Italy upset world champion Spain in a rematch of their FINA World Championship final in Budapest earlier this month, winning their FINA World League Super Final semifinal 9-8. Italy will face United States of America in the final after its breath-taking 16-15 victory over host France. Each finalist has been in three previous finals, losing all six, so a new champion will emerge on Wednesday. In the classifications 5-8 semifinals, Montenegro redressed the imbalance against Australia, winning 9-6 and Serbia booted Canada12-4.
Day 6 finals schedule:
14:00 AUS v CAN
16:00 MNE v SRB
18:00 FRA v ESP
20:00 USA v ITA
Round 1-4 Semifinals
ITALY 9 SPAIN 8
As with all the matches here in Strasbourg, they have been dynamic and pulsating with energy and excitement. This was no exception with Italy desperately wanting to gain revenge for the shootout loss to Spain in Budapest earlier this month. The intentions were clear with the opening two goals and Spain replied with three, Nikolas Paul’s blast to start the second giving intention of Spain’s belief of supremacy. Nicholas Presciutti scored from deep right and from the top for 4-3 leading Italy to 5-3 at halftime. Giacomo Cannella scored twice in the third period as goals were traded for 7-5 at the final break. Vincenzo Renzuto Iodice scored his second with an excellent tip on extra-man attack at the right-post position for a second three-goal advantage. Paul from eight metres; Francisco Valera on extra-man attack and Roger Tahull from point blank, off a cross pass, drew the match level with a little more than two minutes remaining. Then, from out of nowhere, Jacopo Alesiani nailed his second goal at 1:45 from about nine metres. Spain was desperate for an equaliser and in the dying seconds had two shots stopped, denying it a second title this year.
Cannella scored three goals for Italy while Presciutti’s pair in the second quarter were also vital. Unai Aguirre dragged down 12 saves in the Spanish goal.
Italy’s four-goal surge to 6-3 and probably the most exciting was Spain’s three goals in the fourth to level the match.
Stats don’t Lie
Major fouls were light with Italy netting two from five and Spain one from three. Italy, however, made 10 steals to Spain’s five and took 33 shots at goal — five more than Spain.
It was Italy’s time to shine. The better statistics proved this and its steady play will be a valuable asset come the final against USA. Spain has tasted a loss for the first time since the World League qualifiers when it bowed 11-10 to Serbia in Podgorica, Montenegro. Both teams have points to prove on Wednesday.
FRANCE UNITED 15 STATES OF AMERICA 16
This was one of the matches of the week and when it came to getting a gold-medal berth, both these nations wanted it badly. USA wanted it more in the early stages and raced to a 4-0 lead and closed the quarter at 5-2. This was extended to 6-2 before France sent in three on the trot — all on extra-man attack — and goals were traded to 9-7 by the long break. Logan Piot (FRA) was red-carded when Ben Stevenson converted the extra play on the buzzer. Stevenson, from the top, Hannes Daube and Alex Bowen from the penalty line, had USA five goals ahead at 2:42 in the third, a seemingly winning position. However, France won the rest of the quarter 3-1, reducing the margin to three. Chase Dodd (USA) and Charles Cannone (FRA) were red-carded for allegedly fighting at the time Max Irving was to have a penalty shot. Thirty seconds later, France earned the penalty and Dylan Woodhead became the fourth recipient of a red card; Ugo Crousillat converted the penalty. He launched another missile to open the fourth period, followed by efforts from Alexandre Bouet and Mehdi Marzouki — all three on action — levelling the score at 13. Irving was the saviour for USA with identical and consecutive extra-man scores by 2:39. France was not finished and equalised through the mercurial Thomas Vernoux accepting a high, almost improbable cross-pass on the left-post position, centimetres from the line (his third goal) and Marzouki’s extra-man goal at 1:16. Daube converted his third penalty (while having no luck with six field attempts) 45 seconds from time. France had two close-in shots in the dying seconds only to be thwarted by the USA defence.
Hugo Fontani was the busiest player in the pool with a magnificent 17 saves in the French goal. If only it was 18! Irving scored five from nine attempts and Bowen netted four more. Marzouki was the best scorer for France with four.
In less than seven minutes, France came back from 12-7 down to equalise at 13-13. USA went two ahead and France equalised again.
Stats don’t Lie
USA converted six from 11 on extra-man attack and France just four from 11. That was the difference on who would win. The five penalty goals to one statistic was also most damaging.
USA was the better all-round team, never being headed and proved it has the head to manage a big win. A fourth visit to a final — losing to Montenegro last year — could be its breakthrough. There is just the small matter of beating Italy, also now a four-time finalist. Neither has won the coveted crown. France deserves a medal shot and the daunting task of playing Spain — a team unaccustomed to losing this year — which will be another huge encounter.
Round 5-8 Semifinals
MONTENEGRO 9 AUSTRALIA 6
Montenegro made sure of changing the result from day two, when it went down 9-8 to Australia. Montenegro, however, managed a shootout loss to Spain and leap-frogged the Aussie Sharks in the group standings. Montenegro was twice behind in the first quarter before levelling at two; made Australia level twice in the second and then take the lead 5-4 after a Kanstantsin Averka performance than yielded him the three Montenegrin goals. The margin pushed out to two at 3:30 in the third, however, Australia struck back for 6-5 on counter to go into the final period with a good chance of a repeat victory. Charlie Negus made this a closer reality early in the fourth and Averka could not add to his tally from the penalty line at 5:15. However, he grabbed a fourth on extra and Dusan Matkovic chimed in with two of his own to close the scoring at 9-6.
The two-goal advantage in the third for Montenegro and then Australia’s comeback two for 6-6. Montenegro’s ability to shut the door on Australia and score the last three, sealed the match.
Stats don’t Lie
They were close with Montenegro converting two from five on extra-man attack and Australia two from four. Australia had one more shot, but Montenegro had the better shooting percentage.
Both teams are rebuilding and both have had excellent matches, if not the winning results, they require.
SERBIA 12 CANADA 4
Serbia made certain of making the fifth-sixth play-off with a comfortable victory and Canada would be unhappy with its second-worst defeat of the week, having lost the opener 17-5 to eventual finalist Italy. Canada was kept scoreless until the final second of the first half when Jeremy Coté blasted from the right-hand-catch position. Serbia won the first quarter 2-0 and went to the third with a 5-1 advantage. Seven goals came in the third period with five to Serbia. Ognjen Stojanovic added two more to his first-quarter goal and Coté ended the period again with a centre-forward strike for 10-3. Vasilije Martinovic netted his third to start the fourth, Coté responded with a six-metre-free-throw shot and Marko Radulovic closed the scoring with a penalty goal.
Martinovic was awarded the trophy for his three goals and Coté, so quiet all week on the scoring front, would have been happy with his scoring, at least. Brody McKnight jagged 10 saves in goal for Canada.
The whole first half for Serbia and the 4-1 break in the third quarter.
Stats don’t Lie
Extra-man attack can undo some teams and it did for Canada. No goals from five attempts while Serbia managed four from five. That and Serbia’s will to shoot at random, taking 42 attempts to Canada’s 28.
Serbia now faces Montenegro in the “Battle of the Balkans” for fifth spot. Montenegro was the champion last year and Serbia a 10-time champion. Serbia’s lowest finish at this level is third when it has contested the Super Final. Canada can look forward to the “Battle of the Commonwealth” for seventh place.