Hungary misses the semis for the third time in 19 editions  – Split 2022, Day 10

Hungary, one of the two countries taking part in each edition since the inaugural 1985  championship, lost a 26-goal epic to Spain in the quarters. It’s only the third time in 19 editions  that the Magyars didn’t make the semis, an utter disappointment for world champs silver  medallists. In the other camp, Spain could celebrate a fifth consecutive SF appearance at the  Europeans – they’ll face the Netherlands, while Greece is to meet Italy. These latter three all  bagged easy wins, as expected. 

Spain could celebrate a fifth consecutive SF appearance at the  Europeans – LEN Total Waterpolo

Quarter-finals: Hungary v Spain 11-15, Croatia v Italy 8-16, Netherlands v France 22-3, Greece v  Israel 14-4. For places 9-10th: Germany v Serbia 9-12. For places 11-12th: Romania v Slovakia 9-5 Fixtures – semi-finals (Wednesday): 19.00 Netherlands v Spain, 20.30 Greece v Italy. For places 5- 8th: 16.00 France v Hungary, 17.30: Croatia v Israel 

Hungary barely missed the semi-finals at the Europeans – they took part in each of the 18 editions  before this one, and made the top four 16 times and stood on the podium on 14 occasions. Now, after  1997 and 2010, they had to play for the 5-8th places again (also this was their first QF loss at the majors  since the 2017 Worlds). If it can offer them any consolation at all, they lost the chance in an entertaining  game against Spain, another epic encounter of the two giants.  

The Spanish stormed to a 1-4 lead in eight minutes, but the Magyars bounced back in the second to  equalise for 5-5. However, a goal 3 seconds before the break, and another one 30 seconds into the third  made the Spaniards going again. And soon, at 6-7, two outstanding centre-shots by Paula Leiton within  48 seconds, followed by a man-up goal did irreparable damage to the Magyars.  

They never really recovered from that blow, though got back to 10-12 from the first two possessions in  the fourth but Maica Garcia’s goal from an extra killed their momentum. The last minutes added more  to the scoring feast, Garcia even netted a 7m shot to show something extraordinary. This triumph sent  Spain to their fifth straight semi-final at the Europeans, and also healed somewhat their wounds after  they had failed to make the semis for the first time since the 2016 Olympics. 

The other encounters were only preludes to the excitements of the semis. The Netherlands came up with  the most devastating performance of the session to beat France, Croatia and Israel had a lot more spells  against Italy and Greece, though the latter two also seemed to focus on their next challenge already. 

Game recaps 

Hungary v Spain 11-15 

Both sides took a nervous start, the first four minutes saw no goals, just missed man-ups (two for the  Hungarians, one for the Spaniards), balls hit the woodwork, passes were stolen. Then Spain netted two in a span of 34 seconds, Paula Leiton’s centre shot and Anni Espar’s ball from a counter  just sneaked in under Alda Magyari’s arms. Then Hungary also found the way to score, Dora Leimeter  put away their third man-up but a brilliant shot by Beatriz Ortiz from the perimeter reset the two-goal  gap. 

Soon it was three, Greta Gurisatti sent the ball wide from their next man-up, and Ortiz this time came up  with an awesome lob for 1-4. The Magyars tried to rely on feeding the centres, it brought a fifth man-up  for the last possession, but the finishing shot was anything but damaging, offered an easy stop for  Martina Terre (a surprise choice for this highlighted match, instead of the decorated goalie Laura Ester). 

Spain could celebrate a fifth consecutive SF appearance at the  Europeans – LEN Total Waterpolo

It could have been 1-5 but Spain’s extra didn’t work this time, instead, Dora Szilagyi sent the ball home  in the dying seconds of their first extra in the second for 2-4. Spain got a 6 on 4 (rarely, the two refs sent  out two different players simultaneously), the first shot was saved, the second went in, courtesy of Anni  Espar. Rebecca Parkes replied from the centre for 3-5, and soon it was halved – Szilagyi’s lob left Terre  stranded. 

Hungary’s defence got really tight in these minutes, their zone completely neutralised the Spanish  centre-forwards, they dealt with another man-down, while Gurisatti put away an extra from the left  wing to make it even at 5-5. However, Spain had the last laugh in the first half, they got 30 seconds left,  earned a man-up 7 seconds from time and set up Paula Prats on the 2m line in four, for 5-6. 

Spain carried on their momentum in the second, Elena Ruiz broke the Magyars’ zone from a brilliant  bouncer from 7m in the 30th second. An easy put-away helped the Hungarians, Parkes was alone after  an exclusion – Leiton had a much demanding task to do the same with four defenders on her neck, but she made it for 6-8. Just 48 seconds later she hit another one, this time a fantastic backhander – unlike in  the second period, the Hungarian defence was in ruins. And after three action goals came one nice from  an extra by Ruiz for 6-10. Hungary’s man-up goal was disallowed because of fouling the blocking  player – the next one went in, but Ortiz also sent the ball home in a 6 on 5. Garda buried a penalty for 8- 11, but Nona Perez could shoot through the zone once more with 41 seconds to go in the third – so  Spain could enter the final period with a commanding four-goal lead. 

