Classification 1-4 Semifinal — Budapest


In a match that Italy controlled from the start, it reaffirmed its quarter-final result against Hungary, by taking the lead after three minutes and only twice allowing Greece to level — at four, three minutes from halftime and at six, three minutes into the third period. Only two goals were conceded in that period before Italy turned up the heat with two early strikes for 9-6, that ensure the match was definitely in Italy’s favour. Greece battled to stay in with a chance at 9-8 and 10-9 down before Francesco di Fulvio made it 11-9 at 0:59. Konstantinos Genidounias, Alexandros Papanastasiou and Angelos Vlachopoulos all peppered the Italian goal with no success and then, with the match virtually finished and the players starting to congratulate each other, the clock stopped at four seconds and bedlam occurred. The upshot was that Vincenzo Dolce was slapped with a penalty foul — after a VAR review — and then was ordered from the pool to be replaced. Up swam Vlachopoulos to convert the five-metre shot for 11-10. It was not over then. Italy just had to retain possession for four seconds and then the unbelievable happened as the restarting Italian threw the ball back over his goal line, giving Greece three seconds to shoot. The ball speared across the pitch and failed to connect with a Greek hand and the match was “safely” in Italy’s possession. An interesting aside — There was a double-double at five minutes in the second quarter where two players for each side were excluded one after the other, leaving just 10 players in the pool.

Match heroes
Marco del Lungo (pictured) made 14 saves to be Italy’s hero and the star of the match. Several times he blocked close one-on-ones to deny what could have been a different scenario. Dolce netted three for Italy, the same number as Vlachopoulos who scored the second and third Greek goals, including a chancy eight-metre shot.

Turning point
Italy coming from 6-6 to 9-6 in the space of four minutes straddling the final break.

Stats don’t lie
The pressure of the extra-man plays showed, Italy converting five from 14 and Greece six from 16. But the best statistic was del Lungo’s effort, which was nine more than the Greek goalie. Yes, Greece shot more — 31-28 — but it was not enough.

Bottom line
Italy has been building all tournament and is reaching its peak. To survive Hungary two nights ago and survive again tonight, shows what it is made of. Now all it needs is one more win and the Italian trophy cabinet could have five world crowns to go alongside the two silvers and two bronzes. Greece was seventh in Gwangju 2019, so anything on Sunday is a vast improvement at this level, but more than a heartbeat away from its silver medal-performance at Tokyo 2020.

What they said


Classification 5-8 Semifinal — Budapest


Serbia may have not made the top four, but it certainly wants to return home with at least fifth place and this it could achieve on Sunday. Serbia started from in front and allowed Montenegro to go 3-2 midway through the second quarter before closing the half at 5-4 after the match had been tied at one, two, three and four. Serbia went 6-4, 7-5 and 8-6 ahead in the third period. This became 9-6 and eventually 10-7. The power shooting by both teams was impressive as was the goalkeeping, especially from Montenegro’s Petar Tesanovic who blocked 11 balls. It was a clinical match by two teams at the leading edge of world water polo.

Match heroes
Nicola Jaksic (SRB) claimed player-of-the-match honours with his three booming goals, included a second-quarter six-metre shot on extra-man attack. He scored in each of the first three periods.

Turning point
Radomir Drasovic’s 5-4 goal with eight seconds left on the first-half clock, giving Serbia the psychological advantage and was backed up by Nemanja Vico’s extra-man goal on the right post two minutes into the third quarter.

Stats don’t Lie
Montenegro had the better of the extra-man attacks, converting six from eight while Serbia drilled five from 10. Serbia’s shooting efficiency was 37 per cent, better than Montenegro’s 28 per cent. Serbia stole the ball 12 times to Montenegro’s six.

Bottom line
Serbia is the reigning Olympic champion despite losing seven of its superstars to retirement following Tokyo 2020 and showed that the new team is angling well for Paris 2024. Montenegro is almost on a par.

What they said
Dejan Savic (SRB) — Head Coach
“The game was not so good; I am not satisfied right now. The team getting up a little bit earlier from the quarter-finals shock, became the winner. All positions are important; it matters if you are fifth, sixth or eighth. We will focus on reaching that. We have to change something, but this is also a good opportunity to learn.”
Nikola Jaksic (SRB) — Three Goals
“During the quarter-final against Croatia we conceded 14 goals; we managed to get that halved now; that is a big difference when you always score 10 goals. This game showed what Serbia could play in defence. I think if we had been able to play like this against Croatia, the result would have been different. I can’t say anything else now; we want to win the last game and then start our preparations for the European Championship.”
Vladimir Gojkovic (MNE) — Head Coach
“Congratulations to Serbia, they deserved this victory. We tried to play hard in this game, but didn’t have enough energy after the previous matches. We were slow in one-on-one situations and Serbia was better now. We are looking forward to the next game because for my young squad it is always a good opportunity to play against great teams.”