Serbia proved that the power of world water polo is firmly based in the Adriatic nation after seeing off Italy for the gold medal on day nine at the FINA World Men’s Junior Water Polo Championships in Prague on Sunday. It was Serbia’s third crown as a single nation and Italy’s fourth silver medal. Montenegro stood on the podium for the first time as a single nation, beating Hungary for the bronze medal in a penalty shootout.
Serbia emulated the feat of its senior counterpart by winning the gold medal in 2021 — at the FINA World Men’s Junior Water Polo Championships at the Swimming Complex Podolí, in Prague on Sunday.
Just a month after Serbia men claimed Olympic gold in Tokyo, the 20 & Under team defeated Italy 10-8 to rank the country as the best men’s water polo nation on the planet. It was Serbia’s third title and seventh consecutive medal as a single nation, winning in 2011 and 2015 and finishing runner-up in 2019.
Serbia joins Greece, Italy and Spain as three-time winners of this event that has been running since 1981.
Photos courtesy of Total Waterpolo — https://total-waterpolo.com/
The difference in the teams did not show through until late in the third period when Marko Radulovic scored a six-metre, free-throw goal for 7-6 to close the scoring at 1:21 and then create the first multiple-goal lead with a blast from the top on extra-man attack at 7:24 in the fourth period.
Italy had a chance to narrow the deficit after a timeout, but the shot went left. Two minutes later, Serbian captain Stefan Brankovic fired in a missile from the carpark for 9-6 at 3:42. The match almost over-heated as players were being tossed frequently and Italian skipper Felippo Ferrero converted a double extra-man attack for 9-7.
Serbia wasted its opportunity after a timeout and Italy had its shot blocked after its timeout. Italy then sent its goalkeeper to centre forward in the hope of bringing it to within one but, alas, the ball was stolen, fired upfield and Brankovic lobbed a retreating defender for 10-7 at 0:21. At this point Radulovic was red-carded, much like his double-scoring team-mate Nemanja Stanojevic did not seven minutes into the match, draining the team of one barrel of its double-barrel shotgun.
The final goal went to Ferrero — his third — at the seven-second mark, also on extra. At 10-8, it was too late and Serbia had the gold medal. Four Serbians and three Italians failed to see the end of the match.
In the bronze -medal encounter, Montenegro needed a penalty shootout to beat Hungary 12-11, after 8-8 at fulltime, for its first medal at this level as a single nation, having finished fourth in 2009. In 2009 and 2011 it won gold as the combined nation Serbia & Montenegro.
Hungary’s senior team fended off Spain for bronze in Tokyo, but it was not to be for the youngsters today as they fell short of an historic 11th medal.
Hungary turned a 3-2 quarter-time deficit into a 3-2 lead before trailing 5-3 early in the third quarter. Captain Akos Konarik rose to the occasion with three unanswered goals for the final-break lead.
Montenegro scored three straight for 8-6, including captain Miroslav Perkovic’s excellent centre-forward strike. Erik Molnar did the same at the other end at 1:36 and then the unthinkable happened when Hungarian goalkeeper Brendon Gyapjas went on attack, and from the left-hand-catch position, shot and had the ball deflect into goal for the equaliser with less than three seconds on the clock, forcing the shootout.
Konarik started and gained his fourth goal, only for the Vigvari bothers — Vince and Vendel — had their shots blocked. Perkovic had his saved, as well, but Montenegro claimed bronze with the 4-3 decision and 12-11.
In the classification match 5-6, Croatia claimed the biggest margin of the day with a 12-8 victory over Spain, built convincingly on the 6-2 opening quarter with the other three squared. Tin Brubnjak and Marko Zuleva scored three each for Croatia while Spain’s Max Casabella rammed in five goals.
In the classification match 7-8, United States of America put the final nail in outgoing champion Greece’s coffin, winning 12-11 after leading 11-8 heading into the final quarter.
For Greece, the drop from the top of the ladder to eighth will be hard to swallow, especially after its senior men gained silver in Tokyo. Nicholas Tierney (USA) and Mikhail Goniotakis Korderas (GRE) scored four each.
Most Valuable Player: Marko Radulovic (SRB) with TWPC Member Ken Kuroda.
Best Goalkeeper: Vladimir Misovic (SRB) with TWPC Member Evgeny Sharanov.
Highest Goal-scorer: Matteo Iocchi Gratta (ITA) — 26 Goals — with TWPC Member Bill Shaw.
7. United States of America
12. South Africa
17. Czech Republic
Classification 1-2: Serbia 10 Italy 8 (3-3, 1-1, 3-2, 3-2).
Classification 3-4: Montenegro 12 Hungary 11 in penalty shootout. FT: 8-8. Pens: 4-3. (1-2, 2-2, 3-1, 2-3).
Classification 5-6: Croatia 12 Spain 8 (6-2, 2-2, 1-1, 3-3).
Classification 7-8: United States of America 12 Greece 11 (6-3, 1-5, 1-3, 3-1).