Hungary, one of the two countries taking part in each edition since the inaugural 1985  championship, lost a 26-goal epic to Spain in the quarters – LEN Total Waterpolo

Garda hit her third from an extra early in the fourth, then the Magyars denied one, Leimeter’s 9m shot  surprisingly ended up in the net in the last second of their next possession for 10-12. Spain reacted well,  they could put the ball on Maica Garcia’s hand in an extra which is usually a goal, it stood 10-13 with  6:01 to go. And they defended even better to burn almost three minutes while keeping the gap – the first  real chance for their rivals was a man-up with 3:12 to go, after a time-out, but they overplayed it and not  even took a shot. In the following one they did, but it didn’t do much damage, the blocks denied it and  when Garcia hit the back of the net from the perimeter (quite unusual from her!), with 1:22 on the clock,  it was all done. One goal apiece from man-ups closed down the entertaining contest which sent to Spain  

Netherlands v France 22-3 

While the men’s team could cause the biggest upset of recent years by beating the Serbs in the crossover  matches, similar miracles were out of question in the women’s tournament. The gap between the top five teams and the rest of the field is too big to be bridged, even in a single game and the  first quarter-final was a proof for that. 

The Netherlands came up with  the most devastating performance of the session – LEN Total Waterpolo

The French fought and gave their maximum – but not for a single moment they stood a chance to play a  tighter game with the Netherlands. The 3-0 opening lead was a smooth opening from the Dutch, then  they started rolling, led 8-2 at halftime and pushed on in the second half too. They didn’t seem to swich  gears and take a higher pace – rather the French ran out of steam. While the World Championships  bronze medallist staged a 12-0 run before the French could score again, late in the game, after more than  14 minutes. 

Croatia v Italy 8-16 

It was a great effort from the host side – this time they didn’t crash in the second half as they had done  four days ago against the Hungarians. Back then, the halftime score was the same, 5-9, but that was  followed by a 1-13 rout, now the Italians led by only six before the last period. 

the Italians always found the way to score – LEN Total Waterpolo

The Croatian defence worked really well, the Italians were unable to gear up – the hosts played with  discipline, did not take risks and did not hurry anything. A couple of precise distant shots put them on  the scoreboard in the first period – though they fell 0-4 behind in five minutes – and that gave some  confidence for the players.  

Of course, getting inside ‘visible distance’ was a mission impossible for them as the Italians – semi finalists at the World Champs – always found the way to score, never letting their rivals inside five  goals once they built a 2-7 lead midway through the second quarter. Though the partial scores for the  first three quarters showed that their game didn’t click as one may have expected at this stage (2-5, 2-4,  2-3, 2-4). As a story byline, all three Butic sisters scored for Croatia (four out of the team’s eight goals)  – and this was one of the losses which the hosts should be still proud of. 

Greece v Israel 14-4 

Greece stormed to a 6-1 lead early on, then pushed the brakes a bit, scored only four goals in the middle  two periods, before gearing up a bit to add four in the last one. Israel brought its well-organised,  disciplined game to the pool that also helped them to hold the Greeks way below 20 goals – perhaps  their only thing to mind was two missed penalties.  

Greece seemed to focus on their next challenge already – LEN Waterpolo

In a nice scene, at the end of the game the coaches offered each other a warm hug on the pool deck – quite understandably, since Israel’s team is also led by a Greek, Dimitrios Mavrotas. 

For places 9-10th 

Germany v Serbia 9-12 

Back in January 2020, the two sides battled in the other ranking match, for the 11th place and produced a  thriller. The Serbs had a substantial lead, after being 4-6 down they came back and at the beginning of  the fourth they went 11-7 up – but the Germans staged a 0-4 run, equalised 11 seconds from time and  won the penalty shootout.

This time the Serbs didn’t let it go. Quarter by quarter they increased their lead, it was  already massive at halftime, 3-7. The Germans never looked like they were capable of producing a  similar comeback as in Budapest, at the beginning of the fourth it was still 4-8. In 19 seconds, Hristina  Ilic netted an action goal for 4-9, and even though the Germans had a better spell and scored three  connecting goals, but Nadja Novakovic killed their momentum with an action goal for 7-10. Two more  hits in 31 seconds secured the Serbs’ 9th place finish (Ilic had a perfect shooting percentage in this  game, 4/4). 

This is something they can be really proud of, unlike the men’s team, which can only be 9th after the  shocking defeat on the previous day. 

For 11-12th places 

Romania v Slovakia 9-5 

Romania beat the Slovaks 9-8 in the qualifications, that sealed their historical first-ever berth at the  European Championships – however, after Russia was suspended, Slovakia could also join the field,  and two sides faced off again. 

This time the game didn’t produce the same thrills – though the Slovaks’ line-up was different, missed a  couple of key-players due to injury –, Romania held the game under control right from the beginning.  Krisztina Szeghalmi was instrumental in their victory, she netted four of their first five goals which put  them 5-2 ahead.  

The Slovaks had a 15:00 minutes long ‘break’, but managed to come back to 6-4 before the last period.  In the fourth they missed a crucial extra early on while Anastasia Melnychuk put away one, midway  through the final quarter. Monika Sedalkova gave some hope for the Slovaks with 2:17 to go, finishing  off a counter, however, Szeghalmi netted her fifth, burying a penalty 19 seconds later for 8-5 and that  put an end to the contest.  

And a last-grasp goal, just beating the buzzer, by Alina Olteanu was a fine ending for the Romanians’  first-ever run at the Europeans – they earned a historical win, which also saved them from being  bottom-ranked at the championship.