Super Final 2012 (Men): Croatia beats Spain to clinch first World League title

World League

KAZAKHSTAN, Almaty (June 17) – Water polo at its prime: Croatia won a thrilling final against Spain in a penalty shootout; eleven rounds were needed to decide the title which finally went to Croatia, for the first time in World League history. Italy came third after a narrow win over USA, the hosts celebrated Kazakhstan‘s best ever placement in any FINA competition as they clinched the fifth position ahead of China, and the Australians found some consolation in their victory against Brazil.

The final day’s action was attended by FINA President Dr. Julio C. Maglione and Dariga Nazarbayeva, Chairperson of the Social and Development Committee of the Kazakh Parliament, daughter of the country’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The FINA President and Mrs Nazarbayeva presented the gold medals to the victorious Croatian players at the end of the event which was very well organised, thanks to the tremendous efforts by the Kazakh Swimming Federation.

Match reports

Game 21: 11:10, for places 7-8, AUSTRALIA 13 – BRAZIL 2
(2-0, 3-0, 6-1, 2-1)
Referees: Ni Shiwei (CHN), Joaquin Fernandez Escola (ESP)
FINA Delegate: Evgeny Sharonov
AUSTRALIA: Joel Dennerley – Richard Campbell 1, Timothy Cleland 1, John Cotterill 3, Robert Maitland, Anthony Martin 2, Aidan Roach, Samuel McGregor, Thomas Whalan 2, Gavin Woods 1, Jamie Beadsworth, William Miller 2, Aaron Younger 1. Head coach: John Fox.
BRAZIL: Thye Bezerra – Caio Lima, Henrique Miranda, Gustavo Coutinho, Cesar Queiroz Junior, Bernardo Gomes, Jonas Crivella, Felipe Silva 1, Bernardo Rocha 1, Ruda Franco, Gustavo Guimaraes, Danilo Correa, Vinicius Antonelli (GK). Head coach: Carlos Carvalho.

Australia: 3 for 4
Brazil: 1 for 6


The Aussies wanted to save some pride after two narrow defeats in the knock-out phase. They can recall their quarter final against the U.S. team when they had a goal disallowed in the dying minutes which would have put them on level terms, and that was followed by their last second loss to Kazakhstan on the following day. Had things gone in a different way they might have been in the medal round, instead, they had to settle for a game for the 7th place on the last day.

But they showed they have strong mentality, played with maximum concentration and at full speed – and the result mirrored this approach. Brazil was never let enter the game, their first goal came in the middle of the third period, while the Aussies netted a wide range of goals, a couple of them from 3 on 2 or 2 on 1 counter-attacks, right-handed Thomas Whalan even scored one with his left. So they finished the tournament on a high note – but some crucial moments (and painful for some players) were still waiting for them afterwards as Head coach John Fox announced whom he picked for and who was left out from the Olympic team.

John Fox (Head coach, AUS): "It was a good game, we kept it under control, it was pleasing to finish in a positive manner. We start to build from here, so today was the first day of our final London preparations after yesterday’s low."

Carlos Carvalho (Head coach, BRA): "We knew this last game was going to be hard against Australia as they prepare for the Olympic Games, also we had five games already so we would be a bit tired. Still, the outcome wasn’t as good as we expected. We knew we will have hard games against the teams preparing for the Games, but we are down to earth so we are not disappointed with our results. We are at the beginning our preparation for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, we have to work hard and I’m sure we will have better games in the future."

Aaron Younger (AUS): "It’s not our best tournament so far, obviously. We’ve got five weeks now to have our game going like we wanted to and to prove that we are a much better team. Yesterday we were very sad (after losing to Kazakhstan), we wanted to finish this tournament on a high note se we all came out a lot harder to play a game like this we had finally."

Henrique Miranda (BRA): "This is the first time Brazil takes part in the Super Final, so it’s a great learning opportunity to play with teams like Italy, Spain or Croatia. We expect to play harder games in future competitions. Now we wanted more close games, scoring more goals, but we are at the beginning of our preparation for Rio so for the future you can be sure that these guys will have more trouble playing against Brazil!"

