Hungary is chasing its first World League title since 2004 – since then only the former Yugoslavian states could clinch this trophy. Serbia came first 11 times in 13 years, Montenegro won in 2009 and Croatia in 2012.
Montenegro ousted the Serbs in the qualification and now they can maintain the Southern Slavoninans’ streak as they will play with the host Magyars in the final. The Hungarians overcame an extreme challenge from Japan to win a thrilling semi-final while Montenegro kept the game under control against Spain and can play for the gold for the first time since 2010.
It took some time for the Croats to get back their rhythm as they were part of an extremely tiring battle a day before against Hungary and for a world champion team it wasn’t easy to find the motivation to play for the 5-8th places. Let’s say they needed two quarters to get accustomed to this unusual situation: after taking a 3-2 lead they remained scoreless in the entire second period so the game stood 3-3 at half-time.
Further 3:31 gone when they took the lead once more with a nice action goal from Andelo Setka, then came a fine double from Lovre Milos in a span of 43 seconds, both at equal strength, good for a 6-3 lead. The fourth period saw desperate attempts from the Americans to come closer but they were unable to push it below two.
The Croats struggled with their man-ups in the first three periods – just like they did a day earlier when they were 3 for 12 against Hungary –, they netted only 1 in 9 now but raised their level in the fourth and made 3/3, keeping the US in a safe distance.
Though the bitterness didn’t go easily after the narrowly lost quarterfinals, there were some tensions in and around the pool – fifth game in as many days also took its toll on physical condition and mental toughness –, consequently red cards were flying over the place, one player had to go respectively and the Croatian head coach and the US assistant coach talked enough to deserve the dismissal.
Still, no big issues happened, the game ended on piece, the Croats restored some pride and took revenge on the Americans for the loss in the prelims – while the US claimed three great wins in the prelims and seemed to be set for a great showing here, instead they had to settle for playing for the 7th place.
The final score-line somewhat tells the story: while the Aussies scored 11 for Japan but remained below 10 in the other three games (netted only 4 against Spaniards), while the Kazakhs were far from double-digits (5-4-3-6 in the previous four matches), this time it was a 26-goal spectacular scoring show.
Offenses worked well, especially the Aussies who didn’t leave too much room for belief for the Kazakhs to repeat their win from last year from the same stage of the Super Final.
They took a commanding 4-1 lead in the first period – the lonely Kazakh goal came from a lucky bounce as the ball went in from the goalie’s head. The Asians got a bit closer in the second at 5-3 but in 31 seconds the gap jumped to four and there was no way back from that point.
The remaining time was mainly devoted to scoring, defenses weren’t as tight as previously, among the Aussies Richard Campbell, Aaron Younger and Andrew Ford all hinted a triple as their team equaled the Croats’ scoring record here in this tourney – poor Kazakhs, they conceded 15 Day 1 as well.
It all started like two days ago when Hungary earned a multiple-goal win against the Japanese: Gergely Kardos stopped a penalty and Gergo Zalanki buried an extra – though the hosts needed 3:39 minutes to open the scoring. Though the hosts seemed to struggle a bit in front, with another blast from Zalanki they led 2-1 after eight minutes.
Perhaps the home players thought that it was going to be a similar story, a bit harder but without too much tension – and their focus wasn’t at the top while the Japanese stayed on the wave they had begun to ride a day earlier while overcoming the USA. They didn’t have a big streak, just scored once, then again a bit later, and again and again.
They played aggressively in offense, created some fine chances and all of them while the Magyars couldn’t put the ball away from a series of opportunities – Tanamura Katsuyuki posted a series of fine saves – and couldn’t really feed their big center-forwards either. Stunning as it was: a 0-4 quarter for Japan (towards the end Viktor Nagy, coming in as an emergency, showed a great head-save to prevent their rivals from going 2-6 up) and the host side started to feel the same what the Americans had gone through in the quarters.
It took exactly 10:00 minutes for the hosts to overcome their difficulties – no goal during this phase – but then they responded in a very Hungarian way. Bence Batori’s brilliant action goal opened the sack – even though Araki Kenta netted a man-up, then came two in 37 seconds and some big noise came from the stands. Japan could reply twice to keep at least the two-goal cushion but deep into the third came some crucial moments when Batori blasted a man-up goal, then Krisztian Manhercz stole the ball at the half-way line, set up a 2 on 0 counter and Balazs Erdelyi equalised – this two arrived in a span of 22 seconds, it stood 8-8 with 1:41 to go.
