Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee Member

Twelve years passed, and Serbia will have a shot at the gold medal again. After taking revenge over Italy in the semis for their London 2012 loss, they will clash with their arch-rivals Croatia in a re-match of the 2015 FINA World Championships final. The title-holder Croats came up with a convincing performance to beat Montenegro.

Semifinals

Game 2, 12.20: Montenegro v Croatia 8-12 (3-4, 2-3, 1-1, 2-4)

Referees: Adrian Alexandrescu (ROU), Joe Peila (USA)

MONTENEGRO: Milos Scepanovic, Drasko Brguljan 1, Vjekoslav Paskovic, Antonio Petrovic, Darko Brguljan 3, Aleksandar Radovic, Mladan Janovic, Uros Cuckovic, Aleksandar Ivovic 3, Sasa Misic, Filip Klikovac, Predrag Jokic 1, Zdravko Radic (GK). Head coach: Vladimir Gojkovic

CROATIA: Marko Bijac, Damir Buric 2, Antonio Petkovic, Luka Loncar, Maro Jokovic, Luka Bukic, Marko Macan 1, Andro Buslje 4, Sandro Sukno 1, Ivan Krapic, Andelo Setka 3, Javier Garcia 1, Josip Pavic (GK). Head coach: Ivica Tucak

Extramen

Montenegro: 2 for

Croatia: for 8

Penalties:

none

 

 

Andro Buslje, the hero of Croatia, scores one of his four goals - Credit: mtb/deepbluemedia

The first period kicked off in style: during the best eight minutes of the tournament (so far perhaps) the Croats rushed a 0-3 lead with wonderful goals, only to see the Montenegrins coming back in three possessions, levelling the score in a span of 1:37 minutes. Still, the Croats had the last laugh in this period, Andro Buslje’s fine shot from the centre gave them back the lead (3-4).

Aleksandar Ivovic made it even again with a blast in the 22nd second of a 6 on 5, but Javier Garcia replied immediately from a man-up, too. The following two attacks also brought goals, one apiece, Darko Brguljan netted one from an extra, then came Sandro Sukno brilliant lob from a free-throw for 5-6. And again, the last minute saw another Croatian centre-goal, courtesy of Marco Macan.

Shortly after the middle-break one more came from the centre, this time by Luka Loncar – in today’s water polo conceding three goals like this is a straight way to loss and the Montenegrins were just heading towards this direction, trailing 5-8. Ivovic’s shot kept them in the match and later they could have come even closer but Marko Bijac came up with two huge saves in a man-down. The Croats missed their 6 on 5 and the chance to reset the three-goal gap so it stood 6-8 before the final period.

There, after a couple of eventless possessions, Andro Buslje surprised the Montenegrin goalie, Milos Scepanovic from 7m – the hero of the game against Hungary posted 2 saves in three periods, he had 12 by then two day ago –, so it was 6-9. Soon goals began to flow, Darko Brguljan’s 5m blast found its way to the net, Andelo Setka finished a counter with a fine lob (7-10), leading to the substitution of Scepanovic. But the other goalie, Zdravko Radic couldn’t help much either, though Predrag Jokic converted a finely tuned man-up for 8-10, Andelo Setka put away the ball from the wing from the following 6 on 5. The story was finished when Bijac offered his 10th save in a man-down and Andro Buslje scored one from the centre, the fourth in the game – looking at the final score-line (8-12), it’s easy to find out what has made the difference here.

Thus, just like four years ago, the Croats beat the Montenegrins in the semis (that time it finished 7-5, was 7-3 before the last period) and after making the final last year at the Worlds in Kazan, here they reached the last stage again and have a chance to retain their Olympic title.

Javier Garcia, player, Croatia:

“We didn’t think about the final. We were focused only on the semifinal. We knew that today was going to be a very, very tough game. We know all these players as we play a lot against them in the league and with the national team. We also played without one player. It was more difficult but every player did his 120% and we played an incredible game.”

“It means that these past four years we have been working very good. This was the same semifinal as in London (2012) and I hope we can also repeat what we did there in the final.”

 

Marko Bijac, goalkeeper, Croatia:

“It’s incredible. I think that we still don’t know what we have done here but for sure we don’t want to stop here. Today we will have a little bit of rest, watch this second semifinal, analyse the opponent. I don’t know who it will be and prepare for that big final. We must be focused and now we must forget Montenegro and this semifinal.”

 

Vladimir Gojkovic, head coach, Montenegro:

“Today was a difficult game for us because we played bad from the start. All day today Croatia were the better team. We have to recover immediately because we have one more game and it’s for an Olympic medal. We have a very good chance to get that medal but we must get back to playing the way we know how to play.”

“This game is going to stick with me for a while. All tournament we were only conceding seven or eight per game, but today they scored seven just in the first half. This team doesn’t have the capacity to score a lot of goals, so if we want to win a medal we need to play better defence than we did today.”

