The big match of Day 1 of the 35th European Championships for men in Split ended with no winner.
France and Olympic silver medalist Greece shared the points in the first of several derbies in Group B – 12:12. From the beginning until the end, it was a close battle, and both teams deserved a point at least.
The other seven matches of Day 1 lacked real excitement.
The Netherlands beat Germany easier than expected in Group C (13:6). Favorites Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Spain, Serbia and Hungary recorded more or less convincing victories against the rivals that aren’t in a circle of the favorites.
Day 1, results – Group A: Georgia – Montenegro 11:14, Italy – Slovakia 21:9. Group B: France – Greece 12:12, Croatia – Malta 19:5, Group C: Romania – Spain 9:16, Germany – Netherlands 6:13. Group D: Serbia – Israel 18:3, Hungary – Slovenia 23:7
Before the last match of the day, Croatia- Malta, the opening ceremony was held. Andrej Plenkovic, the prime minister of Croatia, officially opened the 35th European Water Polo Championships.
Besides Plenkovic, LEN First Vice President Josip Varvodic, Prefect of Split-Dalmatia County Blazenko Boban, Major of Split Ivica Puljak and the Croatian Water Polo Federation President Mladen Drnasin welcomed the guests and the participants. They underlined that water polo has a long tradition in Croatia and in the city of Split, which was the host of the European Championships in 1981. They wished all luck to the participating teams.
Georgia – Montenegro 11:14 (3:5, 2:4, 3:4, 3:1)
Montenegro opened the group stage with a win over Georgia, as expected.
These two teams met in the group at the World Championships in Budapest. The Montenegrins recorded a narrow win then(10:9). Today, Montenegro was more convincing, but Georgia showed that it had been coming closer and closer to the best European teams.
In the 14th minute, the Montenegrins built a 5-goal lead (9:4). But Georgia started coming back step-by-step. They scored four goals in a row. Jovan Saric converted a penalty shot in the middle of the third quarter and narrowed the difference to one (8:9). Montenegro lost the ball in the next possession, and Georgia had a chance to equalize, but Jelaca hit the post. Immediately after, Dejan Lazovic (12 saves today) saved a shot from Baraldi. The Montenegrins retook control after that. They netted four goals in the last 157 seconds of this quarter and jumped to 13:8. Georgia was a better rival in the final quarter, but Montenegro’s win wasn’t in danger.
Georgia’s Marko Jelaca was the best scorer with five goals. Kanstantin Averka scored four for Montenegro.
Italy – Slovakia 21:9 (6:3, 6:2, 4:2, 5:2)
The male team of Italy opened the tournament against the same opponent and in a similar way as their countrywomen. Two days ago, the “Setterosa” downed Slovakia (26:1). Italy men didn’t have big problems in beating the Slovaks, who couldn’t be unsatisfied with their performance. They did their best and didn’t carry the white flag in this match.
Slovakia scored the first goal in the match. Still, Italy responded with three and went to 3:1. By the first break, Italy went to 6:3 and stretched the margin to five early in the second period (8:3). The favorite controlled the match, and proved that they were far better than the Slovaks, who fought hard until the end. Still, they couldn’t avoid a big defeat.
Edoardo Di Somma stood out. He scored five goals with three steals and one assist. We should mention Slovakia’s goalkeeper Tomas Hoferica, who posted 14 saves.
Day 2 (August 31): Montenegro – Slovakia (14:00), Italy – Georgia (17:00)
Greece – France 12:12 (3:3, 4:5, 4:2, 1:2)
France and Greece didn’t disappoint water polo lovers. The clash of these teams produced a lot of excitement, twists and turns. Greece, the Olympic silver medalist and the 3rd-placed team at the 2022 World Championships, was a favorite. However, a draw isn’t a surprise because French water polo has made significant progress and the national team isn’t an underdog.
Greece took a 1:0 lead, but the French scored three straight goals and gained a 3:1 lead. The Greeks responded with four goals and earned a 5:3 advantage. The Greeks maintained a 2-goal difference until the middle of the second period (7:5). But, the French started to dictate the pace at the finish of the quarter. Thomas Vernoux netted two goals and leveled at 7:7. In the 15th minute, the French earned a penalty which Crousillat converted to a 8:7 lead. That was the score at halftime.
The third period brought new turns. Midway through the quarter, Alex Papanastasiou put the Greeks in front with a counter-attack goal (10:9). Edo Khasz leveled from the deep left, but in the dying seconds of the third, Konstantinos Genidounias found the net from 6 meters, and Greece entered the final eight minutes leading 11:10.
Romain Marion Vernoux made it 11:11 early in the fourth quarter. In the 28th minute, the French gained a lead. Emil Bjorch netted a beautiful goal from a distance after Enzo Khasz’s assistance.
A minute and 49 seconds before the end, the Greeks equalized. After a well-organized attack with a man-up, with a few quick passes, Argyropoulos leveled at 12:12. The drama was reaching its culmination.
Greece earned a man-up with 53 seconds to go. Alex Papanastasiou took responsibility. He hit the post. The ball went back to the Greeks, and Vlachopoulos attempted to score a winner, but Hugo Fontani saved his shot. The French had the attack in the last 15 seconds of the match and a chance to secure a win. Just three seconds from the end, Argyropoulos blocked a shot from Marion-Vernoux and the teams shared the points.
