Spain is back to the final after 2014, Russia books Olympic spot after shootout-win against the title-holders
Russia and Spain will play for the gold medal on Saturday after thrilling semi-final wins over the Netherlands and Hungary respectively. Thanks to its shootout win, Russia returns to the final after ten years, while Spain can repeat its win from 2014, achieved here in Budapest. Regardless of the outcome, the Russians also booked their ticket to Tokyo since Spain had already secured its place last summer. Hungary seems to be cursed against Spain in the semis as this was their 6th loss in as many clashes, while the Netherlands miss the final after three consecutive appearances.
Women’s semi-finals: Russia v Netherlands 7-7, penalties: 4-3. Hungary v Spain 10-11. For places 5-8th: France v Greece 3-13, Italy v Slovakia 16-4.
Fixtures for Saturday
Final (19.00): Spain v Russia. Bronze game (17.30): Hungary v Netherlands. For 5-6th places (16.00): Greece v Italy. For places 7-8th (14.30): France v Slovakia
As expected, the semis offered thrilling matches – and great twists and turns right in the first duel between Russia and the Netherlands. The Dutch had a bit better start and jumped to a 1-2 lead but the Russians geared up for the second period and netted three connecting goals for 4-2. It was Holland’s turn then and by halftime they came back to 4-4 and it only remained tied because Maud Megens blasted a penalty wide – it was their second miss from the 5m line in the first half.
The Netherlands rolled on in the third and added two more, then had a man-up to go three goals up but they couldn’t take a shot and Olga Gorbunova netted a dying 6 on 5 to halve the gap at 6-5. And she was on target right from the first possession to equalise and from that point a great chess-game began. It was a huge tactical battle, the defences did an outstanding job, then after five minutes of breath-taking swimming and shooting, Brigitte Seeking sent the ball home from a 6m free through with 2:05 to go. But the Russian reply came immediately, Maria Borisova buried a 6 on 5 after a time-out and 1:35 minutes were left for the decision. It didn’t come in the regular time so the penalties decided the outcome.
And just as in the match, the Dutch missed two while the Russians buried all four to book their spot in the final after 10 years – and this win was also their ticket to Tokyo as the Spanish downed the Hungarians next. It also means that Russia maintains its status in European water polo as the only female team which has taken part in each edition since the beginning in Sydney 2000. (Note, that penalties earned the Rio spot for Russia in 2016 when they beat Greece in a shootout in the qualification tournament and they also clinched the bronze in Rio after a successful shootout against Hungary.)
The second semi between Spain and the Hungarians was just as exciting: the crowd saw a great opening period with three goals apiece – including a VAR-approved Spanish goal which otherwise would have been overlooked –, then Anna Illes netted a man-up for 4-3 but that didn’t end Hungary’s struggle in 6 on 5s, only proved to be an exception. At halftime the Magyars stood with 1/8 but they had a much better spell in the third when they scored three extras. However, their rivals were also on fire and at one point Spain led 5-7 but Vanda Valyi’s double brought the game back to even before the last break.
The fourth period then offered some exceptional scenes. The Spanish enjoyed a tremendous run as they netted four goals in a row. Their defence was superb and in offense their pinpoint shots bounced in from the woodwork in succession to give them a decisive lead of 7-11 with 3:17 remaining. Well, it looked decisive, but then, all of sudden, the Magyars started shooting with ‘all-in’ mood and all went in: in a span of 1:48 minutes they scored three for 10-11. Incoming goalie Edina Gangl made a save 33 seconds from time and soon joined her team-mates to set up a 7 on 6 attack, the ball found Rita Keszthelyi in front-of the goal, she could send it towards the net under pressure but LEN Award-winning Spanish goalie Laura Ester managed to catch it and sent Spain to the final once more here in Budapest, after 2014.
It also meant the Hungary’s curse in the semis against Spain continues: this was their 6th match in this phase of a major tournament and Spain won all six (2008 Europeans, 2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds, 2014 Europeans, 2019 Worlds and here) – and also, the Magyars lost SFs in succession recently, in Rio 2016, Barcelona 2018, Gwangju 2019 and here. They just hope to get a medal what they have always achieved in the January editions (2012, 2016) and in the Europeans held in Budapest (2001, 2014). However, against the Netherlands this task will be anything but easy.