 Sasa Misic, player, Montenegro:

“We will try to recover and play for third place. Winning the bronze would still be a huge success but we wanted to win today and win gold, just like everybody else who came to this tournament.”

 

Game 4, 16.30: Italy v Serbia 8-10 (0-3, 2-3, 0-1, 6-3)

Referees: Georgios Stavridis (GRE), Daniel Flahive (AUS)

ITALY: Marco del Luongo, Francesco di Fulvio, Niccolo Gitto, Pietro Figlioli 1, Andrea Fondelli, Alessandro Velotto 2, Alessandro Nora, Valentino Gallo 2, Christian Presciutti 2, Michael Bodegas 1, Matteo Aicardi, Nicholas Presciutti, Stefano Tempesti (GK). Head coach: Alessandro Campagna

SERBIA: Branislav Mitrovic, Dusan Mandic 1, Zivko Gocic, Sava Randelovic, Milos Cuk, Dusko Pijetlovic 1, Slobodan Nikic 2, Milan Aleksic, Nikola Jaksic 1, Filip Filipovic 2, Andrija Prlainovic 2, Stefan Mitrovic 1, Gojko Pijetlovic (GK). Head coach: Dejan Savic

Extramen

Italy: 4 for 17

Serbia: 5 for 14

Penalties

none

The Serbian defence blocked all incoming roads... - Credit: A. Staccioli / Deepbluemedia

Since Serbia returned to the big stage after the broke-up of the former Yugoslavia (under different names, till 2004 together with Montenegro) they reached the medal round four times in succession (from 2000 till date), but failed to pass the semis on all but one occasion. In 2000, 2008 and 2012 they clinched the bronze while in 2004 they had to settle for the silver (after a dramatic match with Hungary). So this was their 5th try and perhaps the most promising one after the team hunted down all titles since 2014. However, their journey took a rough start in Rio, draws with Hungary and Greece, a shocking loss to Brazil and they got on the brink of elimination. They bounced back, though, and began to play like they were capable of on their better days. This triumph against Italy was their 4th straight win here and perhaps the most convincing one: though the final result suggests something else, they were dominating from early on, only letting back their rivals after 9-3.

The first period determined the remaining three: after Andrija Prlainovic opened the scoring, the Serbs denied three man-ups on four Italian possessions, then Slobodan Nikic put away the ball from the centre and 53 seconds later Dusko Pijetlovic finished a 6 on 5 – members of the Settebello found themselves 0-3 down while their confidence was shattered both in offence and defence. Less then two minutes passed in the second, when the scoreboard showed a 0-5 lead for the Serbs, soon, with 4:16 left they were 0-6 up, a classical flooring in boxing. They were simply devastating, Italy had to substitute its goalie, the almighty Stefano Tempesti but first of all trying to surface at last. They finally got on the scoreboard after 14:08 minutes and Alessandro Velotto added one more 6 seconds before half-time to see the world just a slightly brighter at 2-6.

Their confidence might have come back a bit after killing two Serbian man-ups but a lucky rebound in the third helped Nikic to score from close range for 2-7 and since the Italians couldn’t capitalise on their 6 on 5s (missed three more till the end of the third) it was hard to see them coming back from 5 goals down within a single period. They scored quickly but a blast from Filipovic came as an immediate answer, the post saved the Serbs in man-down and Nikola Jaksic put away a double extra for 3-9 with 5:27 to go – the game was over. Though Italy had a late surge in the remaining time, most of their goals came after 5-10, the 8th hit 4 seconds before the end so they had no real chance to go even. In fact, it was a one-sided game, a demonstration of Serbia’s powerful offensive play and hard-pressing defending which sent them to the final where they can complete their journey, ultimately adding the Olympic crown to their treasury, already featuring the 2015 world title, the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 World League titles, the 2014 and 2016 European titles and the 2014 World Cup title.

 

Slobodan Nikic, player, Serbia:

“We were motivated 100%, we have a medal in the pocket and now we are thinking about the final. To be the Olympic champions, that’s our target.

“Our defence today was perfect. We played a really good match. We prepared well and we knew the Italians would provoke, meaning they would have more man-up situations than us. That’s why we started by going 6-0 up, which was a little bit of a surprise.”

“Everything started from our defence. If we play good defence then no one has a chance against us. It’s big because we are a small country and it’s for our people. It’s a big thing to be in the final of the Olympic Games.”

Filip Filipovic, player, Serbia:

“First of all, we entered into this game without thinking about London. Of course we had it in our mind but we knew that we proved our game, especially our mentality in the last three, four years. So we expected every part of this match.

“I just want to congratulate my teammates for fighting so hard until the last second. In the first two quarters we really showed what we are capable of and what good defence can do.”