France’s Thomas Vernoux, who scored three goals, blocked two shots, and drew three personal fouls, was the man of the match. His teammate Ugo Crousillat scored three goals too. Hugo Fontani posted 11 saves. Skoumpakis, Argyropoulos, Papanastasiou and Nikolaidis scored two goals each for Greece
France missed the chance to upset Greece, but Florian Bruzzo, the head coach of France, wasn’t disappointed.
“We had a good start in the European Championships. The performance of my team was good, but there are still some weak spots that we need to work on. In general, I am satisfied with how the team played. I can’t say and predict what is going to happen in the group. Each game is special and a big battle, Bruzzo told in an interview with LEN TV
Theodoros Vlachos, Greece’s head coach:
“It was a great game. Both teams were really good, we were on the same level. We tried to control the game in the first half, but we lost control in the middle of the game when we conceded three goals in a row. We lost our concentration. I think that a tie is a fair result. As usual, the first match in a tournament was difficult for both teams. I hope we will play better and have better results in the rest of the competition.
Malta – Croatia 5:19 (0:2, 1:3, 2:7, 2:7)
Croatia, which was supported by several thousands of fans, enjoyed an easy cruise and beat Malta 19:5 with five goals from Loren Fatovic and four from Jerko Marinic Kragic.
Malta and one of the European powerhouses aren’t in the same weight category. The Croats scored two goals in the first two minutes. In the following several minutes, the Maltese’s defense did its job well, but they couldn’t find the right solutions in front of the hosts’ goal. Despite the fact that the Croats didn’t play at full speed, they earned a 5:0 lead before Malta scored its first goal. In the third quarter, a big difference in quality was more than obvious.
Day 2 (August 31): Greece – Malta (10:30), Croatia – France (20:30).
Romania – Spain 9:16 (1:4, 2:4, 4:5, 2:3)
Spain secured the points already in the first half of the match. They earned a 3:0 lead before Romania got on the scoreboard. Then, Spain produced a new 3:0 run, to jump to a 6:1 advantage. The world champions maintained a five-goal difference until the middle break.
The Spaniards’ defense in the second half wasn’t as strong as it was in the first two periods, but they controlled the match and recorded a convincing win.
Alvaro Granados, who had an excellent shot percentage (5/7), led Spain’s attack.
Germany – Netherlands 6:13 (1:3, 1:2, 2:4, 2:4)
The encounter between Germany and the Netherlands was one of the crucial games in a battle for 2nd place in Group C. Considering what both teams showed today, the Netherlands is the most serious contender for the position behind the Spaniards.
The Dutch completely outplayed the Germans, who disappointed their fans. Already in the 10th minute, the Netherlands led 5:1. Two minutes after, Schutze scored an action goal for 2:5. Still, after the middle break, Germany continued sinking. They wasted three man-ups in the opening minutes of the third period, and they paid for it. After the Germans’ third missed man-up in a row, Van Ijperen scored from a counterattack for 6:2. Bozic gave Germany hope with an action goal (3:6). But, the Dutch produced a 3:0 run in 02:07 minutes. Lucas netted an action goal. Then came another counterattack which was finished by Koopman successfully. Te Reile scored from a 6 on 5 got 9:3 in the 23rd minute, and there was no way back for Germany.
Kas Te Riele and Jesse Koopman were the best scorers with three goals each.
Germany had a poor percentage of shots (6/32), and the Dutch found the net 13 times from 27 attempts. Germany didn’t score a single goal with a power play advantage (0/7), while the Netherlands converted half of its man-up shots (4/8).
Harry van de Meer, the head coach of the Netherlands, had to be satisfied after the win:
“At the beginning of the tournament, we faced our main rival in the group. Germany and the Netherlands are are at the similar level. We played much better. First of all, our defense was very well. We worked as a real team and were very concentrated. Still, there are some things we should improve. We have to work on our offense. Sometimes the ball in the attack go too slow “, Meer told LEN TV.
An experienced head coach of Germany Petar Porobic, who guided Yugoslavia and Montenegro to several medals, said:
“We have a new team, with six or seven new players, who don’t have the international experience and don’t have necessary playing minutes in their clubs. However, it is not an excuse for many missed extra man situations. It is our constant problem, which repeats from game to game. We don’t follow the plans we make at practices. Something always goes wrong.”
Serbia – Israel 18:3 (3:0, 8:1, 3:1, 4:1)
Still, Serbia earned a double-digit advantage before the end of the first half – 11:1.
The Serbs, led by Radomir Drasovic and Marko Radulovic (four goals each) increased the margin to 15 by the end of the game.
Hungary – Slovenia 23:7 (4:3, 6:2, 6:0, 7:2)
All field players of Hungary got on the scoresheet. The player of the match was Gergo Zalanki, who found the net four times and made three assists and two steals.
Both favorites in this group were warming up for a big clash scheduled for Wednesday.
Day 2 (August 31): Slovenia – Israel (9:00), Serbia – Hungary (19:00)