On the day of shocks, the world champion and the Olympic champion fall in the quarters
The Olympic champion and title-holder Serbian team’s quest for a record-tying fifth straight gold was halted by 2018 runner-up Spain as they avenged their defeat two years ago by beating the Serbs in a penalty shootout. Earlier Montenegro staged a great performance to oust world champion Italy and keep its Olympic qualification campaign alive. They will face host Hungary in the semis, which overcame minor struggles and with a fine second half downed the Russians. Croatia came up with a brilliant first two quarters against Greece and they just cruised in the second half to set-up a re-match with Spain after their memorable battle in the semis at the Worlds last summer.
Men’s quarter-finals: Italy v Montenegro 8-10, Serbia v Spain 6-6 (penalties: 3-4), Hungary v Russia 14-10, Croatia v Greece 14-11
For places 9-12th: Turkey v Georgia 6-12, Germany v Romania 15-10. For places 13-14th: Slovakia v France 6-9. For places 15-16th: Malta v Netherlands 9-19
Fixtures for Friday:
Semi-finals: Montenegro v Hungary, Spain v Croatia. For places 5-8th: Italy v Russia, Serbia v Greece. For places 9-10th: Georgia v Germany. For places 11-12th: Turkey v Romania.
The quarters kicked off in the most stunning way possible as Montenegro ousted the world champion Italian team. In the first period the Montenegrins took the lead thrice but Italy could equalise every time and then went ahead three times in the second but the Montenegrins also had the answers. It was a thrilling first half, capped with a great blast from Dragan Draskovic who gave back the lead to his team for halftime (6-7).
Things started changing in the third, though the Italians managed go even but they began to miss their man-ups in succession while their rivals netted two 6 on 5s to build a 7-9 lead before the last break. The trends didn’t change in the fourth, the world champions were unable to put away any of their 6 on 5 (they closed the match with 1 for 15) – while Aleksandar Ivovic buried a penalty for 7-10. Though Nicolo Figari pulled one back from action with 3:36 to go, they couldn’t add any more (after 6-5 there was a 15-minute long period when Montenegro had a 1-5 rush). This means Italy will miss the quarters for the second time in the last six editions – the previous loss also occurred in a January edition, in 2016, guess to whom: Montenegro (7-10).
The series of shocks didn’t end here, in the next game the title-holder and Olympic champion Serbs were also gone. In recent years Spain found the tools to match them, in the final of the previous Europeans they played a draw and lost only in the shootout. Last summer they beat them in the World Championships quarters, though that was a young Serb side – but this time they managed to oust the ‘mighty boys’.
The game followed almost the same pattern as the final in Barcelona: though the Serbs took a 3-1 lead, Spain went ahead with four connecting goals to 3-5 (three came in a span of 101 seconds). The champions came back here too as in 2018: after the Spaniards missed a crucial man-up to go 7-4 up, they netted one for 6-5 before the third. Then Dusan Mandic buried a 6 on 5, his third in the game, to break even with 5:51 remaining. And the defences worked well, especially Dani Lopez, who had 11 saves, so the decision was left to the shootout once more.
Serbia entered the same five players who converted all five penalties in 2018, Spain changed one, Francisco Fernandez, who had missed the crucial shot which cost them the title. This time the outcome was different since two of the ‘safest hands’ made a miss on the Serbian side, Prlainovic and Mandic. Even though Munarriz was also denied, Alvaro Granados netted the fifth attempt (with brave heart after he had been 1/7 in the game). This also ended the Serbians’ dreams to tie Hungary’s ancient record (1926-1938) of winning five back-to-back titles – their run was halted at four here – and it’s also going to be the first time since 1999 that they don’t reach the semis.
Hungary then reset the ‘paper-form’ button – and regained some pride to defeat Russia, the team which had beaten them in Barcelona on the last day to push the Magyars to the 8th place, their second worst performance ever. This time it was a different team and a different story, though Russia did a fine job as they managed to stay close in the first half (6-5) and didn’t collapse when the home side rushed to a 10-6 lead in the third. They came back to 10-8 and a penalty save by Vitaly Statsenko kept their hope alive. But Hungary opened the fourth in the same devastating mood as the third, netted three connecting goals in 1:54 minutes and there was no way back for the Russians after 13-8.