Game 22: 12:30, for places 5-6, KAZAKHSTAN 7 – CHINA 5
(4-1, 1-1, 2-1, 0-2)
Referees: Nenad Peris (CRO), Mark Koganov (AZE)
FINA Delegate: Boukezouha Badreddine
KAZAKHSTAN: Nikolay Maximov – Sergey Gubarev 1, Nikita Kokorin, Murat Shakenov, Alexey Panfili, Alexey Shmider, Vladimir Ushakov 1, Rustam Ukumanov, Evgeniy Zhilyayev 2, Mikhail Ruday, Ravil Manafov 1, Sergey Gorovoy 2. Head coach: Sergey Drozdov.
CHINA: Ge Weiqing – Tan Feihu 2, Liang Zhongsing, Yu Lijun, Guo Jungliang 2, Zhang Jian, Li Bin 1, Wang Yang, Xie Junmin, Dong Tianyi, Zhang Chufeng, Liang Nianxiang, Gu Liang. Head coach: Rick Azevedo.

Kazakhstan: 5 for 7
China: 2 for 11

Kazakhstan: none
China: 1 for 2

Kazakhstan, enjoying all advantages of the home field, took a flying start and built a three-goal cushion in the first period which determined the rest of the game. Nikolay Maximov was again in top shape, denying a penalty in the fifth minute and adding a handful of fine saves afterwards. It was him who really made the difference between this game and the one they played in the group. The Kazakhs did a great job in managing their energies: they gave up some attacks but immediately recognised when they had the chance to earn an exclusion or going for a counter. This is clearly shown in their percentage in man-up (5 for 7) – a rather good achievement in modern-day water polo. The Chinese shooters weren’t as sharp as they had been previously, Maximov’s magics made them over targeting their shots, so they hit the posts several times. The Kazakhs led 7-2 with 3:00 minutes remaining from the third period so it was clear who won this game. However, the Chinese fought on and got some consolation at the end, scoring two in the last minute.

Sergey Drozdov (Head coach, KAZ): "It’s great to finish on the fifth place. We spoke to the team before the tournament and we told the players we had the chance to do this. If we can maintain this level of play we can achieve good results also at the Olympics. For today we changed some elements in our tactics (compared to our previous game with China) which worked well, and Nikolay Maximov did another great job in the goal."

Rick Azevedo (Head coach, CHN): "My team played really well defensively, I was happy with the way they did this part of the game. Some peculiar things happened in the first three-four minutes which rattled the team, they were like 'What’s going on, what’s going on?!', and the next thing they knew that the score was 3-0. After that the team showed a lot of composure, came back. We didn’t show a good shooting day in the 6 on 5s, we actually had some pretty nice shots which hit the bar, but I think part of that was being a little bit rattled and the new situation that China played for the fifth place of a major tournament for the first time."

Vladimir Ushakov (KAZ): "In the group it was a different game as we played with Italy on the day before and it took too much energy. We watched the tape of that game, we made some changes in our game-plan, and the new tactics worked well, though physically it was tough to play the sixth game in six day. I think we can still improve, as this was the first time in six months, that the whole team came together, three players arrived from the Russian league just one day before the start."

Game 23: 13:50, Bronze medal game: USA 6 – ITALY 7
(1-1, 2-3, 1-2, 2-1)
Referees: German Moller (ARG), Alan Balfanbayev (KAZ)
FINA Delegate: Gyorgy Martin
USA: Merryl Moses – Peter Valleras 3, Peter Hudnut, Jeff Powers, Adam Wright, Shea Buckner, Layne Beaubien, Tony Azevedo 1, Ryan Bailey, Tim Hutten, Jesse Smith 2, JW Krumpholz, John Mann. Head coach: Terry Schroeder.
ITALY: Stefano Tempesti – Amaurys Perez, Valerio Rizzo 1, Pietro Figlioli 2, Alex Giorgetti 2, Maurizio Felugo 1, Niccolo Figari, Valentino Gallo, Christian Presciutti 1, Tamas Marcz, Daniel Premus, Arnaldo Deserti. Head coach: Alessandro Campagna.

