The Netherlands and Spain clinched the top spot in the respective groups and with an easy quarter-final match in sight both can be ready to the semis. The Dutch prevailed in a highly tactical game against Greece while the hosts won a sparkling 23-goal encounter over Russia.
The clash for the top spot in Group A was more like a chess game, the gap between the Greeks and the Dutch never exceed one goal. Scoring itself was a challenge as the defensive tactics worked really well, at half-time it stood 2-2, then Greece got a bit closer with a penalty 0.9sec from the time before the last period (5-4).
Though the first three periods saw great action goals, the decision – as usual – came down to the 6 on 5s in the fourth period. And the Dutch did an amazing job since they could put away 4 in a row. Ilse Koolhaas was outstanding, she netted a hat-trick in 1:26 minutes, while the Greeks missed their man-up at 6-7 and that proved to be crucial. Later a nice center-goal from Alexandra Asimaki brought back some hope with 84 seconds to go (7-8) but the Greeks could hit only the bar from their last possession.
Thus they slipped back to the 2nd place and had to wait for a tough rival (turned out to be Russia) while the Dutch virtually made the semis already as their quarter-final against the Germans is to be an easy ride.
The same was at stake in the prelims’ closing match between Spain and Russia: the top spot and a nice cruising against France in the quarters or a game against Greece or Italy. Russia had a mount to climb though, as they would have needed a three-goal win to finish atop. Though the hosts led for most of the time in the first half, Russia managed to stay close with a couple of spectacular shots in the mix.
In the third, they caught a better spell and at 7-8 they had a 6 on 5 to earn a two-goal lead but a blocking hand saved Spain and soon Beatriz Ortiz put the sides back to 8-8 before the last break.
In the fourth the ladies got tougher, a flood of 6 on 5s had to be called, credit to the attacking units that they put away the first three apiece – Maica Garcia netted a hat-trick in the rush –, but the Russians missed their last one and that gave the win the hosts. The Spaniard finished the prelims as the only team in the women’s tournament with 5 out of 5 wins, just as the men, they also came first and can also set their eyes on the semi-finals.
In the earlier matches, Italy found it hard to improve its goal-difference significantly against France, stayed 9 goals behind the Netherlands, thus had to settle for the third place before the Greek v Dutch game began (though it didn’t count, as it turned out). Hungary warmed up for the quarters by thrashing the Germans.
In the two matches featuring the pointless teams, the Serbs beat Turkey with ease so they can play for the 9th place. In the other duel, Israel managed to earn its historical first point at the Europeans. The first half saw one goal apiece, the last one four at both ends but nothing separated the sides, it ended 7-7. This favored Israel as they had a better goal-difference so they avoided playing for the last two places, a fine feat from the newcomer.
Dejan Jovovic, head coach, Serbia:
“It was a game we expected to win. The match played out just as I planned. We did everything we agreed we should and played well in defense. We did concede some ‘unfortunate’ goals on the other hand. Now we’ll see who are we playing against for the 9th place, Croatia or Italy.”
Hakan Sahbaz, head coach, Turkey:
“They quickly made quite a wide goal difference and we had lapses in our game that continued throughout the match. We tried our best. I’m proud of my team. Serbia took positions well in critical moments and scored while we didn’t. Congratulations to the Serbian team.”
Attila Biro, head coach, Hungary:
“Here everyone is eagerly waiting for Monday when the real part of the championships begin. Our job is to maintain the inner fire of the players and in order to peak at the most important matches. This game was just another step, we tried to focus on our defense first of all, which we managed to do well. We had a bad phase in the last third of our opening game against Spain, ever since we are improving so I really hope that we will be ready for the big match. There is no wish list, we can beat anyone from the other group but it’s true in the other way round.”
Anja Skibba, head coach, Germany:
“It was a very good match for Hungary. They needed goals and pushed for scoring more. They play really brilliant water polo. Each game against a team of that level is an experience for us. I am happy each time a problem arises and we manage to solve this and react well. Not all at once but maybe 2 to 3 things at a time. We tried to defend ourselves as much as we can but they still managed to score many goals, maybe too many. They play a very powerful water polo.”
Dimitrios Mavrotas, head coach, Israel:
“For us, it was important that not to lose this game. When it counted we managed to come back and controlled the match. We showed a lot of energy, played good defense but missed some easy shots in man-ups and counter-attacks. Next is Serbia. It’s going to be a tough game. For us, it was important not to finish last in our group.”
Dragan Matutinovic, head coach, Croatia:
“The outcome is realistic. We played well, hard, our goalkeeper was excellent. I think she had 12 saves. She was the one keeping us in the game the whole time. All in all, I’m satisfied. Next match against Turkey? We must win and we will. This level of water polo is our reality. They are in a better shape than us physically.”
Fabio Conti, head coach, Italy:
“It was just another one of those games we use to practice certain things and as a preparation for the most important match so far which is the quarter-finals on Monday. The intensity of the game was good. We have managed to reach our first objective. We rejuvenated the team for the new Olympic cycle and are now into the second year of the 4-year plan. For us, the objective is always to reach the quarter-finals, the Europeans included. We have to keep working. We are still here regardless of the changes we made. No matter who our opponent will be we have to continue to grow.”
Florian Bruzzo, head coach, France:
“This one was a difficult game against Italy, they played better than us but we are still learning. The next game we’ll probably play against Spain and we’ll do our best.”
Georgios Morfesis, head coach, Greece:
“It was a tough game, nervous and very close. I think my team played the man-downs badly in the 4th quarter which cost us dearly as our rivals could score easy goals. This means that now we have a more difficult path to the semi-finals. We have to wait and see who our opponent in the quarter-finals will be. We also have sit back and reset ourselves mentally.”
Arno Havenga, head coach, Netherlands:
“It was an intense game. We played with discipline, made few mistakes and used opportunities to score successfully. We have to stay concentrated, focused as we go forward. Germany is next in line.”
Miguel Oca, head coach, Spain:
“I’m very satisfied. We played against a very strong team, we won and are the first in our group. We are now turning our attention to the quarter-finals and the match against France.”
Andrei Belofastov, assistant coach, Russia:
“It was a very good game, we were very close. Some mistakes in the defense prevented us from winning the match. It’s OK. We knew we would be playing against Greece in the quarter-finals. We have to improve the level of our man-ups and man-downs. Apart from that, we covered everything else well today.”
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