Soon after an early exchange of goals – two were hit in 17 seconds – Spain took the upper hand as the first half progressed and by netting two, the second with 19 seconds to go, they led 3-1 after eight minutes.
Italy had struggled in front – partly because a couple of disciplinary cases related the red cards in the semis kept two of their starters away from the pool – but in the second they finally found the way to score (in the first their lonely goal came from a penalty). Leftie Luca Damonte’s brilliant curved lob bounced in from the post to halt his team’s scoreless run of 9:42 minutes. Further four minutes gone without notable action, before Italy earned its first man-up in this quarter and, after a time-out, Giacomo Cannella sent the ball home for 3-3. Spain? No real danger created in the second eight minutes, they seemed to slow down a bit by the end of the tournament, and this low-scoring game with a lot of swimming didn’t help to recharge the batteries or at least rest a bit from time to time.
🗣 “We’ve learnt a lot this summer”— LEN – European Aquatics (@LENaquatics) September 10, 2022
🇪🇸 @RFEN_Oficial’s Felipe Perrone and Alvaro Granados talk to LEN TV about their takeaways from #wp2022split after winning European Bronze.#waterpolo #experiencewaterpolo pic.twitter.com/PcaA2pXIAl
In the third, Italy could have gone ahead, but missed its first 6 on 5, then Marco del Lungo posted a huge save in a man-down, then Marc Larumbe made the second shot after the corner-throw for 4-3. Inexperience took its toll here and soon again, it was rookie Matteo Iocchi who couldn’t block in the previous man-up, then he committed an exclusion foul in front of the Spanish goal, and Alvaro Granados dunked the ball from close to make it 5-3, within 37 seconds.
Unai Aguirre posted another save at the other end, this time in a man-down – earlier he managed to catch Francesco di Fulvio’s usually lethal 6m shot –, then a second one, but here Luca Damonte had a second chance after the corner-throw and his bouncer went in – after five minutes, Italy scored again. However, Spain replied soon, Bernat Sanahuja put the ball away from a 6 on 5 for 6-4. Italy had one fine chance in the last minute, after a turnover foul and an exclusion they remained 4 on 3 in front, but Jacopo Alesiani’s 5m shot was brilliantly blocked by Roger Tahull, so Spain led 6-4 before the final quarter.
🇪🇸 Spain vs. Italy 🇮🇹 goes down to the wire!— LEN – European Aquatics (@LENaquatics) September 10, 2022
The bronze medal match did not disappoint, as @RFEN_Oficial hold off @FINOfficial_ in the final quarter to win third place honours.#wp2022split highlights 👇 pic.twitter.com/5pKvbLU3Um
The battle heated up in the fourth, Italy got a penalty – it seemed the referee called an illegal under water ball-push by the defender, the centre’s hand wasn’t on it – and di Fulvio buried it. Then Tahull took three shots at the end of a man-up, in four seconds, but the post and del Lungo were up to each. Soon it was even, Lorenzo Bruni had an easy put-away in a 6 on 5 for 6-6. Spain’s next man-up also gone, though the bench debated it whether their man on 2m was denied according to the rulebook. After missed shots at each end, Spain got a 5 on 4 (soon after a double exclusion) – the first shot was blocked but then, though everone could re-enter, Felipe Perrone used all his experience and remaining energies to send the ball into the net from the perimeter for 7-6 with 3:19 to go. Spain missed a match-ball when they couldn’t make a 6 on 5 but it did not matter at the end – the Italians burnt their very last reserves and couldn’t create any more danger.
It means that Spain could add a European Championship bronze to the World Championship gold in two months, but Italy also enjoyed a great season: world silver, World League gold and now a fourth place after two single-goal losses in the top four – it’s a brilliant achievement in anybody’s language.
David Martin, coach, Spain
“It was really important for us to close this very long season with a win and with a medal. I think these two teams were the best ones in this season, how Italy played the whole summer and this tournament was amazing. Today was a game of nerves and we did slightly better and I want to congratulate to my players.”
Alessandro Campagna, coach, Italy
“It’s amazing, amazing, really… What the team did today and during the last matches which we had to play with twelve players are fantastic. Quarter-final, semi-final, this match – we set examples every time, we were strong, we came back, we never stopped fighting, it was a real demonstration, even at the end of a very long season. This served this team well, we’ll come back next year even stronger and will be even better.”
Unai Aguirre, goalkeeper, Spain
“It was an amazing game. We played very well, nice water polo. This bronze medal is very valuable, all medals are important and even if this one is a bronze, still a medal and I am so happy for that. This new generation of Spanish water polo shows that we can get a lot of important achievements. I am proud to be part of that. In every match I try to enjoy the game and to be very concentrates. I know we are world champions and European bronze medallist, but I don’t feel the pressure. It is an honour.”
Felipe Perrone, captain, Spain
“Today we had a great match, I think everybody enjoyed it, it was a nice game. I enjoyed a lot this beautiful water polo. It is great to get the bronze medal, after this long tournament in this long season –it is so amazing. I am really happy that I’m 36 years old, spent 17 years in a national team and scored the last goal, the winning goal and I feel a great satisfaction. We have a young team, the new kids are growing up. In each tournamet we have we improve, and this is good for the future of the Spanish water polo.”
Marco del Luongo, goalkeeper, Italy
“This match was a battle all the way till the very end. We gave everything we could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. We must continue to grow mentally, psychologically. We must learn to react better to different referees’ decisions, not fall for provocations. The ‘Settebello’ is a group which never gives up, ever. This is a new team, a new and compact team that is constantly working on the project Paris24. We need to grow together and gain more experience.”
Francesco di Fulvio, player
“I would like to congratulate all my team mates for the incredible sumner we have had. We lost the last two matches by one goal. That doesn’t diminish everything we have done since last September when this new team has been formed. We have grown incredibly in this last year. The team has a future. I think we have grown and learned from the experience of the match against Croatia too.”
Lorenzo Bruni, player, Italy
“It has been a very long and exhausting summer with the Worlds, the World League Super Final, and the European Championships. We always ended up playing with twelve players in the roster. In the end it had its consequences ever since the semi-final. Today Spain was better.”