The Netherlands will play in the women’s final for the third time in a row, winning a nailbiter against title-holder Hungary in the semi-finals at the European Water Polo Championships in Barcelona. After two lost golden battles in 2014 and 2016, they face Greece, which managed to beat host Spain with some sparkling shotmaking. The Dutch would go for a record-tying 5th title but they’re first since 1993 while the Greeks are looking for their first ever gold at the Europeans.
The Netherlands made it again, for the third time in a row they reached the final and this time they didn’t even need penalties like in 2014 (against Italy) and in 2016 (against Spain). In the rematch of the Belgrade final, the Dutch kept the game under control, Hungary never led in the match, still, they had chances to force at least a shootout in the first semi-final. The Magyars came back once from 4-2 to 4-4 but the remaining 28 seconds in the second period was enough for the Dutch to retake the lead (5-4).
The Hungarians struggled to put away their 6 on 5s, they were 0 for 6 while the Dutch conversion worked, they netted 5 (three in the 22-24th second of the possession), and with a double, in 30 seconds they went 7-4 up deep into the third. Hungary finally made an extra 15 seconds from time for 7-5, halting their scoring drought of 8:14 minutes.
And early in the fourth they trailed by one and had another 6 on 5 to go even but Laura Aarts came up with another save and Maud Megens’ blast found the back of the net from an extra for 8-6, with 5:11 to go. The Dutch didn’t score more but the Hungarians pulled back only one and couldn’t add any more in the remaining 3:41 minutes.
The second semi featuring Greece and Spain began in a stunning mood: the hosts – who had some minor struggles against France in the quarters – didn’t find the rhythm, the
Greeks defended brilliantly around Spain’s most dangerous woman, the center-forward Maica Garcia, and they also withstood the pressure in man-downs. At the other end, even if the home defenders tried to take the ‘same care’ of the Greeks’ ‘lethal weapon’, Alexandra Asimaki, she netted a nice goal and the shots from outside did the damage: late into second Greece was 1-5 up. At this stage the difference between the goalies was significant: Chrysoula Diamantopoulou had 4 saves on 5 shots, while Laura Ester was 0/5.
And even though Spain began with an action goal in the third, two Greek hits arrived as the response in 41 seconds to make it 3-7. And the Greeks could hold on for quite a while as the first save arrived late in the third, by Maria Sanchez since Ester had to be substituted (she left the pool with 0/9).
It was too late and too few: even if the hosts got a bit closer as Beatriz Ortiz netted a man-up but the Greeks had the answers to keep the margin at three before the last three minutes commenced. Soon Ortiz netted a 6 on 4 (her 5th ) for 11-9, then Greece gave away the ball in man-up and Spain had 97 seconds to do a miracle. They couldn’t, the Greek defense denied Garcia, then Diamantopoulou finished the match with two saves, she had 9, the Spaniards had 1 – that told the story.
Arno Havenga, head coach, Netherlands:
“It was an exciting match, a real final. We have been playing every game at this tournament as if was a final. In the end, I think we deserved to win. We played well, concentrated, disciplined in defense. We could have scored more goals, played better in the attack, especially in extra man, though I’m not sure about the stats. In the end, maybe we even had luck on our side today. I can say I’m looking forward to the gold medal match.”
Laszlo Toth, assistant coach (replacing suspended head coach), Hungary:
“I think we committed enough mistakes at the beginning and in the third period which put us in a position where we had to burn way too much energy to catch up with the Netherlands. These reserves were missing when we had the chance to go even or perhaps think of taking over the lead. These mistakes are part of the game so we cannot blame any of the players, they were really committed and gave all they had. We lost by a single goal to a very strong Dutch team, but this is something we have to accept since among the top six teams one goal goes this way on a given day and to the other on the next day.”
Georgios Morfesis, head coach, Greece:
“It was a tough game against the strongest team in the world. They are complete in every single position. We played with heart, were smart in the way we played. Still, we can’t be so happy because of the tragic events in Greece. We wanted to do something good for them.”
Miguel Oca, head coach, Spain:
“They played very well today. We couldn’t score our extra man. We wanted to come back into the game, we tried but were constantly behind and once they were at +4 it was difficult. We will do our best to win a medal on Friday.”
Anja Skibbe, head coach, Germany:
“I know this was not a game that Italy wanted or expected to play. They changed a lot of players. I told the girls that this maybe the first time not to concede so many goals. Again, we use this to exercise to make our attack stronger, to play a different defense. This is OK for the moment. The girls are tired, we are approaching the end of the championships and most of them have aches and pains of some kind.
We have to look and see what happens in the future. We now have a chance to play against France probably and we would like to finish the Championships in a good way. We have to understand what we want to do. I think we are on the right track, we just need time. Nothing changes overnight.”
Fabio Conti, head coach, Italy:
“Everything is OK. We are waiting for the last match against Russia in order to finish these championships in a good way. For us, it will be like we are playing the real finals.”
Andrei Belofastov, assistant coach, Russia:
“We knew we were the favorites and it’s always like this especially in a game you weren’t expecting to play. We are out of the medal round and it’s not easy when we have been playing in the top matches at major events in the last 3-4 years. We didn’t change that many players, it is just sports. They are young, good. There are six equal teams that can beat anyone.”
Florian Bruzzo, head coach, Russia:
“We started off well today. This happens in the second match in a row and that makes me content. It’s good that my players are starting to realize that they simply have to be more aggressive, even if they do concede a goal or two, stay strong and concentrated and continue to do that. It’s difficult to play against top six teams.”
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