it to the final this time: they were pushed aside by Mediterranean arch rivals Spain in a game decided by the penalties. The other semi final saw Croatia coming from behind to beat the U.S., thanks to Sandro Sukno’s hat-trick in the fourth period. For the lower places Kazakhstan scored a bit surprising win over Australia, while China took the upper hand in the last quarter against Brazil.

Match reports

Game 17: 14:10, for places 5-8, AUSTRALIA 6 – KAZAKHSTAN 7
(1-2, 1-1, 2-2, 2-2)
Referees: Roberto Cabral (CUB), Filippo Gomez (ITA)
FINA Delegate: Evgeny Sharonov
AUSTRALIA: James Clark – Richard Campbell 1, Timothy Cleland, John Cotterill 2, Robert Maitland, Anthony Martin, Aidan Roach, Samuel McGregor, Thomas Whalan 2, Gavin Woods, Jamie Beadsworth, William Miller 1, Aaron Younger. Head coach: John Fox.
KAZAKHSTAN: Nikolay Maximov – Sergey Gubarev 3, Nikita Kokorin, Murat Shakenov, Alexey Panfili 1, Alexey Shmider, Vladimir Ushakov 1, Rustam Ukumanov, Evgeniy Zhilyayev 1, Mikhail Ruday, Ravil Manafov, Sergey Gorovoy 1. Head coach: Sergey Drozdov.

Australia: 2 for 7
Kazakhstan: 2 for 5

Double extras:
Australia: none
Kazakhstan: 3 for 3

Australia: none
Kazakhstan: 1 for 1

Nikolay Maximov was a key figure of Russia’s last great team, which won an Olympic silver medal in 2000 and a bronze in 2004. The excellent goalie, turning 40 this November, now serves the Kazakh national team and this afternoon he came up with a performance as if he were ten years (or more) younger. He was the man who saved the day for the hosts who earned their first win of this week.

Maximov was on fire right from the beginning, he made a handful of stops in man-downs and even in one-on-one situations. In the meantime, his team mates managed to score three times in the first half and led 3-2. And they managed to keep this single goal lead for a further eight minutes, as their leftie, Sergey Gubaryev was cool enough to send the ball home from a 6 on 4 and later from a 6 on 5. The Aussies were still trying to find the ways to trick Maximov, twice he managed to do it, but the Kazakh goalie denied them on golden occasions again.

The home side seemed to get more and more tired, several attacks ended without a shot – fifth game on the fifth day: demanding task even for the big boys of sport –, and when the Aussies scored twice from two fast counter-attacks in a span of 20 seconds, the hosts got to the brink of another defeat. They missed their next extra, but the Aussies did the same at the other end, and the home side got one last chance, a double extra – third of the game – and they buried it nicely (6-6). 3:30 minutes remained on the clock, but neither side managed to create any good opportunity to score. The sheets for the penalty shoot-out were already put on the jury table when a silly mistake decided the outcome: Samuel McGregor fouled his opponent while the other prepared for a free-throw so he was thrown out – but he didn’t recognised the referees‘ call, stayed and even caught the incoming ball; it couldn’t be other than a penalty shot, with 1.2 seconds to go. Evgeny Zhilyayev made no mistake, so instead of a chain of five-metre shots a single penalty was the decider, much to the delight of the home crowd which enthusiastically celebrated the Kazakh team’s first win.

Sergey Drozdov (head coach, KAZ): "It was a very good game, our defence was very good, Maximov was fantastic in the goal. We were a bit lucky, as our players got tired as the time was passing. However, everyone played with their heart and this brought success."

John Fox (head coach, AUS): "I think maybe the pressure of the Olympic selection is too much for some of our players. We will announce the team tomorrow."

Nikolay Maximov (KAZ): "Every player tried to give his best and it was a very special win for us here – but this was just one game and tomorrow will be another one and we will have to be ready for that too. As for my performance today, I thank to God, all my coaches and my teammates that I can still play and help my team."

Thomas Whalan (AUS): "It’s obviously a very disappointing result, we didn’t play our normal high intensity water polo. At start we let them stay in the game and it cost us towards the end when were even and we should have closed off the game. We missed many opportunities, but we are still in a building phase so we have time to be better."

Game 18: 15:30, for places 5-8: CHINA 10 – BRAZIL 7

(2-1, 1-2, 2-3, 5-1)
Referees: Nenad Peris (CRO), German Moller (ARG)
FINA Delegate: Haluk Toygarli
CHINA: Ge Weiqing – Tan Feihu, Liang Zhongsing 3, Yu Lijun, Guo Jungliang 1, Zhang Jian, Li Bin 3, Wang Yang 2, Xie Junmin 1, Dong Tianyi, Zhang Chufeng, Liang Nianxiang, Gu Liang. Head coach: Rick Azevedo.
BRAZIL: Thye Bezerra – Caio Lima, Henrique Miranda, Gustavo Coutinho, Cesar Queiroz Junior, Bernardo Gomes, Jonas Crivella 1, Felipe Silva 1, Bernardo Rocha, Ruda Franco, Gustavo Guimaraes 3, Danilo Correa 2. Head coach: Carlos Carvalho.

