Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

When European superpowers clash it’s always big time and the two encounters on Day 2 didn’t disappoint the spectators at the FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final in Belgrade. The Tasmajdan pool was almost fully filled when another fantastic edition of the Serbia v Croatia duel took place in the evening and 3,000 fans went wild when the hosts scored the winner 56 seconds from time. Earlier Hungary came from behind to beat Spain in the penalty shootout. However shocking was their opening day defeat against Canada, the mighty Magyars showed something special once again as they bounced back in another thunderstorm hit match.

The contrast couldn't have been any sharper in the first two matches of Day 2. While Canada earned a historical first-ever win over Hungary on the first day, Japan fought bravely but Spain thrashed them by eight goals. A day later the trends changed significantly. Japan jumped to a 4-0 lead and even though the Canadians had a come-back late in the second and early in the third when they trailed only by three goals at 9-6. However, next came another surge from Japan and that did the real damage. The Japanese netted seven in succession to gain a massive 16-6 lead and the last period did not even start. The gap remained till the end, thus Japanese could set their eyes on the second place in Group A.

The Canadians couln't really handle the Japanese actions (this one ended in another penalty) - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

But that would require them another big win as Hungary did what few had expected before the second day: they came from behind to catch Spain. The Magyars looked a bit lost again in the opening period, without their aces their attacks lacked the usual sparkling displays. Still, they fought hard and showed a great team effort to climb back from time to time. Even though the Spaniards led 1-3, 3-5 and 7-9, the Magyars kept on coming back. After another huge thunderstorm hit the Tasmajdan Pool and the game had to be suspended, the fourth period started at 8-9 but the Magyars equalised, what's more for the first time in the tournament they even took the lead at 11-10. Spain managed to level the score 31 seconds from time, then came a disputed scene (whether the ball crossed the line in the dying seconds or not - this reinforces FINA's efforts to have a VAR system ready for the World Championships; the one tested here was washed away for this Wednesday). Anyway, the Hungarians stepped up, won the shootout and restored their pride.

It was a great and spectacular fight between the two European powerhouses (picured: Kristof Varnai and Marc Larumbe)

The third game was another one-sided contest, Australia was the absolutely dominant force in the game against Kazakhstan. They won the middle two periods 7-1, netted 9 out of 11 man-ups to clinch their first win here in Belgrade.

In fact, the Kazakhs were never in front...

The very best was left to the end, the eternal classic of Serbia and Croatia, the reigning Olympic champions versus the reigning World champions. The Croats had the better start and led all the way through the first half while missing a couple of chance to take a two- or three-goal lead.

When it's big time, the magic is in the air in the Tasmajdan

Then came the first twist in the third when the ‘visitors’ started to miss their man-ups while the Serbs became more precise in front and netted three unanswered goals to take a 6-8 lead before the last break. Soon it was 6-9 and it seemed there was no way back for Croatia. There was, however. At 7-9, Ivan Marcelic stopped Andrija Prlainovic’s penalty and soon the Croats scored twice in 38 seconds to go 9-9 with 3:47 remaining. It was still 10-10 as we entered the last minute, but Andrija Prlainovic’s blistering shot decided the game 56 seconds from time. It was a magnificent action goal, a great way to finish this game and this day.

Andrija Prlainovic (right) showed his class: after missing a crucial penalty, he was still up to the task at the very end and scored the winner


Group A

1. Spain 4, 2. Japan 3, 3. Canada 3, 4. Hungary 2

Group B

1. Serbia 6, 2. Croatia 3, 3. Australia 3, 4. Kazakhstan 0