Alessandro Campagna, head coach, Italy:

“I didn’t like our approach to the game. They play hard on defence and we knew that but we were a little shy. Against Serbia you have to play free and easy. Unfortunately when you get down by three or four goals against them it becomes very difficult to play that way. Our team has had some problems with injuries but my team gave 100% today. It’s time for us to focus on winning the bronze medal.”

For places 5-8

Game 1, 11.00: Hungary v Brazil 13-4 (4-1, 3-0, 4-3, 2-0)

Referees: Filippo Gomez (ITA), Masoud Rezvani (IRI)

HUNGARY: Viktor Nagy, Gergo Zalanki 1, Krisztian Manhercz, Balazs Erdelyi 4, Marton Vamos 1, Norbert Hosnyanszky, Adam Decker 1, Marton Szivos 1, Daniel Varga 1, Denes Varga 2, Gabor Kis 1, Balazs Harai 1, Attila Decker (GK). Head coach: Tibor Benedek

BRAZIL: Slobodan Soro, Jonas Crivella 1, Ruda Franco, Ives Alonso, Paulo Slaemi, Bernando Gomes, Adrian Baches 2, Felipe da Costa, Bernardo Rocha, Felipe Perrone 1, Gustavo Guimaraes, Josip Vrlic, Vicinius Antonelli (GK). Head coach: Ratko Rudic

Extramen

Hungary: 3 for 5

Brazil: 1 for 11

Penalties

Hungary: 0 for 1

Brazil: 0 for 1

 

Marton Szivos and the Magyars staged a fine demonstration from their skills - Credit: A Kovacs

The Hungarians overcame their utter bitterness because of not making the semis and taught a lesson for the home side. Even if they didn’t seem overjoyed, still, they offered a wild range of spectacular goals, from 5m shots to finely set up 6 on 5s, pinpoint shots from the distance, but above all it was Balazs Erdelyi’s backhanded shot from almost zero degree, from the left side which caught Slobodan Soro in the Brazil goal by surprise. Viktor Nagy was back to the Hungarian goal and offered another taste from his skills by posting a 80% saving percentage, with 16 stops on 20 attempts (including a penalty). Thus, Hungary will play for the 5th place, once more after 2012.

Tibor Benedek, head coach, Hungary:

“We expected something similar and will face a tougher challenge in two days time. Today the players brought their best to the pool, at least what they were capable of offering after the bitter loss in the quarters. Viktor Nagy did a great job in the goal, he helped a lot to win this match so easily.”

Felipe Perrone, captain, Brazil:

“It’s a miracle what happened to this team in the past days. To play in the quarters at the Olympig Games a miracle, believe me. A couple of years ago we lost the South American Games final to Argentina. Now we are playing against the best teams, people get to know water polo in Brazil, this is the best thing which could happen to this sport here. Today wasn’t that good, losing 13-4 is bad, perhaps this was our worst match here, still, we are among the best eight and that’s great.”

 

Game 3, 15.10: Greece v Spain 9-7 (1-0, 2-1, 4-3, 2-3)

Referees: Boris Margeta (SLO), Nenad Peris (CRO)

GREECE: Konstantinos Flegkas, Emmanouil Mylonakis 1, Georgios Dervisis, Konstantinos Genidounias, Ioannis Fountoulis 1, Kyriakos Pontikeas, Christos Afroudakis 2, Evangelos Delakas 1, Konstantinos Mourikis 2, Christodoulos Kolomvos, Alexandres Gounas 1, Angelos Vlachopoulos 1, Stefanos Galanopoulos (GK). Head coach: Theodoros Vlachos

SPAIN: Dani Lopez, Alberto Munarriz 2, Marc Roca, Ricard Alarcon, Guillermo Molina 4, Marc Minguell, Balazs Sziranyi, Albert Espanol 1, Roger Tahull, Francisco Fernandez, Blai Mallarach, Gonzalo Echenique, Vicente Aguilar (GK). Head coach: Gabriel Hernandez

Extramen

Greece: 2 for 9

Spain: 2 for 9

Penalties

Greece: none

Spain: 1 for 1

Both teams got a slow start, not surprisingly after their lost quarterfinals. The first period saw a single goal, a fine action goal by Ioannis Fountoulis. The low pace (and concentration level) remained for the second, by half-time the Greeks looked better as they led 3-1. Things speeded up in the third but Greece maintained its dominance, from 4-3 they jumped to 7-3 with three action goals and that was too much to handle. Though the Spaniards pulled two back for 7-5 but Konstantinos Mourikis had a fine finish from the 2m line in a man-up and soon he collected his own rebound and scored from the centre for 9-6. Guillermo Molina netted his 4th in the afternoon later but only 28 seconds were left so the Greek win wasn’t in danger and they will play with Hungary once more after the prelims, this time for the 5th place.

Medal Round&Classification

Final

Croatia v Serbia

Bronze medal match

Montenegro v Italy

For places 5-6

Hungary v Greece

For places 7-8

Brazil v Spain