Russia v Netherlands 7-7, penalties: 4-3
Andrei Belofastos, assistant coach, Russia
“It was a tough game. We had good tactics. The Netherlands is an amazing team who plays top water polo. We started well, then we got two more goals in the third quarter and almost lost the match. Luckily it was the end of the quarter and we managed to organise ourselves and win the fourth 2-1. We scored and conceded few goals. Every single one of them could have been the winning one. In the final we have to be more aggressive in attack and more careful in defence. We will see who comes. We need to secure the berth for Tokyo.”
Arno Havenga, head coach, Netherlands
“This was a thrilling game against Russia. Even if I was satisfied with our defence, we had some difficulties with scoring goals so we could not make a bigger gap. In the end of the third quarter we had the chance to make a 3-goal advantage, if we could have scored that goal, we would have been much more secured. But instead of this scenario, Russia came back to the game. That was the most crucial moment when the victory slipped out from our hands, I think. This is a terrible shock for my team. I have to get them back and ready for the bronze game.”
Anna Karnaukh, goalkeeper, Russia
“We are extremely happy, we will play in the final, I cannot believe it. We knew that it would be a tough game, but we were able to control it and reached a draw at the end of the 4th quarter. The penalty shootout is always a gambling, but I wanted to help my team and finally I could make a save in the 5th round. Netherlands is one of our main opponents, so beating such an excellent team is simply indescribable. We have a really strong team and we believe in each other. We will do our best to win the gold medal on Saturday.”
Evgenya Ivanova, player, Russia:
“It was a very difficult game between teams of the same level. I think it was fair that it went into penalties. This is a big step for us. We haven’t been in a final for 10 years. It doesn’t matter who comes we will go for the gold now.
Debby Willemsz, goalkeeper, Netherlands
In the end it was a lottery of the penalties. Both teams are good and could have won. We now have to look to the bronze game. It is a huge difference to finish third or fourth. Medal is a medal, regardless of the colour and we want to finish the Championships with a victory.”
Hungary v Spain 10-11
Attila Biro, head coach, Hungary
“I think the main problem during the second half was the tiredness, I could not rotate my players properly. Greta Gurisatti broke her finger in the first quarter and two of my players were excluded. Maybe we could have done some of our man-ups a bit differently, but I really do not think it was a problem with our tactics. If the girls keep this attitude for the bronze match and play their heart out, we can catch the medal and the Olympic quota later.”
Miguel Oca, head coach, Spain
“This was a match where both teams played on a really high level and it was equal until the 4th period where we could feel that Hungary lost the rhythm. Or it is also possible that they were tired, and we had a little better physical condition. But in the last few minutes they started to fight for the victory, they had nothing to lose and they scored three goals in the last two minutes which was incredible. We knew they have played their hearts out. However, we were lucky in the last seconds and our goalkeeper saved their last shot and they could not equalise. In the final we will meet Russia, they are in fantastic form, I am expecting the maximum from my girls to have any chance to beat them.”
Dora Leimeter, player, Hungary
“We have made a lot of progress compared to summer, we can fight as a team and we also improved our game. Everyone could add something to the match and there is always an outstanding player who can give even more into it. I think our defence worked well, even though we conceded 10 goals, which is not that much as water polo accelerated a lot. In attack, there were a couple of situations where we shot the ball too early or we did not even get to shooting, we should have been braver during those moments. I am glad that we were able to come back from four goals down, this perfectly reflects the perseverance of our team.”
Laura Ester, goalkeeper, Spain
“I don’t know what was going through my mind during that last shot. I didn’t really see well I just did what my heart told me to. It was really hard, I mean, it had to be. It is the European Championships semi-final plus they were playing at home. Russia is our great rival, we know we have to give that extra 10% in order to beat them.”
