Mirroring the senior World Championships, Italy and Spain played for the title at the men’s European Junior (U17) Water Polo Championships in Tbilisi – and the outcome was the same: Italy won with ease. Hungary claimed the bronze medal after beating Greece.
1. Italy, 2. Spain, 3. Hungary, 4. Greece, 5. Montenegro, 6. Serbia, 7. Germany, 8. Russia, 9. Croatia, 10. Georgia, 11. Netherlands, 12. Malta, 13. France, 14. Turkey, 15. Romania, 16. Slovakia
The Italian team might have lost its head coach amidst tragic circumstances but the young warriors fought to honour the memory of the late Nando Pesci – who passed away on the eve of travelling to Tbilisi – and clinched the title with a convincing performance.
Just like at the seniors’ World Championships, the Italians took the upper hand in the second half of the final against Spain. With a 3-0 rush in the third period they took a commanding lead and they almost copied the final result from Gwangju – that game ended in a 10-5 triumph. In Tbilisi it was 10-6, Filippo Ferrero led the Italians’ charge with 5 goals.
In fact, that was their closest game, besides their 16-12 victory over Russia in the group phase. Neither Germany (13-6 in the quarters), nor Greece (13-8) was anywhere close to the Italians.
The ‘Balkan’ half of the draw offered much more thrilling matches – though at the end no ex-Yugoslavian side made the semis. In the crossover phase Montenegro ousted Croatia in a penalty-shootout so the very strong Croatian side failed to reach the quarters. In the best eight Greece upended Serbia a tremendous battle (5-3) and Hungary downed the Montenegrins (7-4). Spain thrashed Russia (15-3) and went on beating Hungary in the semis with some outstanding defending (8-5).
The Magyars then left no chance for the Greeks in the battle for the bronze (10-4) while the Montenegrins managed to score the winning goal 58 seconds from time against Serbia for the 5th place. Other notable achievements were the host Georgian team’s march ending in the 10th place and Malta’s 12th position was also a much better result compared to the senior championships.
The season’s last age-group event is due in the beginning of September when the women’s U17 European Championships take place in Volos (GRE).