After Italy and Serbia had already completed their missions in two rounds, world champion Croatia and host Spain also booked their respective berths in the quarterfinals. The Croats beat Greece with a superb performance while Spain played a thrilling draw with World League winner Montenegro and that was enough to finish atop in its group. Hungary was almost upset by Germany, the Magyars had to be the happier team after the 4-4 draw.
The evening session drew more than 3,500 fans to the stands who were ready to enjoy the very best of water polo, featuring four of the world’s best teams – playing for the top spots of their respective groups and direct berths in the quarter-finals.
The first duel was rather a power demonstration from the world champion Croatian team. They shut out the Greeks in the opening period, then came an action-packed 9-goal quarter when the margin grew to three goals and in the third, they rolled over the Greeks and built a 6-goal lead. Despite a short spell when they missed three man-ups in a row, it was a great performance from the world champions.
The Croats netted three counter-attacking goals and sent some rockets to the net from the distance (Javier Garcia netted 4 goals), while killed a series of 6 on 5s on the other end. In fact, the Greek team is built around Champions League winner Olympiacos Piraeus but in this match, they missed brilliant goaltending, effective shooting and defending on the center-forwards – these were mostly delivered by their three Croatian players in the season…
The last match catered all demands, it was the first real thriller of the men’s tournament, between Spain and Montenegro. Aleksandar Ivovic led the Montenegrin charge, he scored four goals in the first half and played a pivotal role in pushing his team to a 5-3 lead while they were dominating the game.
When they had back-to-back 6 on 5s to go three goals up, all looked bright but missed both and all of a sudden Spain gained ground. In 49 seconds the host was back to even and soon with a fine man-up play they went ahead for the first time in the match.
The Montenegrins’ attack fell apart, in the fourth the Spaniards had a man-up to double their lead but the post saved their rivals. And this time Montenegro played the role of the Phoenix, after a drought lasting 13:19 minutes, they regained the lead in 1:41 minutes at 7-6. But one more twist was still to come, Alejandro Bustos netted Spain’s last man-up, halting the team’s 8:59min long silence after the brilliant third period. The Montenegrins couldn’t score in the remaining 82 seconds and the draw was enough for the Spaniards to land in the quarter-finals.
Earlier Germany caused the first ‘semi-upset’ of the championships by holding Hungary on a 4-4 tie in the game played for the second place in Group A. The current Magyar team visibly lacks the same quality and depth it’s been admired for (four players remained on board from those winning the world title here five years ago).
They could net a single goal in the first half, were unable to do serious damage to the well- composed German defense where Moritz Schenkel posted 15 saves on 19 shots in their goal (78.9%), including a penalty stop.
In fact, at times Hungary was saved by its second goalie Soma Vogel who had 16 saves on 20 shots for 80.0%. In the good old days a Hungarian team would have destroyed its rival with such a goalie performance in the back, this time they needed to survive two man-downs to secure the draw and their second place (thank to their better goal-difference) which set up an eight-final against the Netherlands – otherwise they should have played with Greece for a place in the best eight.
The other matches saw France booking its eight-final berth with a convincing win over Malta and the Netherlands achieved the same by beating Turkey with ease. Russia outpowered Romania for the second place in Group D, here Serbia earned its third win by beating Slovakia. Italy also maintained its clean sheet by delivering another demonstrative victory over Georgia.
Dejan Savic, head coach, Serbia:
“We’ve fulfilled our first goal coming to the championships: to win our group. Now we have to think about quarter-finals. The result doesn’t truly show the difference in quality. We had too many missed and precipitated shots. We also weren’t responding to their zone play the right way. I’m satisfied with the first half of the Europeans but if we don’t pass into the semis all this won’t matter much.”
Karol Baco, assistant coach, Slovakia:
“OK, I knew they are better than us. We tried to do our best. I think we played good defense. We missed some chances in man-up situations. It seems that 99% we’ll be playing against Malta next. It’s an important game for us. We must win that one but it won’t be easy. They are growing as a team. I hope we will win.”
Hagen Stamm, head coach, Germany:
“We had good tactics. I think we were a better team. We missed some extra-men in the 4th quarter. In the end, 4-4 was not enough to put us ahead because they have a better goal difference. The tie and the resulting work in their favor. Maybe tomorrow it will sink in everyone’s mind that ultimately this is a huge success for German water polo.”
Tamas Marcz, head coach, Hungary:
“The Germans almost achieved the same draw against our team in the Olympic qualifications before Rio – and that team was almost equal with the 2013 world champion side –, so what happened today it’s not something extraordinary. Once again, we had problems to score from our chances in front. As I told after our previous match, at international level you have to appreciate the opportunities created and focus on the finishing.