China: 3 for 8
Brazil: 3 for 8

China: 1 for 1
Brazil: 1 for 1

The better condition gave the Chinese their first win in regular time as they thrashed the Brazilians in the fourth quarter: a well-deserved feat indeed. The first half saw numerous missed extras, but also three goals apiece: first the Chinese were in front, than the Brazilians turned the score – but it was tied at half-time (3-3). The third brought similar scenes, Gustavo Guimaraes gave the lead for the Brazilians, but Liang Zhongsing buried a penalty and Xie Junmin sent home an extra after a time-out for 5-4. But the Brazilians geared up, a penalty and a man-up put them into the driving seat again (5-6).

But the fourth period they had no chance against the Chinese who seemed to have more fuel in the tank: in a span of 50 seconds they turned the score again, and Wang Yang added a third one for 8-6. Brazil pulled one back as Felipe Silve scored from an extra, but the last two minutes the Chinese were unstoppable as Liang Zhongsing scored his third goal of the game and Guo Jungliang also netted one – so the period ended with a dreamlike 5-1 scoreline for the Asian team.

Rick Azevedo (head coach, CHN): "We were really disappointed yesterday so we had a one hour meeting today, to play with a bit more concentration, with a bit more aggressiveness, and I think it was shown today as we controlled the whole game, though we missed two or three good opportunities which would have easily opened up the score. In the fourth quarter our superiority in the physio trainings paid off, we stayed concentrated, we played what I call good water polo. We were in control, there were no counter-attack goals, no goals from the centre, as long as my Chinese team do that I’m happy because it means we move forward."

Carlos Carvalho (head coach, BRA): "Though we lost, still, it was a good learning occasion for our team: these tight games help us to learn to make good decisions when the match is tight. Our players can benefit from this lessons – and of course, we go on to build our team for the 2016 Games in Rio."

Game 19: 16:50, Semi final: USA 10 – CROATIA 11
(4-3, 3-3, 1-2, 2-3)
Referees: Daniel Flahive (AUS), Alan Balfanbayev (KAZ)
FINA Delegate: Boukezouha Badreddine
USA: Merryl Moses – Peter Valleras, Peter Hudnut, Jeff Powers 2, Adam Wright 2, Shea Buckner 1, Layne Beaubien 1, Tony Azevedo, Ryan Bailey 1, Tim Hutten 1, Jesse Smith 1, JW Krumpholz 1, John Mann. Head coach: Terry Schroeder.
CROATIA: Josip Pavic – Damir Buric, Miho Boskovic 2, Niksa Dobud, Maro Jokovic 3, Andelo Setka, Petar Muslim 1, Andro Buslje, Sandro Sukno 4, Samir Barac 1, Igor Hinic, Ivan Buljubasic, Frano Vican (GK). Head coach: Ratko Rudic.

USA: 6 for 8
Croatia: 4 for 7

USA: none
Croatia: 3 for 3

A beautiful game, full of action, excitement and sensational goals – thanks to the fantastic shots of Sandro Sukno, Croatia reached the final. The US got a flying start, jumping to a 2-0 lead, but the Croats were also up to the task, scored fine goals from extras – courtesy of Sandro Sukno and Maro Jokovic. Still, the first period went to the Americans after Jeff Powers‘ blast hit the top right corner (4-3). Goals of the opening eight minutes were mainly scored from 6 on 5s, the following period saw a handful of action goals. Jesse Smith made a neat finish from a counter for 5-3, but two blistering shots from the distance by Miho Boskovic and Samir Barac tied the score again. Petar Muslim also netted one from the wing, but Croatia’s run was halted soon – this time two nicely played man-ups gave back the lead to the US by half-time (7-6).
It was the Croats‘ turn to score powerplay goals and their leftie, Maro Jokovic didn’t make any mistake, he hit twice, though between the two Adam Wright’s shot from the distance was also on target, so the fourth started from 8-8.

The last quarter brought the Sandro Sukno Show: the young Croatian scored a range of goals, he netted one from a 6 on 5, from a penalty and from action, and had a great free throw hitting the post. His hat-trick was enough to push his team to the final: though the Americans managed to score from two man-ups (one for 8-8, but the other came when they were trailing 9-11), but those were their only chances as the Croatian defence was really tight, prevented their rivals from feeding the centre-forward, stole the ball a handful of times, while Sukno was unstoppable at the other end, he was the one who made the difference in this game.

