Serbia, who lost to Spain and Croatia in preliminary rounds, retained its Olympic title with a stirring 13-10 margin over a staunch Greece team, who relished playing on the highest stage in water polo for the first time. For 10 Serbians, it was a second visit to the medal dais and etches head coach Dejan Savic’s name into the record as a multi-Olympic winner.
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Serbia went back to back, repeating its success from Rio 2016 and turned a 10-9 third-quarter lead into a 13-10 gold-medal effort against a powerful Greece team, which has never reached this high a stage before.
And for 10 Serbian players, it was a second gold medal to take home and show their adoring fans.
The match was full of action, brilliant goals, sportsmanship and we even saw the VAR machinery brought in to decide the fourth goal, in favour of Greece. It was magical and attracted a huge crowd, as befitting the final sporting event of Tokyo 2020. The fact that the Olympics even went ahead was a surprise and this victory proved it was well worth the effort and the expense. The athletes have thanked the world by playing marvellously and producing so many upsets at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. All 74 matches were of the highest skill level despite the ravages of Covid-19 in the previous 20 months, which upset many teams’ training and match programmes.
Serbia started with the power of nation ready to steamroll its opposition. Greece was not going to stand in its way for back-to-back titles. And that’s the way it looked as the Serbs shot to 5-2 after being 2-2. A trade made it 6-3 and the crowd was wondering how much of a romp this was going to be.
Greek captain Ioannis Fountoulis rifled in a shot on the first attack of the second quarter. Dusan Mandic responded with a magnificent blast from the right, glancing off the goalkeeper’s head. The big crowd was right behind Serbia early on. Moments later we found out that the Greek population had expanded as Angelos Vlachopoulos, Konstantinos Gkiouvetsis and Alexandros Papanastasiou set the stadium alight with consecutive goals to level the match at 7-7.
To add to the Serbian frustration after a timeout, a shot found that the ball cannot pass through the face of Greek goalkeeper Emmanouil Zerdevas. Andrija Prlainovic took a six-metre foul and surged forward, seemingly not playing the ball and scored for the 8-7 lead three seconds from the buzzer.
Mandic dampened the enthusiasm of the flag-waving Greek contingent — making it a change from the rest of the tournament when the loudest sounds came from the player benches — as he scored from deep right for 9-7 at 5:32 in the fourth period. On the next attack the ball reached centre forward Konstantinos Mourikis, so he could score. Greece took a timeout a few attacks later and Fountoulis converted the play for 9-9. Prlainovic found space at two metres to advance the score to 10-9, the last of the quarter.
Greece opened the fourth period on extra with an interesting goal. The ball came cross cage to Skoumpakis who swatted at the ball and need to swat it again to help it across the line for 10-10. Prlainovic converted a penalty foul to take Serbia ahead again at 6:15. Nikola Jaksic climbed to the stars to accept a cross pass from Filipovic to convert extra at 5:02 and the Olympic champion had a two-goal lead.
Mandic fired his howitzer for 13-10 for three goals, one short of what he achieved in the Rio 2016 final. By now Nikola Dedovic, Sava Randelovic and Milan Aleksic were all sidelined on three major fouls. Greece took a final timeout, but the resulting shot failed to make it to keeper. Serbia had gone back to back and Greece had played out of its skin, in a magnificent Olympic final.
Dejan Savic, the double gold-medal head coach, did as he does after each match, thanked the opposing coach and left the stadium. He’s not one to have a swim after winning a gold medal and no one is game to throw him in. No army would!
Serbia continues its proud tradition, with a fourth Olympic medal as a single nation. It took silver as Serbia & Montenegro at Athens 2004 and as a part of Yugoslavia, collected three golds, four silvers and a bronze.
Greece had never won a medal for men’s water polo at Olympic level, its best being fourth place at Athens 2004 when it lost to Russia. At Rio 2016 it was sixth, three places better than 2012. At Beijing 2008, it placed seventh. Greece defeated Russia 13-10 to punch its Tokyo ticket in the semifinals of the OGQT in Rotterdam in February. It then went down to Montenegro in the non-event final 10-9. To come from the qualifying tournament to the Olympic final speaks volumes for a proud water polo nation.
This victory means that for the first time both men's and women's titles were retained at an Olympic Games with United States of America making it three in a row for women.
Match 42, 15:30, GREECE 10 SERBIA 13
Quarters: 3-6, 4-2, 2-2, 1-3.
Referees: Michael Goldenberg (USA), Xevi Buch (ESP).
Shots: GRE: 10/31. SRB: 13/29.
Extra Man: GRE: 6/15. SRB: 6/9.
Pens: SRB: 2/2.
Filip Filipovic (SRB) — Gold Medallist
On playing in his final game for Serbia and winning Olympic gold: "This was for most of us the last dance (captain Filipovic is retiring along with six other Serbian players). I'm very happy and I'm satisfied. I couldn't imagine the end of my national team career in a better way like this. We knew that it will be quite a hard journey for us. The important thing is that we believe from the very beginning. We believe even when we lost those two games (in the group). We believe that we are here not to just take a participation. We came here to do some great things. It was very hard, but the experience and the spirit of the team teaches that if we believe until the last second, the last defence, we can make it, and we did it again."
Dusan Mandic (SRB) — Gold Medallist
"It's the end. We've done it. We finished it. Our dreams came true once again. It’s an incredible moment. We were so exhausted after the semifinal with Spain. I think in a few days, maybe 10 days, one month, we will realise what we have done here. Big thanks to the seven guys who are finishing their career in this way. This is for their glory. They became immortal after this.”
Konstantinos Genidounias (GRE) — Silver Medal
“It's not exactly the feelings I wanted to have, it’s bittersweet. If you had asked all of us, or the entire water polo world at the start of the tournament, if we would play in this game, I don't know if everybody would say yes. But we believed in ourselves from the beginning of the tournament and we’re happy we made it to the finals. We definitely weren’t ourselves in there today. We saw that we conceded six goals in the first quarter which pretty much cost us the game, even though we came back. In previous games, we didn't allow that many goals and that's what got us the wins. That didn't happen today. Congratulations to Serbia, well deserved. I want to say thank you to my team-mates, my coaches. Thank you to all of Greece for watching us, we love you and I hope this medal brings everybody some happiness. It (the medal) means absolutely the world to us. It's history for Greece, we rewrote history. So many people reached out, not only our friends and family, people that we don't know reached out and they just made us so happy with their messages and we appreciate everyone.”
Konstantinos Gkiouvetsis (GRE) — Silver Medal
"It was a tough game. We tried our best, we gave everything we have. And in the end we lost." On what gave Serbia the edge to win the match: "The experience had a huge role in this game. We were excited but in these games you have to play with your brain, not with your happiness. And that's the difference." On what it means to win the silver, the first Olympic medal for Greece in men’s water polo: "It's huge. We knew it, but every team wants to be first. We couldn't do it, but we're very happy for our silver medal, and we hope in the future we can win the gold.”
6. United States of America
12. South Africa