USA: 3 for 10
Italy: 4 for 6

USA: 1 for 1
Italy: 1 for 1

Just as in the group, Italy won again, but this time it was a much even game, with the U.S. team always holding a chance to force at least the penalties. The first period didn’t see too many actions, neither teams could harm the other while at full strength. Both sides had three 6 on 5s respectively, but only one was converted at both ends: Alex Giorgetti scored for Italy, the answer came right away by Peter Varellas. Valerio Rizzo put the Italians ahead again, also from an extra, then came the action goals, Peter Varellas hit one despite being guarded closely, Pietro Figlioli also netted a nice distance shot, and Christian Presciutti was on target, too. Italy led 4-2, but Tony Azevedo sent home a penalty (3-4). Jesse Smith’s fantastic blast from 8m opened the third period, but the Americans couldn’t build on this, Alex Giorgetti scored from an extra to regain the lead for Italy. Another missed 6 on 5 at the U.S. side, another converted one for Italy: Maurizio Felugo didn’t make any mistake with 0:10 on the clock, so Italy doubled its lead before the final period (4-6). The Americans killed a man-down and scored from their 6 on 5 at the beginning of the fourth, it was Peter Valleras‘ third goal of the game. But again, the defences worked well when six faced six in front of the goals. Then, one small mistake was enough from the Americans, the Italians earned a penalty, and Pietro Figlioli was merciless (5-7). The U.S. boys didn’t give in, earned an exclusion, missed the extra, but took the rebound, forced another extra and this time Jesse Smith found the net for 6-7. Two minutes were left, the Italians didn’t risk anything, still, after a time-out the Americans got agonizingly close to level the score, but Ryan Bailey’s fine centre shot hit the crossbar, and bounced backwards. Italy earned the bronze medal, another podium finish after last year’s silver, while the USA had to settle for the fourth place this time.

Alessandro Campagna (Head coach, ITA): "It was a tough game, both teams played well in defence, but neither one was fast enough in attack, mainly in mind, so it was quite difficult to find the solutions. But at this moment of the preparation the most important thing is to build the defences, and what we showed here makes me very happy."

Terry Schroeder (Head coach, USA): "It was a tough but a rather good game, we had a chance, we should have put some more 6 on 5s away. I think we were a little tired on our legs, we didn’t attack in 6 on 5 as we should. We had a lot of success at home against Croatia and Hungary before we came over here, now we lost a couple of games, but it’s OK, perhaps it makes our squad work a little bit harder."

Stefano Tempesti (ITA): "We are happy for this medal, and I think we have qualified for the World Championships with this. It was a good game, congratulations for the U.S., they also played well. I’m getting better week by week (after coming back from injury), so I’m gonna be ready to help the team in London."

Jesse Smith (USA): "It was a very exciting game, with a lot of nice plays from both teams, it was close. We really wanted to win today, just as yesterday, as all teams want, today’s field is really competitive, one goal decides most of the games, so it means that the Olympics will be very exciting for the spectators."

Game 24, 15:10, Final, CROATIA 18 – SPAIN 17
(2-1, 2-3, 2-2, 2-2, penalties: 10-9)
Referees: Steven Rotstart (USA), Daniel Flahive (AUS)
FINA Delegate: Haluk Toygarli
CROATIA: Josip Pavic – Damir Buric, Miho Boskovic 2 (3), Niksa Dobud, Maro Jokovic 1 (1), Andelo Setka (2), Petar Muslim (2), Andro Buslje 1, Sandro Sukno 3 (2), Samir Barac, Igor Hinic 1, Ivan Buljubasic. Head coach: Ratko Rudic.
SPAIN: Daniel Lopez – Mario Garcia (2), Blai Mallarach 1, Balazs Sziranyi, Guillermo Molina (1), Marc Minguell 1, David Martin 1, Albert Espanol 3 (2), Xavi Valles 1, Felipe Perrone (2), Ivan Perez 1, Javier Garcia (2). Head coach: Rafael Aguilar.

