Three big favorites – Montenegro, Croatia, and Greece, advanced to the semifinals of the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Rotterdam. Russia joined the three Balkan powerhouses in the last four. On Saturday and Sunday, these four teams will battle for the remaining three tickets for Tokyo.
There were no surprises in the quarterfinals because the teams that finished 1st and 2nd in the group stage made the semifinals.
Montenegro, Croatia and Russia recorded convincing wins, while Greece survived real drama to beat France (just like on Day 1 when they barely saved a win over Georgia 11:10)
Montenegro was the first team to qualify for the semifinals. The Montenegrins led throughout the match against the Netherlands and achieved a comfortable 13:7 win, although the Dutch fought hard, and came close to the rival a few times.
Greece defeated France in a crazy game. The match was decided in a penalty shootout – 17:14. In regular time, Greece had a 7:4 advantage, and then France responded with six goals in a row. Still, Greece managed to come back and was very close to a win, but the French secured a penalty shootout.
Croatia started slowly against Georgia, but the Croats took control in an early phase of the game and beat Georgia 15:6. The Croats finished the job in the first half, and after that, only the margin of their win was in question.
Russia continued its unbeaten run, by defeating Canada (17:9) in the last quarterfinal match.
Tomorrow, Montenegro and Croatia will meet in the big derby of the semifinals. Greece and Russia will face off in the second match.
The winners of these matches will qualify for the Olympic Games. The losing teams will have another chance in the match for 3rd place on Sunday.
Russia is the only semifinalist that didn’t play at the Olympic Games from 2008 to 2016. Russia’s last Olympic appearance was in Athens in 2004 when they won the bronze medal. Besides, Russia didn’t reach the semifinals of the qualifications for the previous three Olympic Games (2008, 2012, and 2016).
Day 6 – quarterfinals: Montenegro – Netherlands 13:7, Greece – France 17:14 (PSO – 13:13), Georgia – Croatia 6:15, Canada – Russia 9:17
Semifinals (Saturday): Montenegro – Croatia, Greece – Russia.
Men’s Olympic Qualifications, Rotterdam, Day 6
Montenegro – Netherlands 13:7 (4:0, 3:3, 3:4, 3:0)
Montenegro: Ivovic 3, Brguljan 2, Vidovic 2, Ukropina 2, Petkovic 1, Popadic 1, Spaic 1, V. Radovic 1 (Lazovic 8 saves)
Netherlands: Janssen 3, Veenhuis 1, Winkelhorst 1, Van Ijperen 1, Lidnhout 1 (Wagenaar 7 saves).
Extra player shots: Montenegro 7/12, Netherlands 2/6. Penalties: Montenegro 1/1, Netherlands 1/1.
The scores of the quarters tell everything about the game. Montenegro broke the Netherlands thanks to an excellent start and a calm finish. The Montenegrins earned a 4:0 lead in the first eight minutes. Aleksandar Ivovic opened the second quarter with a goal for 5:0. But, the Dutch got on the scoreboard shortly after. They produced a 3:0 run within two minutes and trailed 3:5 five minutes before the middle break. Still, Montenegro didn’t let the hosts go further, and it had a 7:4 advantage at halftime. But, the Dutch didn’t surrender. They came very close two times during the third period (5:7 and 6:8), but Montenegro controlled the match. The hosts’ last goal came two seconds before the last break (7:10).
The favorites tightened their defense in the final eight minutes, didn’t let a single goal (Dejan Lazovic posted a few excellent saves). In the 27th minute, Montenegro increased the margin to six – 13:7. The Dutch fought hard, but there were no goals in the final five minutes.
Greece – France 17:14 (6:4, 1:4, 3:4, 3:1, PSO 4:1)
Greece: Fountoulis 4, Genidounias 3, Argyropoulos 3, Vlachopoulos 3 (Zerdevas 7 saves)
France: Vernoux 4, Crousillat 3, Marzouki 3, Marion Vernoux 1, Canonne 1, Caumette 1 (Garsau 10 saves).
Extra player shots: Greece 8/15, France 4/8. Penalty shots: Greece -, France 2/3.
Penalty shootout – Fountoulis 1:0, Canonne – Zerdevas saved, Papanastasiou 2:0, Crousillat 2:1, Argyropoulos 3:1, Marzouki – Zerdevas saved, Vlachopoulos 4:1.
Both teams had ups and downs in the group stage, and today’s game was similar to some matches that France and Greece played in their groups in the past few days. There were a lot of twists and turns.
There were even 10 goals in the first quarter. France had a slim lead three times (1:0, 2:1, 3:2). The Greeks scored three consecutive goals with a man-up in less than two minutes. They turned around the deficit to a 5:3 lead and maintained a 2-goal distance until the end of the first period.
