Many believed that the final of the 20th World Men’s Championships in Fukuoka would be a replay of the gold-medal match in Budapest 2022, between Spain and Italy, which were considered the heaviest favorites. However, it won’t happen.
Reigning champion Spain arrived in the semifinal after a hard-fought 7:6 victory over France in today’s quarterfinals. Spain trailed for most of the match. A minute and four seconds before the end took the lead for the first time and maintained it until the final buzzer.
But Italy was stopped in the quarterfinals by Serbia. A thrilling encounter between the Italians and the Serbs ended in a penalty shootout. After a balanced battle, the score was 11:11 after 32 minutes. Serbia was more successful in the shootout and recorded a 15:14 victory. For the second time in Fukuoka, the Serbs emerged victorious after a penalty thriller. They beat Montenegro in a shootout in the group stage.
Besides Spain and Serbia, Greece and Hungary will play in the semifinals.
The other two semifinals were very exciting, as well as the two in which Serbia and Spain won. Only one goal separated the rivals at the end of each quarterfinal game.
Greece, the bronze medalist from Budapest, beat Montenegro 10:9, and Hungary defeated Team USA 13:12.
The pairs of the semifinals: Greece – Serbia, Spain – Hungary. In the 5th-8th place semifinals, Montenegro will play against Italy, and France against the USA.
I By advancing to the semifinals, Greece, Serbia and Hungary qualified for the 2024 World Championships in Doha. Four teams will earn their ticket for the next Championships. Spain and Italy qualified earlier, so the fourth berth will go to the 5th-placed team (or to the 6th-placed if Italy finishes 5th)
Results of other today’s games – 9th – 12th place semifinals: Croatia – Canada 13:5, Australia – Japan 16:15. For 13th place: Argentina – Kazakhstan 11:7, For 15th place: China – South Africa 16:8
20th World Water Polo Championship (Fukuoka, July 17 – 29), Men, Day 5
Greece – Montenegro 10:9 (2:1, 4:3, 1:3, 3:2)
Montenegro, the only team that reached the quarterfinals from 3rd place in the group, was very close to going a step further, but Greece’s experience at the finish of the game was decisive.
Konstantinos Genidounias gave Greece a 2:0 lead midway through the first quarter (the first goal was from a penalty, the second one from a counterattack). At the finish of the first quarter, leftie Ukropina opened the scoring for Montenegro – 1:2.
Late into the second quarter, Greece stretched the margin to three. Genidounias scored from a 6 on 5 and made it 6:3. It was his fourth goal in the game. Still, the Greeks only maintained a 3-goal difference for a short time. Djuro Radovic replied in the next possession, also with a man-up – 4:6.
Montenegro was coming closer and closer, and it finally equalized in the 23rd minute. Aleksa Ukropina fired the ball from six meters and the sides entered the final period tied at 7:7.
There was an exclusion in almost every attack in the fourth quarter. In the first three minutes the teams converted most of the shots after ejections into the goals. Argyropoulos made it 8:7 from a penalty Ukropina replied from a 6 on 5. In the next possession, Argyropoulos gave Greece a new lead with an extra player. Immediately after, Vladan Spaic leveled at 9:9 with a nice backhander. It was only the second action goal in the second half (after Popadic made it 5:6 in the 17th minute).
Then, both teams started missing their man-ups – until the last minute. The Greeks earned a six on 5 with 76 seconds left on the clock. Head coach Vlachos called a time-out, which paid off. At 00:56 seconds before the end, Dimitrios Skoumpakis hit the back of the net from a difficult position – from a dead angle in the left – 10:9. It was his only second goal in the tournament, but the goal that led Greece to the semifinals.
Montenegro had a man-up in its last possession. Perkovic hit the crossbar with 16 seconds remaining on the clock. The Greeks took the ball after the miss and kept it until the final buzzer.
