Montenegro won the 2018 edition of the World League Super Final after a thrilling final in the packed Duna Arena where 4,000 fans backed the Hungarians who led for most of the game but couldn’t hold on till the end, and the Montenegrins captured the title in a penalty shootout.
They clinched the title for the second time after 2009 and maintained the Southers Slavonian nations’ (SRB, MNE, CRO) stranglehold on the trophy – the last team having won the title outside of the former Yugoslavia was Hungary in 2004. The bronze medal went to Spain which had more reserves and beat the tournament’s surprise team Japan, scoring the last five goals of the match after 7-7.
Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE), Mladen Janovic (MNE), Inada Yosuke (JPN) with 14-14 goals
Marton Vamos (HUN)
Viktor Nagy (HUN)
Inada Yosuke (JPN)
Montenegro took a flying start with a great double from Aleksandar Ivovic in 42 seconds, one from a man-up, one from the back – but after Viktor Nagy made a crucial catch in a Montenegrin 6 on 4, the home side began to rise. Bence Batori also netted two, one from a 5m free throw, another came at the end of a dying man-up (Lazovic made a save on the first attempt), while the Montenegrins missed one on a 2m violation – so the first period ended in a 2-2 tie.
The Magyars started rolled in the second, Gergo Kovacs netted a man-up from the middle, followed by another one from Krisztian Manhercz, the two arrived in 52 seconds, generating enormous noise in the Duna Arena where more than 4,000 people came together for the gold medal game. And the atmosphere just heated further up as Viktor Nagy showed two outstanding catches in back-to-back man-downs though the balls were shot from 2m. Montenegro’s problems were deepening when Krisztian Manhercz sent a free-throw in from some 7m when 0:02 was on the shot clock.
Hungary was on a 5-0 run and only a save from Lazovic in a counter slowed them down. It was a crucial moment, after another missed man-up, as soon the Montenegrins managed to halt their bad series when Sasa Misic netted a fine goal from the center (this was their first in 11:50 minutes).
The view of red – Drasko Brguljan had to sit out with a bleeding nose though replay showed it was an unfortunate accident – fired up the Montenegrins, Lazovic came up with a fine save then Mladan Janovic netted a great action goal from the wing for 5-4. Balazs Erdelyi’s brilliant bouncer heated up the stands after some frozen moments, but the gap didn’t grow further as Lazovic had an easy stop next when the Montenegrin defense put in some great work in the next-man-up of the hosts, so it stood 6-4 at halftime.
The third began with some tense moments for the hosts, they wasted a man-up as a direct shot from the center annulled it, then Montenegro got a penalty after an exclusion, Ivovic netted it, then Zalanki hit the bar from another man-up. Hungarian defence worked in the next man-down, then David Jansik got a chance to score from the centre, the first was saved, the rebound was shot wide, while at the other end Dragan Draskovic used the opportunity that his guard, centre-forward Daniel Mezei couldn’t ‘punish’ him with two major fouls and equalised for 6-6.
The tie didn’t last long as Marton Vamos immediately responded with a blast from 5m, then Viktor Nagy pushed Brguljan’s shot to the bar, followed by an untimed shot from Balazs Erdelyi in a 6 on 5, 54 seconds from time in the penultimate period. Misic halved the difference from a dying man-up (8-7), so a nerve-wracking finish was in sight for the final period.
Janovic hit the post from the first man-up in the fourth, then Lazovic had two easy saves, soon, as a kind of calmer, a double red card was shown to Janovic and Angyal, so the next Montenegrin man-up came 5 on 4 but Brguljan’s shot flew out from the cross-bar. The battle got heavier as both teams tried to give it all but it was their 6th game in as many days which visibly took its toll on each player. Vladimir Gojkovic called for a time-out and that refreshment brought the equaliser as Misic netted his third from the centre, the ball slowly sneaked in from Nagy’s hand, 3:36 from time (Misic scored three of his teams’ last four goals, was named the game’s MVP – otherwise he plays for Miskolc in Hungary).
Hungarian smartness ended in a goal, the host players recognized the chance and Tamas Mezei sent a back-handed shot to the net from a neat assist for 9-8. However, another action goal put Montenegro on even, Marko Petkovic’s great 6m one-timer hit the top right corner 68 seconds before the end for 9-9. Manhercz’s shot was blocked, then Jansik showed a brilliant steal in the center which gave 17 seconds for the hosts to score the winner after a time-out but they couldn’t capitalize on it so the penalties decided the outcome.
Hungary won one here in the quarters against Croatia, but they had some bad memories as well since in Rio 2016 the Montenegrins ousted them after a shootout in the Olympic quarterfinal. As for bad memories, some of the older Montenegrins could also recall their last World League Final in 2010 which they lost with penalties against host Serbia in Nis – now they were up against the home side again.
Hungary’s two best scorers, the great lefties, Marton Vamos and Gergo Zalanki both hit the post from the first two shots and this determined the outcome as the Montenegrins scored through Ivovic and Durdic. Batori netted the first goal for Hungary then Draskovic did the same, Manhercz kept the Hungarians alive but Drasko Brguljan’s shot ended the contest and secured a second gold for Montenegro after 2009.
Miguel del Toro’s quick double from an action in a span of 49sec seemed to have prevented the Japanese from doing something similar they did in the previous two days against the US and Hungary as the Spaniards could play on with confidence. Soon they were 4-1 up and all looked bright but Yoshida Takuma’s fine bouncing shot 39 seconds before the break and Arai Atsushi’s action goal 38 seconds after the restart set the field for another fierce battle.
