Tonight, the curtain falls on the 33rd LEN European Water Polo Championships. In the grand final match, we will watch titleholder Serbia play against host Spain.
Both finalists are the only two undefeated teams – Serbia won all five matches, while Spain achieved four wins and a draw. The draw occurred against Montenegro and was enough to finish 1st in their group after easy wins against Malta and France. Spain didn’t impress too much during the group stage, or maybe it is better to say that we expected more. But in the quarterfinal against Greece, they played their best match of the tournament, which gave them a lot of confidence. That confidence was crucial in the semis against Italy, especially when they were trailing 5-7 early in the last quarter, and bounced back with a late counter-attack goal to snatch the victory against a tough rival who was definitely the favorite before the match.
As we have 9 players from Barceloneta in thhe Spanish squad it is fair to say that they can play together with their eyes shut. Perrone and Munarriz are Spain’s main driving forces, that is where most of the danger lies. The water polo they play is their by now familiar style: a lot of swimming, movement, quick and simple counter-attack goals etc. However, this squad is a mixture of experience (Pinedo, Minguell, Perrone, Mallarach, Fernandez) with some young guns who already have enough big matches behind under their belt (Tahull, Granados, Bustos, etc.). Perrone’s return is the most important factor for this team, as he is a true playmaker who can cover all positions in the pool, while bringing the transitional game to a whole new level. Not to mention that he lifts up the performance of all his teammates with his positioning and passing. Youngster Munarriz has already become one of the best players in Europe, being a constant threat, either with his outside shoot or by making a fuss as the 2nd center forward. Dani Lopez Pinedo as a goalkeeper is now much better than he was in his younger days, and if they want to take the trophy tonight, he will need to be on the same level as he was during the semifinal.
Serbia had an easy group (Romania, Slovakia, Russia) where they didn’t show too much and won 1st place easily. They then met Hungary, and won again without any problems, as the current Hungarian team is not a powerhouse anymore. Their first tough match was a replay of last years world championship semis, against Croatia, this time without Sandro Sukno. The match was marked by some really strange refereeing which killed the game. Serbia played really good, especially in defense, while their attack had Cuk and Mandic, each scoring 3 goals. Upon taking a look at Serbia’s current squad, it’s easy to see how strong they are. Some things have changed after Rio, but having Filipovic, Mandic, Prlainovic, Mitrovic, Pijetlovic, etc., is just simply luxury for any team.
Prlainovic is for Serbia as importan as Perrone is for Spain. Every team he has played with was at least 30-40% better with him in the pool. He creates a lot of space for lefties Filipovic and Mandic, who can both score from the locker room if needed. Mandic can act as a 2nd center, as he is probably better than Vico, who is a cover for Pijetlovic on a center position. Aleksic, Jaksic and Randjelovic do a massive job on the defense, covering oppositions centers, and only Croatia could compare to Serbia in this part. Serbia may have a little less quality between the goal posts, but they play such a good defense, that often Mitrovic (or Pijetlovic as a sub) look like the world’s best GK.
Both teams have shown great defense so far, especially in important matches, so this is something we can expect today as well. As it is the final match, it is hard to envision one team winning easily. Still, Serbia is the absolute favorite, at least because of their winning mentality and greater individual quality. Spain will need a perfect Dani Lopez Pinedo on goal, as well as more contribution from Munarriz who has been a bit quite after winning vs France by himself. Perrone is constantly on a great level, not just with scoring, but assisting a lot, while Mallarach, Granados and Fernandez score even with no space available. Serbia has a versatile squad, and if something is not heading their way they can always score from 5m with individual quality as Prlainovic, Mandic and Filipovic are real masters when it comes to long distance shots. They will need to keep up with the Spanish counter attacks, not allowing easy goals. On the other hand, they will have to use their strength to drag Fernandez, Granados, and Mallarach into to the center guard position (Prlainovic, Mitrovic, Jaksic and Mandic especially). Savic as a coach is definitely a big advantage, but so is the home soil for Spain. It’s a final match, so one goal can be a decisive one, but we give Serbia 60% to win this one.
Spain - 40%
Serbia - 60%