Croatia joined the semi-final party with perhaps the most convincing win in the four QFs. They could score from almost all distances and angles in the opening period while Greece missed many fine chances as the Croats took a 6-3 lead. In the second they could add two to go 8-3 up and from that point they just did a brilliant job in maintaining the gap. Greece could never come closer than three as the Croats, led by Maro Jokovic with 4 goals (playing in Greece for Olympiakos in the club season), managed to score whenever it was needed and Marko Bijac also contributed a lot with 13 saves (while Greece’s first goalie had to be substituted after the first half since Emmanouil Zerdevas had only 3 saves on 13 shots).
This sets up exciting semi-finals for Friday when Hungary will face Montenegro (like in Belgrade 2016 semis) and Spain is to meet Croatia (like in Gwangju 2019 semis). Among the four teams only Spain has secured its place at the Olympics so the other three will make a hell of effort to grab the quota available here.
Italy v Montenegro 8-10
Alessandro Campagna, head coach, Italy
“It was a real battle. We didn’t play well, everything went wrong. At the beginning we played well but that is not enough. How we earned our man-up situations was quite okay but when we got the exclusions we could not do anything. I believe the problem was in my player’s head, they somehow just could not concentrate. Montenegro deserved to win. This is a good lesson for us. We must now conclude this Championships the right way and finish 5th.”
Vladimir Gojkovic, head coach, Montenegro
“It was an excellent game, it can’t get any better than this. We pushed hard, went into the game well. You could feel the chemistry between the players. They are growing. I have to say a big thanks to all the team, it was a huge teamwork. Our goalkeeper had many brilliant saves, he was the key of the victory. This is not the end. We must keep our feet on the ground and prepare for what has to come.”
Vicenzo Renzuto, player, Italy
“It was a very difficult match, very physical game. They pushed us with their pressing defence. Our man-up was terrible, I think we only scored one goal. You simply cannot win a game like this in that way. Our man-up hasn’t been working in the whole championships. We didn’t succeed to solve it in time for this match. We will now see who comes next, I think Russia, and finish the Europeans in the right way.”
Dejan Lazovic, goalkeeper, Montenegro
“We played a top game from start to finish. We did everything we said we would. We played with grit, showed a fantastic performance and managed to take control of the match and close it. I know a lot of their shooters as I played in Italy for years. But there are no secrets between us. We have four rookies in the team so this is a huge success. Still, we haven’t done anything yet we have to push forward and try to go as far as we can.”
Marko Petkovic, player, Montenegro
“It might sound silly but before the game I felt some strong energy in my team and had the intuition that it is impossible for us to lose today. Even if Italy was the favourite of this match as the reigning world champions, and during the whole game they were quite close to us, we were the ones who dominated. Our defence was brilliant and my teammates gave me fantastic assists, I felt we were invincible. If I could choose who I would like to play with in the semi-finals, I would choose Hungary, they are very strong and five thousand people will support them, but this crowd also gives us strength even if they cheer for the opponent.”
Serbia v Spain 6-6 (penalties: 3-4)
Dejan Savic, head coach, Serbia
“It was a very tough game. We expected a crazy match like this one, if not even a crazier one. We opened the match well then Spain managed to turn around the game and keep the rhythm of the game high. We were catching up but our man-up was bad. Ultimately, they deserved the win. We now have to defend our dignity. I have to pull back my players from this state of shock. We are not used to lose at this stage.
David Martin, head coach, Spain
“It was a fantastic match with two great teams. The key was that we forced them to finish their attacks quickly, they usually score a lot, but we did not let them shoot today. Our team had a very good rhythm, but it is true that we were suffering at the end, because we lost our energy that’s why we could not win the game without the penalty shoots. Today my players literally left their hearts and souls in the water. We pushed strong but now we are physically destroyed. I am very happy with how my team reacted and happy that we have advanced into the semi-finals. We are taking one step at a time. I think it was a celebration of water polo and I was happy we could play an entertaining game what the audience loved.”
Filip Filipovic, player, Serbia
“We didn’t want to get into penalties. Out attack just didn’t work today. This is not a tragedy, this is also what sport is about, it’s not only about winning all the time. We have to keep our heads high. I would like to congratulate Spain on the victory but to my team as well. We showed character today. We can solve this problem in offence. We just need time. We only got together a month ago. The Spanish players play and know each other well as they mostly play at home and in Barcelona. Today we missed too many shots, both me and my team-mates. I will not point a finger at anyone. We will rise up and finish these Championships the right way.”