Croatia: 5 for 9
Spain: 5 for 7

Croatia: 2 for 2
Spain: none

Both teams were seeking their first World League title: Spain played in the final in 2002 and 2006, the Croatians reached this stage in 2009, but both sides lost their respective games. Marc Minguell opened the scoring, but Sandro Sukno just continued his streak of shooting huge goals from the distance (he hit four a day before), and 50 seconds later the Croats were already ahead, courtesy of Maro Jokovic’s fine left-handed shot from a 6 on 5. The other leftie, Blai Mallarach, equalised from an extra at the beginning of the second quarter, but next came the Croats, Miho Boskovic‘s 8m blast and Andro Buslje’s nice push from the wall in a man-up gave them a 4-2 lead. But the Spanish men battled hard, and were really effective in attacking. They couldn’t create too many chances against the stronger Croatian defenders, but whenever they were able to set up a chance, they always took it. And Albert Espanol, enjoying a remarkable shooting form in the whole week, first scored from an extra, then managed to hit the back of the net from the distance, so it was tied at 4-4 at half time. Sandro Sukno took the stage in the third, as usual, though this time he had an easier job putting away two penalties. Between the two it was him who couldn’t mark Ivan Perez, Spain’s giant man got the better of a turmoil after a rebounding shot and scored from the centre. And who else than Albert Espanol was the one who levelled again, shortly before the buzzer (6-6). The fourth period brought sheer excitement: the Spaniards blocked the Croatians in a powerplay and converted theirs after a time-out, it was a breathtaking play with Xavi Valles' fine finishing touch from the wall. For the first time, Spain was in front and could have gone further after Daniel Lopez denied the next Croatian shot from a 6 on 5: only one second remained from the extra, but after the corner-throw the centre defenders had a complete blackout, both were caught by surprise as Igor Hinic took the quick pass and netted the equaliser. It was a costly mistake, as in a minute the Croats went ahead again, thanks to Miho Boskovic’s blistering shot (8-7). After tremendous efforts from both sides, Spain earned a very last chance – and David Martin found the way among the arms to level once more, with 24 seconds to go. The Croats called a time-out, set up an attack with two centre forwards, but the incoming pass was stolen by the defenders. Croatian head-coach Ratko Rudic protested and received a red card so he watched the penalty shootout from the stands.

And that was a real thriller. The first miss came on the Croatian side: Daniel Lopez denied Maro Jokovic in the second round. In the fourth, Josip Pavic did the same with Guillermo Molina, so after the first five shots it stood 4-4. The next ten shots all were buried as tensions run extremely high. The goalies couldn’t guess the right side, each shooter performed his respective shot quite coolly. The third round just began, Miho Boskovic sent home his third penalty, then came Mario Garcia, but this time Pavic guessed right, and stopped the shot with his right hand, sending his teammates into the seventh heaven as Croatia won the shootout 10-9, and the World League title.

Ratko Rudic (Head coach, CRO): "The tournament was a great manifestation of water polo, I’m satisfied to win this title, it’s a good boost for the Olympics."

Rafael Aguilar (Head coach, ESP): "For me, the most important thing was that my team came to the final as tough as possible, with good mentality. We played a great game with Croatia, and it’s good to have such an even match with them when they have much more extras. The penalties are always about luck: yesterday luck was on our side, today not, life is just like this."

Miho Boskovic (CRO): "It was a good game, a very nice one though these teams are not in their top form as all prepare for the Olympic Games. At the end we had a little advantage and we managed to win this title for the first time, which makes a good effort to the spirit of the team."

Albert Espanol (ESP): "We were very near to the victory, but finally we lost and it’s a shame because we played well today, just as in the whole tournament. Playing six games in six days is very hard, but we had a good level, we were hard, we were brave so I’m satisfied with the result."

Top scorer: Maro Jokovic (CRO)
Most valuable player: Felipe Perrone (ESP)
Best goalkeeper: Stefano Tempesti (ITA)