Ioannis Fountoulis found the net in Greece’s first possession in the second quarter for 7:4, and it seemed that the favorite had taken control. But, France, led by 18-year-old Thomas Vernoux (who was voted the player of the game), produced a magnificent comeback. The French scored four unanswered goals by the middle break and added two early in the fourth. France made a 6:0 series within 07:49 minutes and earned a 10:7 lead.
Greece couldn’t score for 10:25 minutes. The Greeks stopped sinking in the 21st minute when Fountoulis converted a man-up (8:10). However, France continued to dictate the pace and managed to keep a two-goal lead until the end of the quarter (12:10).
But, Greece found its rhythm after the last break. The Greeks strengthened their defense. They equalized – 12:12 in the 27th minute. In the following two minutes, France failed to score in two attacks with a power-play advantage (they even had a 6 on 4 in the first of these two attacks), and they paid for it. Stylianos Argyropoulos put the Greeks in front with a goal from an extra for 13:12 with 03:27 minutes to go.
Just 38 seconds before the final buzzer, France finally scored for the first time in the final period. Thomas Vernoux leveled the score – 13:13, but Greece still had enough time to secure a win in the last attack. Five seconds before the end, Ioannis FOuntoulis hit the post from a long-distance shot, and the match entered the shootout.
Greece’s goalkeeper Emmanouil Zerdevas, who posted a few excellent saves in the crucial moments of the fourth quarter, became the hero of the game. He blocked two shots in the “penalty lottery”, and his team went to the semifinals.
Georgia – Croatia 6:15 (2:3, 1:6, 1:2, 2:4)
Georgia: Shushiashvili 2, Elez 2, Kavtaradze 1, Vapenski 1 (Razmadze 8 saves, Shubladze 1 save)
Croatia: Bukic 4, Fatovic 3, Loncar 3, Jokovic 2, Vrlic 1, Vukicevic 1, Garcia 1 (Bijac 16 saves)
Extra player shots: Georgia 3/10, Croatia 4/7. Penalty shots: Georgia -, Croatia 2/2.
Georgia had a 2:1 lead in the 5th minute, but the Croats went ahead before the first break (3:2), and shortly after, the match turned into a one-sided contest. By the middle of the second period, the Croats built a 7:2 advantage. The Croats outplayed Georgia and killed all the suspense already in the first half of the match. On the other side, Georgia didn’t surrender, but it couldn’t avoid a big defeat.
Croatia slowed down after the middle break and saved energy for the derby against Montenegro. Still, the silver medalists at the 2016 Olympic Games controlled the match and cruised to a win. Croatia’s defense, led by Marko Bijac, was on a high-level today, while Luka Bukic, who scored four goals, was picked for the man of the match.
Canada – Russia 9:17 (2:5, 3:3, 3:4, 1:5)
Canada: Constantin-Bicari 3, Cote 3, S. Spooner 2, Gardijan 1 (Radenovic 6 saves, Reiher 5 saves)
Russia: Kharkov 5, Merkulov 4, Nagaev 4, Lisunov 2, Shepelev 1, Dereviankin 1 (Ivanov 7 saves)
Extra player shots: Canada 4/11, Russia 9/12. Penalty shots: Canada 0/1, Russia -.
After excellent performances in the group stage, the Russians were the favorites in the last quarterfinal match. And they didn’t let Canada surprise them. Canada managed to equalize just once (1:1 in the first minute). Russia earned a 3-goal lead in the first quarter and stretched the margin to four (6:2) early in the second. The Russians, who played excellently with a man-up (just like against Croatia on Day 4), maintained a four-goal difference until 8:4 (15th minute).
Canada didn’t wave the white flag until the end and tried to come back. But, Russia’s win was never in danger. Early in the third period, the North Americans reduced the gap to two (6:8). However, Russia doubled an advantage shortly after (10:6) and entered the final period with a 12:8 advantage.
The Canadians ran out of gas for the fourth quarter, and Russia, led by Konstantin Kharkov (the player of the game), Daniil Merkulov, and Ivan Nagaev, stretched the margin to eight.
Quarterfinals (February 19)
Montenegro – Netherlands 13:7
Greece – France 17:14 (PSO)
Georgia – Croatia 6:15
Canada – Russia 9:17
Semifinals (February 20)
Classification 5 – 8
Netherlands – Georgia (14:00)
France – Canada (16:00)
Classification 1 – 4
Montenegro – Croatia (18:00)
Greece – Russia (20:00)
Final Day (February 21)
Seventh-place game (10:00)
Fifth-place game (12:00)
Third-place game (14:00)