Still, it was a kind of miracle that a Hungarian crowd was on the tip of their feet after Hungary came back to equal against Japan late in a match’s third period… Soon they were louder as Marton Vamos found some space to let his rocket-like shot fly so the hosts regained the lead before the last break.
They could have doubled it but Tanamura pushed the ball to the crossbar in a man-down (he had 16 saves in the game!) while at the other end Araki Kenta scored his third from the center. it was a perfect backhanded shot in anybody’s language, a kind of proof that the hosts of the next Olympics on the right track to learning this sport.
Still, experience, strength prevailed and better physics too. The Japanese seemed to run out of gas after playing two such games as this one and the QF against the US in 22 hours: they couldn’t maintain the same intensity in the attack, more and more possessions ended in 30sec-expiring and they couldn’t sell their drives so effectively to the referees.
They earned 9 man-ups in three periods but only one in the decisive part, and that landed on the post – it was their last real chance to go equally after Krisztian Bedo took back the lead for Hungary in a typical Magyar way (chipped over the ball with a great wrist shot from a 5m free throw in a man-up). Next came another great action goal, a one-timer from Marton Vamos which closed down the match: Hungary broke two goals clear for the first time in the game, with 74 seconds from time and kept it as Japan missed its last man-up in the dying seconds.
The crowd celebrated the home team for making the final again after last year’s World Championships but also gave a big hand to the Japanese players for their tremendous efforts.
It was a chasing game right from the beginning: Spain could never go ahead, for a while they could equalize from time to time but Montenegro outpowered them in the third and didn’t leave any serious chance for its rivals to have a say at the end.
After little more than two minutes, Mladan Janovic opened the scoring from his ‘trademark’ 5m free-throw but Sergi Cabanas could put away Spain’s second man-up. Sasa Misic delivered a penalty a bit later and Alexander Ivovic buried it for 1-2, this Alberto Munarriz equalized with a fine action goal but 78 seconds before the end of the first Montenegrin leftie Duro Radovic netted a brilliant goal, securing a 2-3 lead after eight minutes.
Spain had a better spell in the first part of the second period, Roger Tahull leveled the score again from the center and they could shut out their opponents for a longer period but couldn’t take the lead as they missed a 6 on 5 and after five long minutes, Janovic converted an extra. Felipe Perrone softly netted a penalty for 4-4 21 seconds later, but once more the Montenegrins had the last laugh though Bogdan Durdic didn’t have a hard job while putting away a 6 on 4 for 4-5.
Things began to turn worse for Spain early in the second. Radovic netted a cheeky one from almost zero angles while playing in man-up, at the other end Dejan Lazovic produced back-to-back stops in a man-down and soon Radovic finished another extra (a bit over 20sec) to widen the gap to three goals. While we saw three straight man-up goals from Montenegro, the Spaniards struggled with their 6 on 5s, missed two before Mallarach could pull one back from the third with 2:25 to go in this quarter.
Spain could have earned some psychological advantage as they managed to kill a man-down, then had a fine counter-attack chance some 30sec before the end of this quarter but the attacker swam alongside the ball, the Montenegrins recovered it and Radovic had enough time to gave a sensational assist to Ivovic who sent the ball home from close – the possible 6-7 gone, the Spaniards could see a way worse line of numbers on the scoreboard: 5-8, 0:06 to go.
Still, they put together what they had and staged along surge: Perrone pulled one back from a 5m shot, then they managed to survive a 6 on 4, but missed their next shot and Radovic, who else?, netted his fourth for 6-9, with 4:50 to go.
Their next 6 on 5 went down the drain because of a bad pass, soon Tahull wasted a center-shot opportunity, but Munarriz could find the back of the net from another extra, 7-9, 2:32 remained. And 58 seconds later they got close after Perrone could put away a goal from another man-up. But their moment was killed immediately as Bogdan Durdic listened to his coach’s command (“Shoot!”) and his bouncer hit the top-left corner of the cage – with 70 seconds to go it was 8-10, so virtually over.
The Spaniards tried to force quick shots but none of them were on target – Montenegro won its 5th game here so fully deserved to book its place in the final. This is going to be their first gold medal match in the World League since they captured the title at home in 2010 – they will play again with Hungary whom they already beat here on Day 2 with a great 5-0 rush in the last 12 minutes after going 7-9 down.