Greece won even though it missed a lot of man-up chances (4/12). Montenegro scored seven from 15 shots. But, Greece had three penalty shots and scored from each of them. Montenegro didn’t have a chance from the 5m line. Konstantinos Genidounias was Greece’s power engine with five goals. Montenegro’s top scorer was Aleksa Ukropina, who found the net three times.
Italy – Serbia 14:15 (3:3, 2:2, 4:4, 2:2, PSO 3:4)
Considering that teams were in a neck-and-neck race throughout the game, a penalty shootout was the fairest way to determine a winner.
Serbia started without fear and scored the first two goals in the game, and that was the only time that one team had a 2-goal lead. Italy leveled at 2:2 with two goals within 46 seconds. Serbia made a huge mistake and lost the ball at the beginning of its following attack and paid for it. Canella finished the Italians’ attack with a goal from a 6m shot – 3:2. The Serbs leveled from a penalty with 35 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The following three periods saw a big and balanced battle. Italy was more often in front (Serbia took the lead just once – 5:4), but Serbia kept with them. The score was tied at every number from 2 to 11.
Edoardo Di Somma was the first to find the net in the second quarter, converting a man-up for 4:3 in the 13th minute. Serbia then answered with two. Strahinja Rasovic netted twice from 6 on 5s within 58 seconds, from almost the same place and put the Serbs in front – 5:4 a minute before the middle break. But, Italy leveled immediately. Di Somma made it 5:5 from a penalty at 00:43. Until the end of the quarter, Rasovic had a chance to give Serbia a new advantage. However, Del Lungo saved his shot from the 5m line.
There were four goals at each end of the pool and many exclusions in the third period. Italy’s conversion was 4/5 and Serbia’s 3/3 in this period. The only action goal was Vasilije Martinovic’s for 7:7. Italy took the lead four times, but it couldn’t keep it for long. Ten seconds before the last break, Djordje Vucinic leveled at 9:9.
The game followed the same pattern in the fourth quarter, with fewer exclusions and goals than in the third period. Italy went ahead twice (10:9 and 11:10) and the Serbs replied on both occasions. Nemanja Ubovic leveled after a nice assist from Marko Radulovic with 48 seconds to go. It was the second action goal in the second half after Martinovic’s for 7:7. Both teams had one attack apiece before the final buzzer. Italy lost the ball in its possession. Serbia’s Radulovic hit the post at 0:01.
Three players failed to score in the shootout. Branislav Mitrovic saved a shot from Edoardo Di Somma in the second round, but Marco Del Lungo blocked a shot from Marko Radulovic after that. In the following two rounds, all players found the net, but Luca Damonte couldn’t score in the 5th – Mitrovic posted another save. Strahinja Rasovic, who missed one penalty in the 2nd quarter, made no mistake this time and Serbia started celebrating the win.
There was a big difference in the number of shots. The statistics say that Serbia was more aggressive in the attack. It scored 15 goals from 40 attempts, Italy 14 from 29.
I Serbia returned to the semifinals of the World Championships after six years and 3rd place in Budapest in 2017. Besides, Serbia is in the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time after the Tokyo Olympics when it won gold.
Strahinja Rasovic was the best scorer, with four goals in regular time and one in the shootout. Francesco Di Fulvio netted four (3+1). Italy’s goalkeeper Marco Del Lungo had 14 saves, Branislav Mitrovic only six, but two were crucial in the shootout. The “Settebello” scored seven, and Serbia had six powerplay goals.
Hungary – USA 13:12 (4:4, 3:1, 3:2, 3:5)
Hungary had a 3-goal lead in the second quarter and was at +4 in the fourth. Still, Team USA, which played without its leader Ben Hallock for over half of the match, cut the deficit and had a chance to equalize, but Hungary saved the win and the ticket to the semifinals.