This is what we lacked again, and let me add, we haven’t created as many as we expected. At least our defense worked, our second goalie Soma Vogel had a great day, to see the positive side of this match. Conceding four goals in this event, especially against a team like Germany is a feat for anyone. I’m aware that we are going through some struggles but big teams sometimes face phases like this.
This a young team so the bad beating against Italy might have remained with the players even though a professional has to forget even defeats like that on the next morning practice as the very latest. I hope my guys will cool down now, regain some confidence as I’m sure that once they break this mental barrier and start scoring, then loads of goals would arrive at the pool.”
Robin van Galen, head coach, Netherlands:
“We started the game well right from the start won the quarters 6-1, 5-1, and so on as the time went by. It was a really good performance by my team. We were concentrated all the way to the end. We are growing. We also played well against Croatia and Greece. I mean, they are world-class teams. Next up is Hungary, they killed us previously with big defeats in the World League. Still, we’ll try to surprise them and win.”
Sinan Turunc, head coach, Turkey:
“We had tough first two matches. Our play today just wasn’t enough. We have to play better, pay more attention in the attack, the rise in scoring efficiency. Congratulations to the Dutch team. It was a very physical game, they were better.”
Alessandro Campagna, head coach, Italy:
“Congratulations to my team. We played a good game, we showed beauty and diversity in attack. The performance was of the highest level, concentrated all the way to the end. Georgia played hard, they tried their best. Now we have three days of rest but we must continue to grow, to change as the tournament goes on. This is the way to approach the quarter-finals and semi-finals with our top form.”
Revaz Chomakhidze, head coach, Georgia:
“I believe that we will be competing at our level in our following match. Our group was very tough with teams like Italy, Hungary, and Germany, who are much stronger than us, but our goal was to perform well in the group stage and I feel like we have achieved it. We played at our level, maybe even a little bit above our usual one, we were better than what I expected. Now we face a very important game because to play for the 13th spot we have to beat Turkey. After that, we will do our best to finish 13th here.”
Sergey Evstigneev, head coach, Russia:
“It was hard at the beginning as we were down 1-3, 1-4, but later we managed to establish balance and eventually breakaway in the second two quarters taking advantage of their mistakes. We were concentrated from the beginning to the end. It was a good game for the team, boosted their confidence. France? We will prepare well for that match.”
Dejan Stanojevic, head coach, Romania:
“The game was decided by their physical superiority. We stood well at the beginning but as time went by their physical strength prevailed. That forced us committing mistakes we wouldn’t normally do, it lasted for a period of some 7-8 minutes and that determined the outcome of the match. We are a young team, most of the players are 18-23 years old and this is their first appearance at the top event. All this is a part of growing up as a team.”
Nenad Vukanic, head coach, France:
“We used this game to give everyone in the team a chance to get a taste of playing at the Europeans, to get into the rhythm for the matches to come. The result was never in question, not for a single moment.”
Karl Izzo, head coach, Malta:
“It was our best out of the three games we have played so far at this Championships. We played well, were good in attack but missed some extra-man. It’s a problem that we have to fix for the coming matches. Next up for us is Slovakia on Sunday. It’s going to be tough.”
Ivica Tucak, head coach, Croatia:
“I’m satisfied, we played a good game but it’s not important for us. We had powerful, concentrated defense, attack too, the center-forwards were excellent. We wanted this game and prepared for it well. For us, the Championships’ real start in the quarter-finals. Greece is a strong team, but I repeat, we must forget this match immediately, by tomorrow’s training as the latest. We’ll see who we will play against next.”
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Greece:
“Croatia was the better team today. We had a problem with our man-up in the whole game and just couldn’t follow their rhythm. We were successful in only a few out of the 15 man-ups we had. For us, the Championships start now. Every game ahead is like a final for us.”
Vladimir Gojkovic, head coach, Montenegro:
“Well, we played excellent water polo for the first half of the game. Then we started conceding easy goals. Later we managed to come back. We had an extra man in the 4th quarter but missed it. We fought, wanted to win so I don’t resent anyone. Now we play a new game in two days, to be followed by an extra difficult quarter-final which is what we expected more or less. It’s going to be tough.”
David Martin, head coach, Spain:
“It was a hard game. We played against one of the top teams in the world. We started well, got into problems and knew we had to change something which we did with our counter-attacks. It was a close game till the end.”
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