Spain coasted into the FINA World Championship men’s water polo final with a stunning 10-5 margin over Croatia. The Unai Aguirre-inspired Spanish shut out Croatia in two quarters to earn the right to play Italy for the gold medal on Sunday. In the later match — the second Round 5-8 semifinal — shifted for the crowd, Hungary failed its fans by losing to United States of America 16-15 in penalty shootout after securing the 11-11 draw 1:20 from fulltime.
Classification 1-4 Semifinal — Budapest
SPAIN 10 CROATIA 5
You don’t expect to have a semifinal break away to a five-goal difference, but that’s what happened in the second encounter, meaning Spain will face world champion Italy in a rematch of Gwangju 2019. Croatia, third in 2019, will also have a rematch with Hungary for the minor medal. The match was built on accurate Spanish shooting and the fantastic defence of goalkeeper Unai Aguirre, whose antics in goal — telling players they can’t score against him with a waggling finger — proved critical to the outcome of the match. That outcome was constructed by a 2-0 second quarter after tying the first 3-3, levelling the third at two and blasting Croatia 3-0 in the fourth quarter. It was sublime Spanish play and typified by Aguirre who at one stage stared down the counter-attacker and advanced to swat away the ball at the start of the third period. It was grim for Croatia and thought-provoking ahead of Sunday’s bronze-medal final.
Aguirre with his 12 saves and goal-saving steal. Alvaro Granados netted four goals, a pair in the second and a pair in the fourth.
Blocking Croatia from scoring in the second and fourth quarters.
Stats don’t lie
Spain converted four from eight on extra-man attack; Croatia gained just two from nine.
Spain has been to six finals before for two titles and will be hoping that a third crown will come its way on Sunday night. Croatia can regroup and concentrate on securing yet another medal.
What they said
David Martin (ESP) — Head Coach
“I think our defence was really good today and our goalkeeper did a great job. The atmosphere is really great, thanks to the fans, and I am really proud of my team. Today we did a quality job in attack and in defence, too, but there is one more game, so we have to keep our focus. I think Italy is very strong and the final will be an open game. It will be a really good event for the water polo community.”
Felipe Perrone (ESP) — Captain
“First of all, Croatia is a great team. I think that was our best game in the tournament. We were good in defence and our team kept together and I am proud of that. We need to prepare for the final, so the most important thing is to regenerate as fast as we can. Italy will create a lot of chaos for us in the final, so we have to be focused and it is important to have a great defence, just as today.”
Jure Marelja (CRO) — Assistant Coach
“We are really disappointed with the result, but we have to keep our heads up right now, because the day after tomorrow there is a bronze-medal game. Our congrats go to Spain, they played very well, played well in counter-attack, used our weaknesses today. I think today we didn’t play our extra-men with the necessary concentration and their goalie was also great. Croatia always wants to win, so I expect to get the bronze medal.”
Luka Bukic (CRO) — Goal Scorer
“Obviously, it is a really hard loss in the semifinal, but we have to prepare ourselves for the next game. That is the only thing we have to focus on. We should forget this game as fast as we can. It will be hard, but a medal is always a medal, of course, so we need to prepare for that. Fourth place is always the worst place at the tournaments, so we need to get that bronze.”
Classification 5-8 Semifinal — Budapest
HUNGARY 15 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 16 in penalty shootout (FT: 11-11. Pens: 4-5)
Hungary’s fall from grace slipped further tonight when it turned a winnable match into a penalty-shootout loss. On the other side of the ledger, USA, who played catch-up for three quarters of the match, stole the lead at the start of the fourth, went two up and then allowed the host nation to level and force the shootout. USA levelled at two, three and eight — with a last-second penalty goal before the final break. At 11-9, Hungary was on the ropes and the near-packed house was jaw dropping. However, consecutive goals, albeit three minutes apart, sent the match to the five-metre line. It was here that the groans of the crowd realised all was not well when Marton Vamos sent the second Hungarian goal into the outstretched right hand of USA goalkeeper Adrian Weinberg, failing to cross the line. All the other nine shooters succeeded and USA was through to the fifth-place play-off against Serbia. Hungary will have to settle for a shot at seventh place against Montenegro on Sunday. These teams were fourth and 10th respectively at Gwangju 2019.
Weinberg made 13 saves and that crucial shootout save, something he will never forget from his first world championships. Hannes Daube finished with four goals and Alex Bowen three while Hungarians Krisztian Manhercz and Adam Nagy nailed four each with Nagy making the 11-11 equaliser on extra-man attack.
Maxwell Irving’s 9-8 goal on extra at the top of the fourth to give USA the courage to surge to victory.
Stats don’t Lie
USA converted four from eight on extra and Hungary four from 11 — probably where the match was won and lost.
USA has to go back to Shanghai 2011 when it finished sixth, its last highest ranking, so a shot at fifth would be one step behind fourth in Rome 2004 and Perth 1991 — its best finishes at this level. Hungary continues its run of missing major championships in the Hajos pool, stretching back to the European Championships in 2001.
What they said
Dejan Udovicic (USA) — Head Coach
“That was a fine game for us, but I think we couldn’t close down the game early enough. We are a young team and I couldn’t ask for more from my guys just to play tough against Hungary, one of the kings of water polo, so I am proud of them. We lost against Serbia in the group stage, we need to learn from that game, so I try to prepare and refresh the guys.”
Ben Hallock (USA) — Goal Scorer
“I try to remember the parts of the game right now, though I think the adrenaline was pretty high, so I blanked a little bit but the crowd was pretty awesome, so I enjoyed the game so much with my team-mates. It is a great stadium and an honour to play here. I don’t say it is hard to play in an atmosphere like this. It was inspiring, I mean, if a lot of people go crazy for you, or against you, it brings the best ideas. I don’t think it is hard but a great privilege.”
Tamas Marcz (HUN) — Head Coach
“That was another shot to our own leg. I don’t know yet which hurts most, this loss or the previous one. The previous loss was hard because we didn’t make the semifinal – now this one is embarrassing. We knew it could be a very tough game. I think their mentality was better today, but we could have been more professional and found the solutions to this situation. Partly we did it, but it wasn’t enough. Certainly, we try to gain some strength from somewhere since the last game, at least, must be won. There is no question, We must stand for it.”
Ádam Nagy (HUN) — Three Goals
“Due to our deconcentration it was a roller-coaster game. We have to find the balance to avoid these situations. We would try to correct that in the last game. I think in the penalty shootout there is a big advantage if you had nothing to lose. They had this feeling today, converted their penalties and deserved the win. We would like to win the last game absolutely and offer some gratitude for the fans for their extraordinary support.”