Hungary opened the scoring (1:0, 2:1), but Team USA had a 3:2 and 4:3 lead in the first quarter. Still, nobody had an advantage at the first break (4:4)
The second quarter didn’t produce many goals, the result was unchanged for almost five minutes. Then, one of the turning points happened. Ben Hallock was excluded from the match. Marton Vamos committed a personal foul on Hallock. But, the American punched Vamos on that occasion (while he was under the water). After a VAR review, the referees decided that Hallock had made a brutality foul.
The game was over for Hallock; a penalty shot was awarded to Hungary and Team USA played with a man fewer in the next four minutes. Zalanki scored from the 5m line. Manhercz added two goals. Hungary went to 7:4. Ryder Dodd gave hope to the USA with a goal for 5:7, scored 16 seconds before the end of the quarter. It was a 5 on 4 situation. Two Hungarian players were excluded, one of them was goalkeeper Vogel.
The USA cut the deficit to one while still having a man fewer in the water – 6:7. Immediately after the 4-minute exclusion expired, the Americans leveled – 7:7. However, they didn’t keep momentum. Gergo Zalanki scored three goals by the end of the third quarter, and Hungary rebuilt a 3-goal lead (10:7). Soma Vogel was, also instrumental in that 3:0 series because he saved two penalty shots in the middle of the quarter (from Irving and Daube).
The fourth quarter began with a new missed penalty for Team USA. Daube hit the crossbar. In the next possession, Adam Nagy gave Hungary a 11:7 lead. The Europeans had a 12:8 and 13:10 advantage, but Team USA came back into the game. Johnny Hooper made it 12:13 from a 6 on 4 a minute and a half before the end. In the next attack, Hungary lost the ball. Shortly after, the Americans had a chance to equalize with a man-up, but Alex Bowen’s shot went too high with 37 seconds remaining. After the miss, he committed a personal foul, and Hungary had a chance to seal the win in a power-play possession. However, Zalanki missed at 00:12. But Team USA couldn’t organize a good attack and shoot after that.
Gergo Zalanki led Hungary’s attack with six goals.Krisztian Manhercz added three. As for Team USA, Alex Bowen found the net four times, and Johnny Hooper netted three goals. The teams had a similar percentage of extra player shots (Hungary 4/9, USA 5/8). Hungary scored from its only penalty shot, while USA missed three of four.
Spain – France 7:6 (1:2, 1:2, 2:1, 3:1)
An action-packed quarterfinal day ended with a match in which France was one step away from making history and its first-ever semifinal at the World Championships. Still, Spain avoided a surprise and continued its road to the medal with a 3:0 series in the last three and a half minutes.
France dictated the pace from the beginning. The French imposed the rhythm that suited them. They “killed” one of Spain’s primary weapons – counterattacks.
France scored the first goal in the match. Spain leveled at 1:1 in the next possession. However, after that, France’s excellent defense, commanded by goalkeeper Hugo Fontani, kept the world champions goalless for 10 minutes. The French scored three goals in these 10 minutes and jumped to 4:1 and proved they didn’t arrive in the quarterfinals by chance.
Vanpeperstraete made it 4:1 from the deep right, but immediately after that goal, Alberto Munarriz ended Spain’s silence with a powerplay goal (2:4). Spain scored only two goals in 16 minutes, which didn’t happen for long.
Still, the second half belonged to the Spaniards. Tahull opened the third quarter with an action goal for 3:4, but Bouet doubled France’s advantage with a man-up. In the 20th minute, Spain earned a penalty. Felipe Perrone, the most experienced in the pool, took responsibility and sent the ball into the net for 4:5. It was the last goal in the third quarter.
In the 25th minute, the French re-earned a 2-goal lead after Crousillat scored from a 6 on 5 for 6:4. Still, France didn’t score in the remaining seven and a half minutes. Spain’s defense was better and better. Unai Aguirre delivered one save after another. But, the world champions’ attack didn’t work well. France still had much energy to play well in defense and stop Spain’s great goal-getters.
In the last three and a half minutes, Spain produced a comeback and qualified for the semifinals. Blai Mallarach opened the series with a goal with an extra player. At 02:46, Cabanas leveled at 6:6. It was Spain’s only goal from a counterattack. France missed a chance to regain a lead with an extra player.
