The curse of the group-winners hunted down Croatia and Montenegro: after some easy matches and a day rest, both teams seemed to be off the necessary pace on the quarter-final day. The Croats had to face Spain which came from a heated battle and the Spaniards’ fighting spirit prevailed in the first encounter.
The Hungarians were flying high after the dramatic shootout win against the US in the eight-finals and with some incredible defending they beat the Montenegrins 8-3. The other two group-winners were more composed, Serbia built a massive 6-1 lead in the second period and despite some fierce attempts by the Italians later they held on till the end. Australia managed to stay close to Greece till deep into the fourth period but the Europeans were smarter and more precise in the finish, especially in man-up play.
Spain was always ahead in the match, though after going three goals up in the second, the Croats were able to come back to minus one. However, they missed most of their chances in the second half, arrived in the last period with a three-goal deficit, missed two penalties in the most crucial moments, letting the Spaniards go 6-10 up. Croatia could score after a goalless phase of 8:28 minutes, way too late to avoid their first defeat in the tournament.
Serbia stayed on course thanks to a magnificent first half. They led 5-0 and 6-1 – all goals came from the action, they didn’t even need man-ups – before Italy arrived at the pool and began to climb back. For a while, the Serbs’ offense showed signs of slowing down (even missed a penalty) and Italy seemed to have a chance at 7-5. However, the Serbs put away a man-up in the middle of the last period and that killed their rivals’ momentum.
Despite a 3-0 rush in 97 seconds by the Greeks early in the second period, the Aussies kept coming back after 6-3 and they were trailing by a single goal even in the middle of the fourth period. Even though a couple of fine action goals entertained the crowd, ultimately the man-ups decided the outcome and the Greeks were more precise, the Aussies missed the crucial ones after 10-8 – three in a row – and this set up an all-European semi-final.
The fourth team to join the party was the host side. The Hungarians, at a tender age of 18, offered a master-class of defending, led by their giant goalie. Mark Grieszbacher completely bewildered the Montenegrins while saving a penalty and stopping a handful of shots in man-downs – he finished the game with a 77% saving percentage. The reigning European champion side was limited to three man-up goals, was 0/17 in action as the Magyars rushed to a 0-4 lead and never looked back.
In the matches played for the lower ranks the two favorites, USA and Russia, going for the 9-12th places, earned convincing wins over the respective rivals, Colombia and Brazil. Egypt rolled on with another big win, this time over Argentina while New Zealand bettered South Africa in a hard-fought battle for the places 13-16th.
Uzbekistan claimed its first win here against Saudi Arabia (20-10) but as it was revealed later they used an unauthorized player so the game was considered forfeited and Saudi Arabia was declared the winner. The Saudis will meet Canada as the North Americans halted their bad run and managed to overcome China even if in the penalty shootout.
Quarters: 3-4, 1-2, 2-3, 2-1
Due to some logistics issues – affecting the arrival of the Spanish team –, the first quarter-final match started with a delay of 40min. This didn’t seem to influence the players too much as they opened the game with a series of goals. The Croats took the lead from their first possession but Spain responded with a quick double in 54 seconds and added a third one 20sec later after a quick steal in mid-field. It took some time for the Croats to recover but with a penalty by Jakov Markic, they halved their deficit. Another exchange of goals meant that the action-packed first period produced seven goals, with Spain leading 3-4.
The Spaniards opened the next quarter with a man-up goal by Sergio Prieto – but for the next six minutes the flood was ‘suspended’, the teams were busy with missing even the best chances, the Croats wasted two 6 on 5s, the Spaniards one before Lluc Bertran put one away for 3-6. It seemed they could keep this gap for halftime but Jarko Penava just beat the buzzer from a late man-up. And even if the Spanish goalie showed a tremendous steal in a one-on-one, soon the Croats were back to one goal at 5-6 as Marko Radulovic netted a man-up.
Bertran’s action goal boosted the Spaniards’ spirits but Radulovic’s penalty kept Croatia in the game with 3:03 remaining from the third. However, the Spanish kept their calm, Alegre’s blasted the ball in from the wing in their next-man-up, then Unai Aglizze made an easy save as the Croatians’ passing didn’t go properly in 6 on 5. The Spaniards didn’t commit the same mistake, Alegre converted again for 6-9, then Markic couldn’t beat the goalie either so Spain had the three-goal advantage before the last break.