Clara Espar, player, Spain
“This was a very tough game until the last seconds. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing with so many spectators supporting Hungary. The Hungarian girls kept on fighting, they were able to play their own game even in the last quarter, this is why they could get back to the game. Fortunately, we had a four-goal difference before the last moments, that was the decisive factor in this match.”
For places 5-8th, 14.30
France v Greece 3-13
Florian Bruzzo, head coach, France
“We were OK during the first two quarters but like in our previous four games, our attack didn’t work again. We just can’t score goals. Our defence was strong. We need to improve our efficiency in order to be able to compete with top teams. We also need to show more quality shots and desire to win. Every championships and big competitions are great experience for us. I think today it was not about how much energy we have left but rather about our concentration. Slovakia made big progress in the last two years, their U17 beat Hungary so we have to approach the game against them with respect.
Georgios Morfesis, head coach, Greece
“We were focused in defence. My congratulations to France, they have improved a lot in the last two years. Still, the difference in quality was obvious, and this is normal. We have one more game against Italy ,we want to win in order to finish as high as we can in these Europeans.”
Estelle Millot, player, France
“We are quite disappointed to be honest. We wanted to win, that was our goal today. We knew it would be difficult. To do so we should have been at our best and just the opposite happened. We hit the post so many times, we just couldn’t score. Our defence was not so bad but eventually it went downwards as our attack wasn’t working. We never won against Greece in 25 years but also never lost to Slovakia in 25 years. We hope at least that will not change. They are a young and growing team, we need to take them seriously. Here we have the top 6 teams and the lower 6 teams. We are somewhere in the middle but want to take the way up. That is the message we are trying to send.”
Eleni Xenaki, player, Greece
“Our start was not so concentrated. We didn’t do what our coaches advised us to. After halftime we started listening and pulled away. The game against Italy will be a hard one. They are in a same position like we are. The 5th place is important not only for these championships but for our self-confidence.
Angeliki Gerolymou, assistant coach, Greece
“We finally played really well in the 3rd and 4th quarter that we have not managed to do in the previous games. We kept the score low, which was important for us as we are not a team which scores 14-15 goals in a single game. Today we managed to keep France on three goals, our defence shined, so that is why we could win this match easily. We want to be as stable as today on our last match as well. We are about to grab the 5th place on Saturday.”
Eleftheria Plevritou, player, Greece
“Our original plan before the tournament was to get into the semi-finals but Spain was better than us so they deserved more to continue on that path. We knew that this match would be easier for us, we expected to go ahead for the 5th place which will be, most likely, against Italy. They are a lot better team than France so we have to be focused and well prepared.”
For places 5-8th, 16.00
Italy v Slovakia 16-4
Paolo Zizza, head coach, Italy
“This was an easy game. It was important to get over the quarter-final loss. In the first two quarters we were a bit heavy, stiff. In the third quarter we started playing with more intelligence. For us, to finish 5th is very important in view of the forthcoming Olympic Qualification Tournament in Trieste, Italy.
Milan Henkrich, head coach, Slovakia
“We are never happy when we lose. It could have been better but we managed to score four goals which we never did before in this kind of match. These games are a good way for us to gain experience and learn. We want to win our last game and finish the championships with a victory. So far, we only won against France in juniors so it would be a first at this level.”
Fabiana Soprano, player, Italy
“It was good. We could have scored some more goals. Our defence was a bit stiff at the beginning. In the third quarter we released ourselves and played our game. We concentrated on letting as few centre-feeds in front of our goal as possible. We have to improve our approach to the match for the next game against Greece. We are eager to finish as high as we can.”
Elisa Queirolo, player, Italy
“I think this was not a great match for us. We did not play on the level we are capable of, but the most important thing is that we were able to win. We will play against Greece and I hope that we can defeat them.”
Janka Kurucova, player, Slovakia
“It was a tough game. We started very well in the first quarter with 1-2 then in the second quarter we fell asleep and conceded many goals. We then started to push and ended at 4-16. It is a great lesson for us to play against Italy. We must use that experience in more important games. France will not be as tough Italy. We have to be very disciplined and start well to have a chance to win.”