The decision came 64 seconds before the end. Alvaro Granados converted a man-up with a long-distance shot -7:6. France earned a 6 on 5 with 40 seconds to go. Thomas Vernoux had his shot blocked. Spain grabbed the ball and kept it in the remaining time.
Goalkeepers are usually among the best players in low-scoring matches. Today, France’s Hugo Fontani blocked 14 saves, while Spain’s Unai Aguirre posted 11 saves. Three players scored more than one goal: France’s Ugo Crousillat, Alexandre Bouet, and Spain’s Blai Mallarach. Spain’s percentage of extra player shots was 3/7 and France’s 2/6. One penalty was awarded, it was for Spain – the world champions converted it.
9th-12th place classification, semifinals
Canada – Croatia 5:13 (2:3, 1:3, 1:5, 1:2)
Croatia was too strong for Canada. The European champions dominated the match.
The Canadians leveled just once after the teams quickly exchanged goals in the first minute. In the second quarter, the Europeans earned a 4-goal lead for the first time (6:2). Canada reduced the gap to three by the middle break. However, Croatia opened the second half with five goals in a row, jumped to 11:3 and the contest was over.
Franko Lazic and Zvonimir Butic netted three goals each for Croatia.
Australia – Japan 16:15 (5:3, 4:7, 4:3, 3:2)
The “Aussies” advanced to the 9th-place match in a rollercoaster game. Unlike the previous four hosts’ matches in Fukuoka, Japan wasn’t a better rival in the opening minutes. Australia got off to a good start. It led 5:3 at the first break and doubled its advantage after two minutes of play in the second quarter – 7:3. The Japanese found their rhythm and made a 6:1 rush to take a 9:8 lead. Australia leveled at 9:9, but Japan was in front – 10:9 at halftime.
In the second half, the sides were tied at 10:10, 11:11, 13:13 and 14:14. After Japan’s 14th goal, Australia scored two. Luke Pavillard made it 16:14 in the 30th minute. Japan cut the difference to one with 47 seconds left and had a chance to level the score in its final attack in the match, but Australia kept a slim lead.
Three players found the net four times in this 31-goal match. Japan’s Seiya Adachi had a perfect percentage of shots (4/4). His teammate Mitsuru Takata and Australia’s Luke Pavillard also scored four goals.
Japan paid for a bad power-play conversion (4/10). Australia scored five goals with a man-up from six attempts.
On Thursday, Croatia and Australia will battle for 9th place, while Japan and Canada will face in the 11th-place game.
Kazakhstan – Argentina 7:11 (1:5, 1:1, 3:3, 3:3)
A good start put Argentina on the right track. The South Americans earned an early 3:0 lead. The Kazakhs’ hopes woke up after Shakenov scored to make it 1:3 in the 7th minute. But, Argentina netted two goals in the last 17 seconds of the first quarter, added the third to the series in the 8th minute and built a 6:1 advantage. Kazakhstan cut the deficit to two (4:6), but Argentina rebuilt a 5-goal lead quickly (9:4) and controlled the game.
Carlos Camnasio was the best scorer on the winning team with four goals. Guido Martino scored three. Markovic and Vuksanovic scored two each for Kazakhstan.
China – South Africa 16:8 (3:2, 4:2, 4:1, 5:3)
China avoided the bottom of the standings. The Asians, led by Zhongxian Chen, who scored seven goals, secured a crucial advantage in the middle of the game. Until the 14th minute, the teams were in an even contest.
China scored three unanswered goals in the last two and a half minutes of the first quarter and moved from 4:4 to 7:4. The Asians added two goals in the second quarter for a 9:4 lead and didn’t let South Africa come close.
Zhongxian Chen was the man of the match with seven goals.
16. South Africa
For more news and the schedule about the Worlds in Fukuoka, visit Total Waterpolo’s 2023 World Championships page.