Greece claims historical first title

In the top four, the match-ups were very much the same on the last two days as in the 2021 edition, just as the outcome of the semi-finals – however, both the final and the bronze medal match unfolded differently at the Men’s U17 European Water Polo Championships in Manise. This time the Greeks managed to beat the Serbs to clinch their first-ever title in this competition, and Spain downed the Hungarians for the third place.

Final: Greece v Serbia 9-8. Bronze medal match: Spain v Hungary 14-8. For places 5-6th: Italy v Montenegro 7-11. For places 7-8th: Croatia v Netherlands 14-13

Final rankings: 1. Greece, 2. Serbia, 3. Spain, 4. Hungary, 5. Montenegro, 6. Italy, 7. Croatia, 8. Netherlands, 9. Turkiye, 10. Germany, 11. Malta, 12. France, 13. Romania, 14. Georgia, 15. Ukraine, 16. Poland

Two years ago, the Serbs, after beating the Hungarians in the semis, blew away the Greeks 10-6. The Magyars, as a consolation, beat Spain for the bronze in a shootout. The Spanish also suffered a painful shootout defeat this year, in the semis, against Greece.

Now in Manisa the final was a totally different story. Though it took more than four minutes to see the first goal, by Serbia’s Luka Gladovic, in a man-up, then the Greeks started rolling. In a span of 88 seconds, they hit three from as many possessions to go 3-1 up. This did the damage as the Serbs were completely frozen for the following period. An early penalty goal made it 4-1, then after almost four minutes of hard battling, with a killed Serbian 6 on 5 en route, Christos Laskaridis netted a fine action goal. Then came a man-up, a time-out, and another Greek goal, 38 seconds before the middle break for a commanding 6-1 lead.

The Serbs showed the first signs of life two and half minutes into the third – finally they could halt their scoreless run after 13:16 minutes. That was a kicker, in 97 seconds they added two more to be back in the game at 6-4. Greece needed more than five minutes to respond, Spytholeon Karatzas sent the ball home from a man-up, but the Serbs pulled on back again, Gladovic hit one from action for 7-5.

The roller-coaster went on in the fourth, Orestis Zervoudakis opened the fourth with an action goal, then again, after some swimming and battling, Konstantinos Kapragkos buried an extra for 9-5 – with 3:47 remaining, one might have thought it was over. Of course, it was not, 14 seconds later Strahinja Krstic’s shot found the back of the net, then after a killed man-down, Gladovic reduced the gap to two, and Luka Boskovic scored their third action goal in a row, so it was 9-8 with still 1:10 minutes on the clock. 

However, the Serbs’ surge ended here – they couldn’t force the shootout and the Greeks could celebrate their first-ever title in the history of the U17 Europeans. The had some outstanding success in the U20 class at the Worlds (gold medals in 2001, 2017 and 2019), claimed the U19 European title in 2018 and the U18 Worlds in the same year, but in this competition this was their first-ever triumph.

Spain, after losing three consecutive finals between 2015 and 2019, and missing the medals two years ago, now they were back onto the podium. While their encounter with Hungary in the group-stage was a thriller, ending in a 12-12 tie, this time they left no chance for the Magyars. They jumped to a 6-3 lead by halftime, then later in the third, after 7-4, they floored their rivals with three goals in 64 seconds, and after a killed man-down Carlos Nunez scored his third in this period to go 11-4 up. The Hungarians, champions in the U15 Europeans and U16 Worlds, were done, they could barely avoid a humiliating defeat as Nunez went on scoring as he stopped at 5 while his team at 14. Indeed, after Hungary crashed against Serbia in the fourth period in the semis, when they conceded six goals, it was repeated here, so after finishing third in the last three editions, this time they left the pool emptyhanded.