Ratko Rudic (head coach, CRO): "We started the game a little bit nervous, we made three-four big mistakes in defence and they could score easy goals. After this bad periods we began to reorganize our game, with a bit more focus on the defending and everything got better. In the offence we have a strong center-forward, a really good shooter and they made the difference."

Terry Schroeder (head coach, USA): "It’s disappointing to lose, though it was a good match. Both teams played well, both are potential medal-winners at the Olympics. Today we gave up three five-metres and in the second half we lost our confidence in the outside shooting, these were decisive."

Sandro Sukno (CRO): "It was a very good match, much better than the weather... The US are a very good team, so it’s great to be in the final. Today everything turned out to be good for me and for my team – but that’s the past, tomorrow is a new game, we have to be ready for that."

Jeff Powers (USA): "It was a good game against a very good team. It was a good training for us since we came here looking for improvement game by game. The ultimate goal is the Olympic gold medal, though we didn’t win but it’s not the end of the world."

Game 20: 18:15, Semi Final: SPAIN 9 – ITALY 7
(2-1, 1-0, 1-3, 1-1; penalties: 4-2)
Referees: Mark Koganov (AZE), Irfan Sadekov (RUS)
FINA Delegate: Gyorgy Martin
SPAIN: Daniel Lopez – Mario Garcia (1), Blai Mallarach, Balazs Sziranyi, Guillermo Molina (1), Marc Minguell 2, David Martin, Albert Espanol (1), Xavi Valles 1, Felipe Perrone 2, Ivan Perez, Javier Garcia (1). Head coach: Rafael Aguilar.
ITALY: Stefano Tempesti – Amaurys Perez, Valerio Rizzo, Pietro Figlioli 1 (1), Alex Giorgetti, Maurizio Felugo 1, Tamas Marcz, Valentino Gallo 1 (1), Christian Presciutti 2, Deni Fiorentini, Daniel Premus, Arnaldo Deserti. Head coach: Alessandro Campagna.

Spain: 1 for 8
Italy: 3 for 5


As usual, the Mediterraneans staged a grand defensive battle, with great goal tending on both sides, and naturally, tensions ran high, especially in the fourth but no one managed to score the winners, so the penalties decided the outcome.

Spain surprised the World Champions a bit: at first, Xavi Valles and Felipe Perrone scored from counter attacks, second, Ivan Perez did a great job not only in the center-forward position, but also as a 2m guard. It was a surprising tactical move from Spanish head coach Rafa Aguilar but it worked, Perez was great in denying the Italian hole men. Italy pulled one back towards the end of the first, but Felipe Perrone’s nice lob caught Stefano Tempesti by surprise, so Spain was 3-1 up at half-time.

The Italians started to climb back in the third, Christian Presciutti’s lob from eight metres somehow found its way to the net, and Pietro Figlioli added one from an extra. The Spanish replied, also from a 6 on 5, it was a great set-up, moving the ball with the utmost patience, and finally Marc Minguell pushed the ball in from the wall, after a magnificent assist of Felipe Perrone. But Presciutti came again and scored for 4-4, with just 0.02 on the clock.

Just as in the other semi final, the fourth period also started from a tie. But in this game the decision didn’t come in the regular time: Minguell’s backhanded shot gave back the lead for the Spanish (it was a bit controversial, he seemed to take the ball underwater for a while), but Maurizio Felugo earned an exclusion during a counter, remained one on one with the goalie and that was a chess-mate situation (5-5). 2:45 minutes remained, but the defences and the goalies worked well, so a shootout was needed. The first two pairs made no mistake, but Valerio Rizzo’s shot was well saved by Dani Lopez, and after Javier Garcia’s successful attempt Maurizio Felugo hit the post. Guillermo Molina – who plays in Italy – gave no chance to his club team-mate in Pro Recco, Stefano Tempesti, he netted the penalty and sent the Spaniards into the final.

Rafael Aguilar (head coach, ESP): "It was a fantastic game for us, we had an excellent defense against Italy, but of course, this is the way to beat them. Our goalkeeper did a great job, but all the team played great today. The penalties are about luck but perhaps we deserved to have have luck on our side."

Alessandro Campagna (head coach, ITA): "It was an excellent game, except for the first period when we played a bit softer. But at least we were strong enough mentally to stay in the game, and after half-time we organised our game much better, we managed to tie the score twice. In the penalty shootout their mind and body were fresher."

Daniel Lopez (ESP): "We have still to work on our attack, we all know this, so we put special emphasis on our defending, and this was fantastic today. I’m happy that I could help the team, but you know, it’s really about the team: if the players gave their best, it’s easy for the goalie to perform well."

Maurizio Felugo (ITA): "We are happy that we had a good match, though we didn’t play so well at the beginning. But we managed to withstand the pressure, and came back to tie the game. In the penalties anything can happen, this time the Spanish won – congratulation for them!"