The long season of the competitions for the national teams ended with the European Men’s U19 Championships in Podgorica last week.
The tournament was very balanced. Almost all games from the quarterfinals until the end were very exciting.
Serbia claimed the title after demanding tasks and hard-fought wins throughout the tournament. Anyway, the Serbs deserved the gold. The best of the best was captain Vasilije Martinovic, who was voted the MVP of the tournament.
Martinovic shared his impressions about the Podgorica tournament in an interview with Total Waterpolo.
He has won three medals playing for the junior teams of Serbia. Three years ago, when he was only 16-year-old, he clinched silver at the World U20 Championships in Kuwait. Last year, he became the world U20 champion in Prague.
His role in the team has changed a lot in the last three years. In Kuwait and Prague, he was the youngest or one of the youngest in the squad. This year, Martinovic was the oldest player and the leader of the team that reached the highest step of the podium in Podgorica.
For most of the summer, Vasilije was with the senior national team and played in the World League Super Final and the European Championships.
“I was at the preparations of the junior team at the beginning of the summer. Then, I worked and played with the national team and re-joined the juniors immediately after the Europeans in Split, nine days before Podgorica. But, there was no need to adapt to the system and style of play. I have played for the junior national team since the Kuwait Championships, I know all the players, and head coach Uros Stevanovic’s system of work.”, Martinovic says.
As we have already written, the Serbian team was primarily composed of 18-year-old boys who finished in the silver position at the World Youth Championships in Belgrade. Just because of that, Serbia wasn’t considered a heavy favorite. The U18 team was reinforced only by three older players (Martinovic, Baucalo, Krstic).
“We were one of the youngest teams at the tournament, but even before the Championships, I knew that this squad could win a medal. I was not afraid of the situation in which other favorites were older than us. I believed we could play on an equal level with the teams that were more experienced than us”.
But, few saw Serbia in the circle of the title contenders before the tournament.
“I think there weren’t many who expected a good result from us. The teams that were more experienced than us were considered favorites. Maybe it was our small advantage. We weren’t under pressure imposed by the others. But, we knew what we were able for. From the beginning of the Championships, we did our best. The team put a lot of effort into each match, into each win. Motivation didn’t lack. We had belief in ourselves. “
Serbia’s road to the gold medal was challenging. There were no easy wins (with the exception of two group games). A narrow 13:12 win over Greece in the group stage sent Serbia directly to the quarterfinals. Then, the Serbs won two games in the penalty shootouts (against Italy in the quarterfinals and against Hungary in the semifinals), and the crown was a 9:8 victory in the gold medal match against Spain.
Martinovic played excellently in all crucial matches. He netted five goals in the game against Hungary, although he finished the match in the third quarter, due to three personal fouls. He scored the winning goal in the final.
“We all played well and were the strongest when it was the most important. We had a lot of players who could score goals in crucial moments. All in all, our attack was excellent, but I think that the defense was a little bit better than the attack. Our play in defense made the difference in derby games.”
Martinovic says that he will remember the semifinal game against Hungary for a long.
“The victory over Hungary in a big battle additionally boosted our self-confidence. We were sure we could beat Spain in the final if we showed our best face.
On our road to the final, we won two games after the penalty shootouts. Someone can say that luck was with us. But I don’t think so. We deserved the luck because of our big efforts and because we believed we could succeed from the beginning of the tournament. That belief in ourselves led us to the gold medal.”
Besides the gold medal, Martinovic won the MVP award.
“After a great team success, the personal award is in the shadow, and it’s not so important. I am honored because I won the trophy, but many others from our team deserved the MVP award.”
Martinovic started his career in TENT from Obrenovac, a TENT from Obrenovac . Between 2014 and 2020, he played in Crvena Zvezda. Since 2020, he has been a member of Novi Beograd, one of the best European teams at the moment. Novi Beograd has started the preparations. Martinovic will join the team in a week.
“As for Novi Beograd, the club’s ambitions haven’t changed. The trophies are our goals, I think we can reach the final in each competition, for sure.”