Croatia and Serbia will play the 2016 Rio Olympics men’s water polo final. The reigning Olympic champions and current European and world champions each posted clear wins in their respective semi-finals on Thursday. In repeats of London 2012 semi-final match-ups Croatia defeated Montenegro 8-12 and Serbia controlled Italy 8-10.
Italy vs. Serbia
The Serbians finally managed to shake off the semi-finals syndrom. After missing out on the gold medal match due to losing the semis in 2000 (Yugoslavia), 2008 and 2012 there was no holding back this time. In incredible fashion after a horrible group stag where the Serbs struggled to even make it to the knockout stage of the tournament, their performance on Thursday was impressive as Italy was dominated for over one half suffering a 6 goals before finally getting on the board themselves. Serbia delivered a physical and tactical game with styfling defence, especially on man down that had Italy struggling to get past goalkeeper Branislav Mitrovic who showed some fine form.
Stefan Mitrovic shooting for Serbia.
On the other end the attack and outside shooting that had the Serbian side propelled to world and European championships looked signs of getting back again. Andrija Prlainovic started the scoring as he hit on extra man for his 4th goal of the tournament, before both centre forwards (Slobodan Nikic and Dusko Pijetlovic) struck from the center position and on extra man respectively. The 0-3 score may seem the result of just a different start to the game but the Serbs ran away in the second. Here things got worse for Italy who couldn’t get through on offence and conceded three more goals, during which captain goalie Stefano Tempesti got substituted for Marco del Lungo, before Valentino Gallo launched a rocket from way out that found the back of the Serbian net late in the quarter. Youngster Alessandro Velotto then scored from the left wing on man-up to get the score to 2-6 at half-time.
Four years ago Italy got the better of Serbia in the London 2012 semi-finals. This time though that was not going to happen. Although the Italians got more into the contest after the main break, resulting in a quiet third period with just a nice backhand goal from Nikic for Serbia, it didn’t meant that a possible comeback was at hand. Italy came through more and more in the final period where the tense defence was broken several times as Christian Presciutti, Velotto and Pietro Figlioli hit. Problem though was that Serbian countered all these quickly, including a beautiful long-range bomb by Dusan Mandic from over 8 metres out for the 5-10 score midway through the final period. In the final three minutes the Italians were the only ones to score but having woken up came too late. Valentino Gallo got the Sandro Campagna coached side back to 7-10 with 1.28 on the clock and the final score was for Michaël Bodegas who finish an extra man play in the dying seconds. By then the Serbs were already celebrating their finals berth.
In impressive fashion they finally make it to the gold medal match where neighbours Croatia await. Indeed a repeat of the 2015 World Championships final in Kazan where Serbia dominated for an 11-4 win. On Saturday they’ll meet again.
Montenegro vs. Croatia
Reigning champions Croatia are in the final again. In a repeat match-up of the 2012 semi-finals the Croatians defeated Montenegro 8-12 in Rio on Thursday. Croatia can now wait for the winner of the second semi-final, between Italy and Serbia, to play for the gold medal on Saturday.
Croatia came out on top in the duel of the powerhouses again. Four years ago the Croatian emerged victorious winning 7-5. That score was already reached at half-time in this one. The same proportions, just a little less defence. Or at least defensive successful. The Ivica Tucak coached squad had the better start and quickly established a 0-3 lead. It became the story for Montenegro who had to fight back from trailing the entire game. But if there’s any team capable of doing so, it’s Montenegro. Thanks to nice hits by Aleksandar Ivovic, Drasko Brguljan (beautiful finish on the counter attack) and Darko Brguljan from distance, the Montenegrins levelled the score at 3-3 before the opening quarter was finished. The first signs of an emerging unlike hero on offence for Croatia came hereafter though, as defender Andro Buslje, finished an extra man to get Croatia in the lead going into the second session: 3-4. Here the game was at its best for the neutral spectator. Goals were exchanged with some fine shots highlighting them. Croatia came in front twice and had money the third time. First Ivovic once more hit from outside for the 4-4 score before Xavi Garcia flicked in a nice shot from the right wing, only to see Darko Brguljan who was on target in a nice offensive match from him, shooting past Garcia for the tied score (5-5). But when Sandro Sukno hit, and Marko Macan made his move on the center position being a defender usually, the Croats headed into the half-time break leading 5-7. Symbolic as this was the final score four years ago in London.
Montenegro’s Aleksandar Ivovic ready to shoot.
It proved decisive. Montenegro goalie Milos Scepanovic could not get himself to perform like he did in the quarterfinals win over Hungary and Luka Loncar got Croatia in the driver’s seat midway through the 3rd scoring from close for the 5-8 lead. Ivovic once more showed his shooting skills to respond for Montenegro but their lack of getting stops on defence held them from a comeback. Andro Buslje, the unlike hero on offence, scored again in the final period for the 6-9 lead and Croatia more and more looked in control. Montenegro tried, did score, but kept suffering from the replies by Croatia. Andelo Setka and Buslje scored two more goals to become top scorers for the reigning champions as they defeated a disappointed Montenegro side who fell to a finals trip again settling for the 8-12 loss and the game for the bronze medal, lost to Serbia in London 2012.
Playing for 5th place in Rio will be Hungary and Greece. Each won the classification semifinals. The Hungarians controlled host nation Brazil 13-4 while Greece overcame a nice battle with Guillermo Molina and Spain 9-7.
Hungary’s Marton Vamos shooting vs. Adria Delgado.
Men Semi-final Round – Thursday, August 18 – day 12
Hungary vs. Brazil 13-4 (4-1, 3-0, 4-3, 2-0) – 5th-8th place classification semi-finals
Hungary scorers: Erdelyi 4, De. Varga 2, Zalanki, Kis, Da. Varga, Szivos, Vamos.
Brazil scorers: Delgado 2, Crivella, Perrone.
Montenegro vs. Croatia 8-12 (3-4, 2-3, 1-1, 2-4) – semi-final 1
Montenegro scorers: Ivovic 3, Da. Brguljan 3, Jokic, Dr. Brguljan.
Croatia scorers: Buslje 4, Setka 3, Loncar 2, Sukno, Garcia, Macan.
Greece vs. Spain 9-7 (1-0, 2-1, 4-3, 2-3) – 5th-8th place classification semi-finals
Greece scorers: Mourikis 2, Afroudakis 2, Myloankis, Fountoulis, Delakas, Vlachopoulos.
Spain scorers: Molina 4, Munarriz 2, Español.
Italy vs. Serbia 8-10 (0-3, 2-3, 0-1, 6-3) – semi-final 2
Italy scorers: Gallo 2, C. Presciutti 2, Velotto 2, Bodegas, Figlioli.
Serbia scorers: Filipovic 2, Prlainovic 2, Nikic 2, D. Pijetlovic, Mandic, S. Mitrovic, Jaksic.
Women Final Round – Friday, August 19 – day 12
10.00: Brazil vs. China – 7th/8th place
11.20: Hungary vs. Russia – 3rd/4th place
14.10: Australia vs. Spain – 5th/6th place
15.30: USA vs. Italy – 1st/2nd place
Time mentioned is local time.
Men Final Round – Saturday, August 20 – day 13
11.40: Brazil vs. Spain – 7th/8th place
13.00: Montenegro vs. Italy – 3rd/4th place
16.30: Hungary vs. Greece – 5th/6th place
17.50: Croatia vs. Serbia – 1st/2nd place
Time mentioned is local time.