The Greeks opened the scoring with a fine man-up play, finished by Erini Ninou, then came a lengthy battle, with a lot of swimming and position play to seek any minor advantage. Italy needed 4:28 minutes to open their account in this game, then Domitilli Picozzi’s pinpoint shot was good enough for an equaliser. The Greeks regained the lead in 20 seconds with a penalty, but Claudia Marletta gained some ground and arrived to the Greek goal unmarked to make it 2-2. Both sides missed its next man-up, then Italy got an extra chance nine seconds before the first break, the excluded player didn’t swim out but Marletta sent the ball painfully wide from the penalty line.
Eleni Xenaki’s magnificent centre-shot put the Greeks ahead once more in 27 seconds and this time they hit the next one too – from a woman-up+penalty combo, Ninou made it 4-2. The Italians missed an extra, but the Greeks couldn’t expand their lead – and finally Roberta Bianconi halted Italy’s scoreless run after 7:45 minutes by burying a penalty. The answer came immediately, Christina Siouti’s amazing bouncer from the left wing reset the two-goal gap. Silvia Avegno pulled one back again, but Ninou was on fire and blasted his third one with 43 seconds on the clock for 6-4.
A quick exchange of extra-man goals kicked off the third period, then came a decisive phase: the Italian defence denied two Greek shots but a lapse in attention left Maria Patra alone and she thanked the opportunity. Then there was another collapse in the same position 50 seconds later, Vasiliki Plevritou could shoot unguarded, for her it was a Christmas gift and Greece led 9-5.
Italian head coach Carlo Silipo called for a time-out and in the middle of the period Avegno shaved off one by netting a penalty. However, the time-out helped the Greeks too as Vasiliki Plevritou had another clean shot in a woman-up. Valeria Palmieri delivered from the centre for 10-7 with 2:30 to go. Enough time to have a 6 on 5 apiece but the defences stood firm so the three-goal margin remained and that looked quite good from the Greeks’ perspective.
And looked even better – they killed a woman-down and soon Ioanna Chydirioti came up with a fine sneaking shot from the perimeter for 11-7. Italy’s next extra needed a VAR review, it showed that the goalie made the save behind the virtual line, so Avegno was credited with her third and there were five minutes to play. That’s a lot in this sport – but three minutes were gone, and Italy didn’t get any closer as they missed two 6 on 5s. All credit went to the Greek defence, they did an astonishing job, and soon they denied a third one. Before that they also missed an extra at the other end, but it was affordable with such efforts in the back; Ionna Stamatopoulou was 10 on 18 at this stage, for 55.8%, a game winning performance. The two late goals – one apiece – didn’t matter that match, this semi-final also ended in a convincing three-goal win.
Alexia-Anna Kammenou, coach, Greece
“I’m very happy! We played very well against one of the best teams in Europe. We had a total control on the game. Now we need to focus on the final because against Spain it is going to be a very hard match since Spain is the greatest team in Europe in the last ten years. They are very experienced and they can control every situation during a match. Now we have to rest, we need to think about our balance. I think if we play with same mentality as we did it today, we will have chance to win against them. The defense is the key of our success, so we need to focus on that.”
Carlo Silipo, coach, Italy
“For us this was not the best match at the European Championships. We didn’t play a very good game and Greece has a very good team and we couldn’t manage to dominate the game. I think our players were tired because they didn’t have the energy to swim back for making all moves in defense. They were not precise, I think they just lost their power.”
Erini Ninou, player, Greece
“I am very proud of this victory. We have been working a lot for that. I am very happy to win such a game and absolutely proud of my team. It was a great match, we played an amazing defence and we played as a team, it was great. Thanks to everybody to help us to arrive to the final, we worked a lot, the whole team is absolutely happy. Because of all this, the hard work, the people who help us, the good job of our coaches have done, today the entire team has a lot of tears of joy.”
Maria Patra, player, Greece
“This is so emotional, we tried so hard to be in the final. This is really exciting. We knew Italy would fight until the last second of the match, but we were prepared for that. We are very excited for the final, Spain is a great team, their girls have played together since long time. I think the one who does less mistakes will be the one who is going to win. For them, this is the second European final in a row, and they are amazing players, but a European final is only one match, and we are going to be ready for that.”
Silvia Avegno, player, Italy
“Falling behind didn’t scare us. We are used to confronting whatever happens, situation by situation, regardless of the actual score, whether we are in the lead or behind. We still have steps to make and things to correct and improve, in order to win against high level teams so I prefer looking at this as the glass half full, rather than half empty. Next comes the bronze medal game, it’s key match, it’s very important to win. This is the deja vu of the Worlds in Budapest and this re-match we want to win. We must start the match with the agressve approach right from the beginning and keep it up. We don’t have much time to rest. We must work and prepare it well.”