Marc Larumbe, player, Spain
“It was a beautiful match! We lost to them the same way in a shootout in the Barcelona final in 2018. Now, finally we are on the winning side. On Friday we will play the semi-finals and we want to win. We are so happy!”
Felipe Perrone, player, Spain
“This match was incredibly tight. I think we used well our man-ups and we also played wisely. All these added up for us to win this game.”
Hungary v Russia 14-10
Tamás Marcz, head coach, Hungary
“I am very happy about winning this game. We knew that this Russian team was dangerous, so everybody was totally focused. I am satisfied with our attacks, this is what we have to keep going against Montenegro, but I am not satisfied with our defence. I am sure that in the semi-finals we cannot concede 10 goals, because it will not be enough for the final. We are going to try to fix our defence to increase its efficiency.”
Sergey Evstigneev, head coach, Russia
“What can I say? It was a good match but we could have done much better. We made too many mistakes. We couldn’t deliver certain things we normally do and practise in training. Today these just weren’t working. I congratulate Hungary for going into the semi-finals. We did already qualify for the Olympic Qualification Tournament but Russia always wants and aims high. We will try and do that against Italy.”
Krisztian Manhercz, player, Hungary
“We were expecting them to have a rather strong start and they indeed could keep up with us for quite a while. Due to our mistakes, both in defence and offense, we could not create a bigger difference early on. Our physical condition was better so we could change the pace in the third quarter, therefore we could create an advantage of 3-4 goals, which lasted till the end. We will meet Montenegro in the semi-finals, which is going to be a match of prestige. Those who have an in-depth knowledge of water polo know very well that we have some defeats to repay for, so I am quite sure everyone is going to be super-motivated in our team.”
Konstantin Kharkov, player, Russia
“We could have played better today, we made mistakes in defence. The opening of the match was good. I think the first quarter was a tie but later we lost our concentration and Hungary broke the match in the third quarter. We fulfilled our first objective to qualify for the Olympic Qualification Tournament. Now we will play against Italy. We will prepare for them.”
Croatia v Greece 14-11
Ivica Tucak, head coach, Croatia
“We played a top game. I want to congratulate to everyone, staff, players, our federation. We are in the semi-final, this is where we belong to. You can see how many good teams slip at this crucial phase of the championships. My players have the continuity and know how to play these games. Today was a never-ending day while we were waiting for this match. We did everything to keep the players calm. Our offense, defence everything worked just right. I will do my best to add an extra 10% to our game on Friday. Spain is an excellent team, strong and fast, and Perrone brought that extra quality to their game. It will be a difficult match but I believe we can win.”
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Greece
“Today the better team won. They kept coming on and we didn’t push them back. We have been defeated not because this was a tough game, but because we conceded 10 goals in the first half. I think this tells everything about the team. When you play in the quarter-finals at a European Championships then you cannot get 10 goals in 16 minutes. We were not ready to play this game from the first minute, we did not concentrate, did not make the right decisions, we simply underperformed. In an event like this you cannot get far if you play like we did today. Still, we will try our best against Serbia. Five out of the top eight teams here still haven’t qualified for Tokyo so we have two more tough games. We must show more passion and desire to win if we want to close the championships the right way.”
Maro Jokovic, player, Croatia
“Greece gave a good resistance. Again a short blackout hit us but we did a reset and continued as we agreed before the match. The game against Spain will be difficult, they play at top level but if we continue like this I think the final is within our reach.”
Angelos Vlachopoulos, player, Greece
“Today was bad for us. We didn’t do what we wanted. We conceded 14 goals, that is too much, you can’t win this way. Serbia will be tough. In the bracket for the 5-8th place you see four teams that could have been in the top 4. We need to be more concentrated and better to finish as high as we can. There is still a long season ahead of us.”
For places 9-12th, 13.00
Turkey v Georgia 6-12
Sinan Turunc, head coach, Turkey
“I was quite frustrated during the match because I felt my players were not concentrated. We struggle with some health problems but we cannot use that as an excuse for anything, nor my players should refer to that. Now we keep the routine, watch videos, analyse our opponent, go to trainings and we hope we can get back to the right level of concentration.”
