He played three Olympics himself but never won it. In his first cycle as a national team coach Dejan Savic and his players became Olympic champions. In a one-sided final the Serbs confirmed their favourite status and put the icing on the cake of what have been international domination since 2014 beating neighbours Croatia 11-7 in the gold medal final. An historic title for a nation that had won bronze the past two Olympics and lost a dramatic final in 2004. Now one of the most successful generations had the best build-up to the Rio Games and everyone agreed that, with the Olympic gold only missing, they would get it this time. A rough start to the tournament resulted in a group stage that probably every team member wants to forget. Thanks to wins over Australia and Japan the Serbs qualified for the quarterfinal where Spain was beaten and the team looked to have broken free. Italy was controlled in the semi-final and Croatia could not stop the Serbs in the final.
A determined team that broke with the recent tradition of great success in between Olympics but missing out on the Olympic gold medal games, let alone winning it. But early on it became clear where this Dejan Savic coached squad was going for. Their defence that had helped them through the semis was again in full force on Saturday. Croatia struggled on man-up where Serbia’s defence caused trouble and goalkeeper Branislav Mitrovic experienced a nice start to the final saving 4 of Croatia’s opening 5 shot attempts. To make matters worse for the Croatians their goalkeeper of the tournament Marko Bijac didn’t had one of his best games and Serbia’s shooting was ‘red hot’. Emerging star of the final was Dusan Mandic. Youngest Olympian in the water polo tournament in London, he decided to step up when it counted the most four years later. Next to Filip Filipovic the younger left-hander scored 4 goals from outside including one furious backhand on a free throw attempt that surprised Josip Pavic who had substituted Bijac late in the third period.
Serbia operated from their defence and made the difference just there. Croatia on the other end looked allright on set play but couldn’t stop Serbia’s extra man nore individual actions, mainly from outside as also Filipovic came through with 2 bombs off free throws. They weren’t to be stopped. When Dusko Pijetlovic on a counter attack scored the 10-5 goal the game looked really over with still 7 minutes on the clock. Croatia seemingly patiently continued playing but didn’t had the full believe anymore. They turned to Sandro Sukno who scored quickly after but in the remainder Croatia could not break the Serbian defence, and Mandic blasted home another one, only to see Xavi Garcia setting the final score at 7-11 with 2 minutes to go. Serbia played out the clock and on defence had not too much to fear of the Croatians. Celebrations started in the final seconds where the players new the gold was theirs. Just the third Olympic gold medal for Serbia as a nation, the first in water polo and icing on the cake for a generation that won everything since and from 2014. They came in as heavy favourites, struggled with the pressure and but broke free and wrote history. Water polo will never be the same.
Montenegro vs. Italy
After claiming silver in London four years ago the Italian men’s team won the bronze medal in Rio proving too strong for Montenegro who for the third straight Olympics miss out on the medals finishing 4th.
One could feel sorry for the quality team missing out again on what would have been an historic water polo Olympic medal but Italy deserved the win on Saturday in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. The Italians were always in the lead and Montenegro’s game was marked by fighting to come back. It was the story in the semi-finals and today once more. Italy got up 0-2 before Mladjan Janovic, who was on target from ‘his’ left wing, got the Montenegrins on the board. The second period though perhaps reflected best what the Montenegrins went through. From the 2-2 starting score until the 4-5 score at the half Italy took the lead only to see the fighting but struggling Montenegrins get back. Struggling because all their offensive efforts were quickly vanished on the other end as it appeared to be that Italy got through the Montenegrins defence smoother than the other way around.
Things didn’t changed in the second half where the same story unfolded further only now with Italy getting up ahead on a two-goal margin for most of the time. Montenegro struggled to get stops, especially on the important moments kept striking, including two straight goals from the left-handers Alessandro Nora and Valentino Gallo from identical spots on extra man. After that it was time for Montenegro head coach Vladimir Gojkovic to substitute goalkeeper Milos Scepanovic who couldn’t live up to the hero status he obtained in the quarterfinals In the final period things looked to get close and exciting in the opening phase where Darko Brguljan, on a nice scoring tear this evening, shot home his 3rd of the game to get his team back to trailing 1: 8-9. But man of the match, especially on offence, Christian Presciutti was right there to answer, first from outside, and then on extra man after great work by Francesco di Fulvio whose shooting threats saw the who defence moving leaving Presciutti open on the left wing. The score at 8-11 with just under 6 minutes to go, the game looked secured by Italy. But Montenegro just didn’t gave up. Aleksandar Ivovic on an action shot, and Aleksandar Radovic on man-up scored consecutive goals and now all of a sudden the outcome could go either way, with just under 2 minutes on the clock. But it wasn’t meant to be for Montenegro. Matteo Aicardi, on a rare long-distance bomb, deliver the knockout with 35 seconds to go getting the ball nicely past Zdravko Radic to seal the deal and deliver the bronze to Italy. After a final attempt by Radovic for Montenegro the Italian joy of returning home with a medal started to overtake the stadium. A special medal to multiple players for different reason. The most beautiful one? Captain Stefano Tempesti, who played a great game, could not hide his emotions after overcoming an eye injury in the build-up to the Olympics, returning from surgery and in this game leading his defence like he has been doing for so many years in what might be his last Olympics.
Spain held off Brazil in a close final period 8-9 to take 7th place in the opening match of the final day of water polo in Rio. Hungary finished 5th holding off Greece in a deserved but hard-fought win over the Greek whose offence was rolling following a tough start but defensively kept having trouble with getting stops. Gabor Kis and youngster Gergö Zalanki combined for 6 goals in the win while Greece, where four players scored two goals, had to settle for 6th place.
The Media All Star Team, as voted by media who have attended the men’s water polo competition at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, was announced as follows:
Marko BIJAC (CRO) – goalkeeper
Filip FILIPOVIC (SRB) – most valuable player
Sandro SUKNO (CRO)
Darko BRGULJAN (MNE)
Guillermo MOLINA RIOS (ESP)
Slobodan NIKIC (SRB)
Christian PRESCIUTTI (ITA)
Men Final Round – Saturday, August 20 – day 13
Brazil vs. Spain 8-9 (1-3, 2-1, 1-2, 4-3) – 7th/8th place
Brazil scorers: Gomes 2, Silva 2, Guimarães 2, Rocha, Delgado.
Spain scorers: Minguell 2, Sziranyi 2, Tahull 2, Español, Molina, Munarriz.
Montenegro vs. Italy 10-12 (1-2, 3-3, 3-4, 3-3) – 3rd/4th place
Montenegro scorers: Janovic 3, Ivovic 2, Da. Brguljan 2, Radovic, Misic, Klikovac.
Italy scorers: C. Presciutti 4, Gallo 3, N. Presciutti 2, Aicardi, Figlioli, Nora.
Hungary vs. Greece 12-10 (2-1, 4-4, 3-3, 3-2) – 5th/6th place
Hungary scorers: Kis 3, Zalaknki3, De. Varga 2, Vamos 2, Hosnyanszky, Harai.
Greece scorers: Mylonakis 2, Afroudakis 2, Vlachopoulos 2, Gounas 2, Mourikis, Fountoulis.
Croatia vs. Serbia 7-11 (2-3, 1-3, 2-3, 2-2) – 1st/2nd place
Croatia scorers: Sukno 3, Garcia 2, Setka, Buric.
Serbia scorers: Mandic 4, D. Pijetlovic 2, Filipovic, Gocic, S. Mitrovic, Nikic.