The Croats’ bad run continued in the fourth, they missed their very best chances – amazing it might read but couldn’t put away two penalties (one post, one saves), between the two Alegre netted a man-up with just 0.8sec on the shot-clock, that virtually decided the match (6-10).
When Luka Bajic scored with some luck – the ball hit a block before landing in the net – only 2:35sec remained from the match. Their scoreless run lasted 8:28 minutes, enough to lose a match. Especially that their next-man-up ended with a disastrous pass. Tin Brubnjak scored pulled one more back but only 35sec remained so Spain advanced while the Croats suffered their first loss here and that tossed them out from the medal contests.
Quarters: 3-0, 3-2, 1-2, 2-2
Serbia started the match in commanding style, Stefan Brankovic opened their account with a brilliant shot from the distance, followed by a great counter, finished by Marko Radovic. On the contrary, Italy began the worst possible way: wasting all chances coming up. Shots, soon man-ups, then – a penalty. With 1:54 to go Brankovic hit the top right corner once again so even earning a single man-up they were already 3-0 up.
The trend didn’t change in the second: Italy missed two more 6 on 5s (scored a goal from the first but the shot-clock expired) – and Radovic also netted his second action goal. The Italians lost their composure in front, they were 0/10 at this stage (blocks worked, only 3 balls reached Milan Bulajic’s hands), while the Serbs led a fine 5 on 4 counter and Kristian Sulc made it 5-0 with 3:19 remaining on the clock before halftime. Finally, Italy got on the scoreboard, at 2:19, Michele de Robertis found the back of the net from a sharp angle.
But it didn’t help that much since Sulc also doubled the number of his goals, again, just a stroke advantage was enough to score the Serbs 6th action goal. They were yet to play in man-up – while Italy earned a fifth one but the ball was blocked again, then a counter-like man-up produced another Italian goal as two Serbians swam out though only one of them was excluded and that left room for De Robertis to score for 6-2 with 1.7sec before the middle break.
Serbs’ first man-up arrived in their first possession and Maric’s blast bounced in from the bar, then Italy managed to deliver a nicely-carved 6 on 5, finished by Andrea Narciso with a nice tip-in from the 2m line. With 3:34 to go, Italy could get inside four goals as Domenico Iodoce converted a 6 on 4 – at this phase the Serbian offence lacked the dynamism, they got closest to the goal when they earned a penalty shot with 1:34 to go but Sulc’s shot was stopped by Bernardo Maurizi who also showed a great catch in the next man-down to save some hope for the Italians – still, they trailed by three before the final period (7-4).
And the battle started heating up when De Robertis sent the ball under the bar from 7m and the Serbs’ downhill went on as Radovic could hit the post only from their man-up. Since they went 6-1 up late in the second, the Serbs could score a single goal – their struggle lasting 11:49min ended by a man-up goal after a time-out, Petar Mitrovic tipped the ball in from close-range for 8-5 with 4:26 to go. Narciso’s center-shot hit the post and at that point, Italy faced a kind of mission impossible. With 2:04 to go head coach Carlo Silipo called for a time-out but even if they could earn two man-ups, they couldn’t come any closer as the Serbian arms covered the goal perfectly. Sulc scored with ease in an extra to settle the bill, Michele Mezzaroba’s penalty came way too late 25sec from time.
Quarters: 3-3, 4-3, 1-1, 3-1
After some introductory pushing and swimming, the Greeks could set up the first clear opportunity and Papanikolaou Nikolaos-Sry finished a 2 on 1 counter. Soon they missed a man-up and the Aussies managed to put together a nice passing game and Christian Kyriakou tipped the ball in from the center. Theodoros Pateros replied from a man-up but another finely tuned action, finished by Scott Dyson from the left wing leveled the score once more. And it happened for the third time still in the first period, though only just: Pateros scored from the center with 0:28 to go but James Gillfeather scored from 7m with two defenders around his neck, just 0.3sec before the end.
However heroic were the Aussies’ efforts in the first eight minutes, it took only 97 seconds to fall behind by three goals: another man-up finished from close-range, a nice counter and a penalty, the Greeks started rolling in this phase. Some luck helped the Australians to stay in the game, a late shot rebounded from the bar and Nicholas Taylor pushed the ball in from close range for 6-4.
Max Fodor made a crucial stop in a clear counter, Joshua Collins netted an action goal at the other end, so instead of a gap of three, the Aussies were back to 6-5. And even if Nikolaos Kovrouvanis scored a nice action goal, Reilly Townsend sent a cool-headed sneaking shot to the bottom right corner from the right wing in a 6 on 4 – so despite the early scare, the Aussies were still in the game at halftime (7-6).
