Serbia was the first team to reach the gold medal match here at the FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final in Belgrade. The hosts staged a devastating opening period and after going 6-1 up they never really let the Aussies come back in the game though in the fourth the boys from Down Under closed up the gap to two but never got closer. The Croats then copied their neighbours, opened their semi against Spain with a 5-1 rush, held on for 8-3 till half-time and kept two goals till the end with a tactical play. This set up another classical showdown between Serbia and Croatia for the title – and a spot at the 2020 Olympics.
Serbia gunned down the Aussie defence in the first period, Filip Filipovic&Co let one blast after the other to take a 6-1 lead which they held for most of the time even though the Australians fought hard to narrow the gap. Indeed they could climb much closer deep into the fourth period at 13-11 but the Serbian response came immediately, followed by two more to set back the five-goal difference by the end of the game. The encounter served a new biological discovery: the Dolphins (nickname for the Serbs) managed to be better than the Sharks (nick for the Aussies).
Filip Filipovic showed his class again, led the Serbian charge with five goals - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi
Croatia managed to beat Spain once more after the semi-final of the Europa Cup held in Zagreb in April. They did it the other way round: at home they scored the last three goals after 12-9 to advance to the final, here they opened the encounter with a 5-1 rush and didn't let the Spanish really gear up and play their own game. The Spanish had some better spells in the second half but could get as close as two goals only with 5:30 remaining. And even if it's quite long time in this sport, the defences worked well, doors were shut and that was more than enough for Croatia to make the final here. So after the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympics – and just like in the semi-finals of the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 European Championships – it's going to be another chapter of the essential classics, a huge battle between Serbia and Croatia. Three days ago, in the prelims, the Serbs had the upper hand with a late goal, many predict that another outstanding battle is in sight.
The Croats' took a flying start and stayed above the Spaniards throught the game
For the lower ranks, Hungary avenged Canada for its opening day defeat in the first game of the morning session and will play for the 5th place here. They didn’t commit the same mistake they had done on Tuesday when they let the Canadian rally to a 1-5 lead. This time the Magyars used all their experience and physical superiority to sink their rivals who had only 10 hours to recover after their late evening quarter-final against Serbia.
There was no too much room left for the Canadians in front
The North Americans could keep up the pace until halftime though they were already trailing 8-6 but the Magyars were merciless in the second half, their professionals had much more left in the tanks and they just showed that with a 7-2 run in the second half. The game finished with a historical first-ever goal in a 7 on 6 situation in a major FINA event as Hungary used the new rules and involved the goalkeeper to the attack in their last possession and scored just seconds before the end.
In the Asian derby Japan was in control for most of the time, after the first half they were 8-4 up, scored some spectacular goals and nothing forecasted that the game could turn into a tight battle. But it happened, the Kazakhs came back to 8-7 and they missed only a couple of centimetres to equalise (the ball almost sailed in). Japan hit back immediately and added one more still in the third to regain a three-goal lead before the last break. Soon it grew to 5 goals at 13-8 so everything seemed to have been settled but the Kazakhs staged a late surge, netter four goals in a row, though the last one came a bit late, just 29 seconds from time and they couldn’t steal the ball to force a shootout.
It's a kind of magic: Athusi Arai, MVP of the game, let a backhanded shot go from 7m to score a beauty in the first half
Schedule for Sunday
10.00 For places 7-8th: Canada v Kazakhstan
11.45 For places 5-8th: Hungary v Japan
15.00 Bronze medal match: Australia v Spain
16.45 Gold medal match: Serbia v Croatia