It might look awkward for many but those inside water polo know that in this sport these warriors respect each other, and some from different nations are even friends. As a fine demonstration of this, the two teams accidentally met each other in the training pool for the lighter morning practice and soon loud laughter filled the air – the Croatian and the Hungarian players joked with each other. Of course, once the final kicked off, the friendships were put aside – and a brilliant battle ensued in front of 9000 fans.
Both sides missed a man-up before Konstantin Kharkov’s left-handed bouncer from the perimeter blew up the Arena after two and a half minutes. Hungary’s reply came immediately, Gergo Zalanki blasted in the Magyars’ second man-up. Then the second Croatian man-up was denied by a blocking hand, and the blocking man Vendel Vigvari found Erik Molnar in front with a brilliant 20m assist who netted the counter for 1-2. Soon another counter-like attack came but Gergely Burian’s hit the post – while the Croats put their first 6 on 5 away, Rino Buric did a clean job from 2m for 2-2. Vogel arrived to the game with back-to-back saves, but Ivan Krapic’s 2m push bounced in from his hands in the next man down. In 24 seconds, it was even again, Molnar stunned Bijac with a cheeky shot from the right wing for 3-3.
Vogel came up with three stops early in the second, the third was extraordinary, in a man-down, and the somehow ball didn’t cross the line – but then he couldn’t do much with Kharkov’s fine shot in the next 6 on 5. The Hungarians were a bit lost in front, their shots were not as sharp as before, Zalanki’s ball in their man-up was an easy catch for Bijac. Then they missed another one, this time the 2m finish was stopped by the goalie. And Bijac was on fire, he could have a hand on Szilard Jansik’s 6m shot – though the Croats missed a 4 on 3 too. Still, they were 3-4 up – shut out the Hungarians for the entire second period.
History made in Split 🇭🇷— LEN – European Aquatics (@LENaquatics) September 10, 2022
Croatia win another European Championship on home soil. Congratulations! 👏
Watch the highlights below 👇 pic.twitter.com/9okfuS3I7H
Buric scored another one from 2m from the first man-up in the third, while Toni Nemet netted one from the centre – as if a whistle had blown but didn’t come from the refs –, then the Magyars could have equalised from a 6 on 5 after a time-out but Bijac made another save – the Croats missed their one too, though also played after a time-out. With some luck – after a rebound – the Magyars got a penalty inside a man-up and Manhercz buried it, with 4:30 on the clock it was even again at 5-5.
Hungary had a man-up but they couldn’t even take their positions as originally it was a counter and the those in the back arrived lately – the Croats could make the most in a similar situation, Buric netted his third again after a set-up, however, it was even again in 33 seconds, with Akos Konarik’s perfect bouncer from a man-up. Kharkov also blasted his third in the very last second of a man-up with 1:59 on the clock. The Croats missed their next one while Vigvari – turning 21 this day – scored a brilliant action goal from a dead attack which seemed to have gone after their substitute arrived lately. Andria Basic’s rocket hit the back of the net from a man-up with 18 seconds, sending the Croats to the last period with a 7-8 lead in hand.
The equaliser came early in the fourth, the first better set-up found Jansik on the 2m line and it was a dunk for 8-8. Manhercz soon stole the ball with a shark-attack, but Vigvari hit the post from the ensuing 3 on 2, then Croatia got back-to-back exclusions but the bar then Vogel denied them. Zalanki let the ball fly from the perimeter, it went wide. In the huge battle the small details counted, and Luka Bukic could draw a penalty after sneaking in position, Jerko Marinic-Kragic buried it, at 2:47 Croatia led again. Hungary got one at the other end in a man-up but Manhercz hit the bar – Zuvela turned back, drew another penalty, Jerinic Kragic kept his calm, sent the ball to the left corner again, with 2:07 to it was a won match at 8-10. Especially after Jansik was denied by the block in their next man-up – they were 3 for 12 in this game (the Croats were 5 for 15, still better in total). Bukic missed a counter, Hungary earned another penalty, Jansik converted – but the previous one had much bigger weight as this hit the back of the net 32 seconds from time. They burnt their 30 seconds and that was enough – Soma Vogel tried one last attempt in the remaining 1.7sec but it landed in Bijac’s hand and the 9000 people erupted in joy, Croatia made it again after 2010!
It was an even game all in all – many data were identical, the number of shots taken (30-30) and those on target (17-17), but the Croats hit one more and the best goalie of the tournament Marko Bijac made one more save, ultimately, that decided the final.
Zsolt Varga, coach, Hungary
“Congrats to the Croatian team and to the fans who made an amazing atmosphere – and for the head coach of the Croatian team Ivica Tucak. We need to see the whole picture to understand what just happened to us. In that few weeks since we are working together, we made an amazing job. During this European Championship we performed very good, sometimes we made kind of miracles. This final was very hard and that was a very tough game, we were fighting for the gold medal until the last second. Croatia is a very good team and they were playing in front of home crowd. I owe big thank to my players for this amazing experience, I’m really proud of them. I think the new players who’ve just started working with us, have become really useful members right away.”
Szilard Jansik, captain, Hungary
“We had all the chances to win, but we did not take them. The last came in the last two or three minutes of the match, we didn’t score in an extra and we hit the bar from the penalty. I’m happy how we and myself played during this European championship. I think we’ve just begun a great journey and we need to follow this way. I think we will have time to build this new team.”
Soma Vogel, goalie, Hungary
“We really enjoyed this final. I think it’s very rare when you can play in the front of a full arena, in such an amazing environment. We didn’t care about that they were supporting the Croatian team and they were whistling during our possessions, we enjoyed it that in a way too. This match was extremely hard, though we expected a game like this. However, in the last period we lost the match, because we didn’t use our chances to score the decisive goals.”
Ivica Tucak, coach, Croatia
“It was a very hard game, Hungary was a very strong opponent. But this one was an experience of a lifetime, and this is something I never want to forget. I will not forget our whole journey to the final game, our semi-final against Italy and of course the last match here against Hungary. This is something special.”
Marko Bijac, goalkeeper, Croatia
“I don’t know what to say. We literally left our hearts in the pool. It was a true final. The Hungarian team was great tonight. We fought and believed in ourselves from the beginning till the end. It was an honour and pleasure to play in front of this magnificent crowd, for me and everybody else.”
Ivan Krapic, captain, Croatia
“I would like to thank everybody. The fans carried us to victory. I would like to congratulate the staff, the Croatian Water Polo Federation, my team mates and once again to our fans. One more thing – I promised my two little boys that I would bring home the gold medal. Promise fullfilled. Tomorrow daddy’s bringing home the gold!
Rino Buric, player, Croatia
“I am filled with emotions right now. A big thank to the Split fans. They have carried us throughout this championship. Hat’s off. Hat’s off also to Marko, the best goalkeeper in the world. We played an excellent defence, which to me was the key. Now off to dinner, and then we’ll be celebrating all night long.”
Konstantin Kharkov, player, Croatia
“I don’t know what to say right now. It was a very difficult match till the end, a real final. Thanks to the fans on the stands. It was a battle untill the last whistle for both teams. I’m so grateful to my team.”