The third period turned into a tremendous battle, the Greeks doubled their lead from the first possession, Dimitrious Dimou converted a penalty. But they couldn’t add any more and with 4:06 from this quarter Kyriakou’s distant shot found the back of the net. The next minutes saw forced shots from the back, lacking precision and power – in fact, those were also missing from a late man-up of the Aussies who couldn’t go even before the last break.
And in the fourth the Greek hit first, Ippokratis Chalyvopoulos had some free space in the wing and he made good use of it – but another 6m shot from Kyriakou kept Australia close. As usual, the really crucial part of any match is the man-up in the last period: the Greeks could sell the 2m finish for the third time in the match, this time Papanikolau had the last touch.
And the reply didn’t arrive even though the Aussies had two 6 on 5s, the second after a time-out and there they could play a 6 on 4 for a while but lacked the composure – and nothing changed during their last two man-up opportunities. To hold a mirror, the Greeks netted their last one and advanced to the semis with a convincing performance.
Quarters: 0-3, 1-2, 1-2, 1-1
If a home team wishes to create a bewildering environment for its rival, then it should start a match like the Hungarians did. A killed man-down, followed by a converted one, then a brilliant distant shot, by Dome Dala, another killed man-down and finishing a great counter – in less than five minutes the Magyars led 0-3 and the Montenegrin coach thought it was better to call a time-out. At least they stopped rolling the Hungarians, but they were yet to direct the ball towards the goal – shots flew high and wide, one after the other.
And even if the Montenegrins managed to kill back-to-back man-downs at the beginning of the second, another counter gave the hosts a 4-0 lead as Dala put the ball away as if his World Cup-winner father had arrived in front of the goal. Finally, the Montenegrins got on the scoreboard after 13:03 minutes, Marjan Mitrovic found some space under the goalie’s arm in a 6 on 5.
But Mark Grieszbacher’s wings reached the next one, again in man-down, and Schmolz converted the Magyars’ extra with 1:23 till the middle break. The Montenegrins’ problems were deepening soon, Grieszbacher came up with a penalty stop, then Vujovic had a clear chance in a man-up but even if he lobbed the 2m goalie, the ball kissed the bar but didn’t go in – much to the delight of the capacity crowd as Hungary led 1-5 at halftime.
At the beginning of the third, mostly the Hungarians kept the Montenegrins in the match as they missed two man-ups and had some loose attacks. The Montenegrins finally got closer from a man-up, with 3:38 to go in the third – still, the hosts responded in a minute, Baksa sent the ball home from a 6 on 5.
The Hungarians blocked the next incoming shot in extra which seemed to be wasted last chance as Dala’s blast from 6m hit the top left corner, then Grieszbacher showed that his arms are long enough to steal the ball from the center-forward – thus the Magyars turned into the fourth period with a commanding 2-7 lead.
A very last chance would have been a quick goal for the Montenegrins at the beginning, and indeed they could shoot a penalty but Uros Vucurovic sent the ball too high – avoided Grieszbacher’s arm but not the post. They missed a man-up then so the Hungarians weren’t forced to rush in front at all – and they didn’t offer any counter opportunity for the Montenegrins, just shot the balls in the dying seconds of their possessions and closed down the rear lines.
While the hosts could afford to waste a 6 on 5, the Montenegrins couldn’t even take a shot in their next two – the reigning European champion side was limited to three goals (Grieszbacher posted 77%), while the crowd were flying around when Gergo Fekete netted the 8th from a counter with 34sec to go. Thus the Hungarians made the semis and as a message for the remaining days, the number of conceded goals in their last three matches were: 9, 6, 3.
Quarters: 3-2, 1-6, 1-4, 5-4
Quarters: 2-3, 1-3, 2-2, 1-1
Quarters: 7-1, 4-1, 6-1, 5-3
Quarters: 1-2, 1-2, 1-4, 1-0
After it was revealed that Uzbekistan had fielded an unauthorised player, the FINA TWPC Commission applied the relevant rule, annuled the result in the pool (10-20) and considered the game forfeited. Saudi Arabia was declared the winner by 5-0, shall play for the 17-18th place, while Uzbekistan shall play for the 19-20th place.
Quarters: 0-1, 3-1, 2-3, 1-1 – pen: 4-3