Soon they went even, after missed man-ups at both ends a deflected shot fell in front of Adachi Seya who tipped it in from centimeters for 4-4. The Spaniards woke up in time and Alberto Munarriz’s surprised the goalie with a fine lob, then Lopez stopped Shiga Mitsuaki’s ball in a counter. For the next attempt from Shiga he couldn’t react that well, it came from a better angle and higher speed and leveled the score at 5-5. Japan had a possession to take the lead but Lopez saved the outside shot with ease and Spain went ahead again with a penalty goal from Felipe Perrone, 44 seconds later Blai Mallarach’s left-handed shot from a 6 on 5 for 7-5 and Lopez’s fine save in a man-down kept the two-goal gap for halftime.
The players entangled in a huge body-fight in the third, minutes passed without any bigger opportunity, though Tanamura needed to come up with a couple of saves – the Japanese burnt much of their reserves to tackle the Spanish attackers, in front they were less aggressive without the necessary high energy. Their first real chance came with 2:33 to go in the third but the 6 on 5 was poorly played after a time-out – still, the next counter worked, Adachi Seya had enough space to sent the ball home.
And soon they equalized: two shots weren’t enough for Spain in their man-up while Inaba Yusuke found the back of the net this time in extra (that was his 14th goal in the tournament – at that stage topped the scorers’ ranks before the final). Still, the last 30 seconds brought a Spanish 6 on 5 and a great blast from Munarriz with 0:02 on the clock for a 7-8 lead before the final period.
Alvaro Granados netted another one with 41 seconds into the fourth, it was a calming goal, but in the next possession he elbowed the goalie for a red card but the Japanese couldn’t score from the man-up. That cost them a lot as Felipe Perrone soon swam to the goal one-on-one with the goalie and even though Tanamura decided to attack him, he pulled himself through and pushed the ball to the empty net for a 7-10 lead with 4:56 to go.
The Japanese start risking at both ends, but turnover fouls and defensive mistakes didn’t earn them much, one left Albert Espanol clear in front of the goal and he made it 7-11, 3:10 minutes from the end. The remaining time didn’t offer too much as both teams lacked the reserves – one more fine goal from Espanol expanded the gap to five, perhaps not necessarily mirroring the actual happening of the match but the experience definitely helped the Spaniards to clinch the bronze medal with a 0-4 rush in the last period. Japan, though won only one game in 6 played here, showed some character and earned its best-ever placement in major FINA Events.
Results set up a father vs son contest for the fifth place: Elvis Fatovic’s Australia took on Croatia with his son Loren in his home country’s line-up – and it was the kid who levelled the score with a great shot (his father did loads of damage with this kind of bouncers from the wing while he played for the Croats).
The world champions took the lead but the Aussies scored two brilliant action goals in 49 seconds deep into the opening period, especially Aaron Younger’s chess-mate like a goal from Edwards Blake’s assist was a beauty. But the young Fatovic’s rocket also belonged to the quality shots and the Croats made their first man-up when Ivan Krapic pushed the ball in from close range with 52 seconds before the first break.
They sold exactly the same play once later in the second to go 4-2 up – the Aussies were less effective in 6 on 5, missed one in the first and another one earlier in the second which could have brought them on equal terms. After a time-out they made the third, though, Joseph Kayes was on target with a close-range one-timer.
Next came a Croatian miss, then a rare mistake from Mirko Bijac when Richard Campbell’s sharp-angled shot bounced in from his arms but Ante Vukicevic sent the ball home easily from the next extra so the world champs kept the lead for halftime (5-4).
After missed man-ups at both ends, Lovre Milos netted a fine action shot from 6m, Aaron Younger scored from an extra but Andrija Basic just beat the shot-clock-buzzer for 7-5. The Croats missed another 6 on 5, still, they were three goals up soon after Loren Fatovic finished a fine counter. Just like the Croats, an action goal after a missed man-up brought the Aussies closer: Blake Edwards netted a fine one from the centre and soon they were back to minus one as Lachlan Hollis scored from a counter-man-up combo with 0:08 on the clock – still, the Europeans could start the last period with a two-goal lead.
The remaining seconds were enough for Hrvoje Benic to score from the distance after a time-out as the defenders failed to mark him properly. The mistake cost them much as Benic began the fourth with another one, this time from a 6 on 5 so the Croats reset the three-goal gap in no time. The Aussies needed three more minutes to pull one back from a fine counter, by Aidan Roach – but no more followed despite two man-ups in the remaining four minutes. Not even a shot they could take due to passing mistakes, so the Croats won convincingly – and earned 5,000 dollars more by claiming the 5th place (30,000 – 25,000 went to the Aussies).
On Day 2 the US team beat the Kazakhs 11-4 and this game didn’t take a different direction. Alexander Bowen a bit postponed scoring the first: his penalty was stopped but his distant shot made its way to the net from the next possession. Late in the first three more US goals followed, in a span of 1:52 minutes and that put the game on the same track as four days earlier – then the US led by three after eight minutes and were 6-2 at halftime.
This time a moderate second period came with a lovely goal from the Kazakhs while the Americans were a bit off the pace but geared up for the third somewhat. Daube Hannes netted the 5th for the Americans, ending a drought of 12:29 minutes. Again, the last minutes of this period brought some more US ‘activities’, another big goal from Bowen and Benjamin Hallock’s penalty while the Kazakhs fell back to their earlier scoring form.
Unlike on the previous day when they could net 11 against the Aussies, they wasted almost all opportunities, seemed to run out of power for the last day and had to settle for three goals altogether (they took only 16 shots and 9 were on target). The Americans weren’t on fire either but at least finished the tourney with a win but the best player of the game, Alex Bowen couldn’t hide his disappointment while giving a pool-deck interview to the onsite reporter.