Revaz Chomakhidze, head coach, Georgia
“It was necessary to win. For my players it was not easy, especially because we had a tough game against Russia so they could not stay focused 100% throughout the whole match. But we managed to win and it is all that matters.”
Marko Jelaca, player, Georgia
“We were really disappointed after the game against Russia but now we focus on finishing on the 9th place. Today we played well, we knew that we were the favourites and we took advantage from that. I hope we can win our last game on Friday.”
For places 9-12th, 14.30
Germany v Romania 15-10
Hagen Stamm, head coach, Germany
‘I think it was the best game in the tournament so far for us. We have had three great quarters, and only one bad. We have been focused on fighting as a team, everybody, our goalie, which is important for me as a coach. Today I was satisfied with everything. This is what we want to push further until we are able to play.”
Athanasios Kechagias, head coach, Romania
“This was one more game for us where we didn’t start well. We lost concentration, made many individual mistakes, lost different individual battles. Then we managed to come back only to fall back into the same pattern. It was the second quarter so there was still enough time. I don’t know why this is happening. We have to find out and correct it.”
Mateo Cuk, player, Germany
“We are satisfied. We were at our best when it mattered the most. We want to repeat the result from Barcelona 2018 and finish 9th as well as qualify for the Olympic Qualification Tournament, which was our main goal here. Maybe even secure a berth for the Worlds. We are highly motivated to do so.”
Cosmin Radu, player, Romania
We started badly, with 1-5. By halftime we managed to come back. We didn’t control the rhythm of our game. In all honesty, we didn’t deserve to win today. Now, it is important to win against Turkey for the various qualifications.”
Moritz Schenkel, goalkeeper, Germany
“We started the game very well and created a confident lead. In the second quarter we were not focused and let them score easy goals. Then we could wake up again and won the match by five goals. In recent years we faced Georgia two times and we lost both matches so we need to be more powerful against them on Friday.”
For places 13-14th, 11.30
Slovakia v France 6-9
Karol Baco, assistant coach, Slovakia
“Today we suffered again because of our low shooting efficiency. We earned many penalties but we only scored one goal from them during the whole tournament. We could not take advantage of the man-ups either. When we got closer to our opponent we could not make that one step to really get into the game. All these things can be improved, I think, individually. The technique, the concentration and so on. We lack a bit of everything, but if we work on those problems we will achieve way better results in the future.”
Nenad Vukanic, head coach, France:
“It was an important match for us but we did not play as I expected, because we missed some of our chances. We also tried to demonstrate the level we are able to play on. I must say that we started very well but after a while we have lost a bit of our concentration and confidence. We were suffering in the last two quarters but it is okay for now. I am satisfied with this victory and we will see what we are capable of in the future.”
Thomas Vernoux, player, France
“I think there were a big potential in our team so we cannot be fully satisfied with the 13th place. We should have won our first match. Though, we could show our strength against Greece, Netherlands and Slovakia. We have to take some more steps forward, improve our game in order to finish higher in the future.”
For places 15-16th, 10.00
Malta v Netherlands 9-19
Karl Izzo, head coach, Malta
“I think of this game rather positively, just as on our whole participation. I hope the athletes have the same feeling. Although today we had to play against a very strong team, we managed to attack successfully. Some of their shots could have been saved but this makes the game interesting. Of course, we made mistakes, but altogether it was a great experience to be here.”
Harry van der Meer, head coach, Netherlands
“Deep inside, we are sad that we were only able to achieve the 15th place. We wanted to finish higher, but we were unlucky. At the beginning of the European Championships we had great performances, we fulfilled our main goal and beat Romania, then we played Russia and Serbia who are normally better than us. But in the final round of the prelims it came as a surprise that the Romanians beat the Russians, which meant that we had to play against France for the 13th place. It was a tight game, but we lost. I do not know why we missed so many chances during this tournament, but we will need to find an answer for that in the future.”
Guus van Ijperen, player, Netherlands
“Of course, I am happy about winning this game but I am also dissatisfied with the 15th place. With a bit of luck, we could have competed in the quarter-finals 0ualification. We have to learn from this situation, and we need to improve before the Olympic Qualification Tournament starts.”