Croatia, Germany win big, Israel is set for historical qualification
Israel, Croatia and Germany are the big winners in the first leg of the European Water Polo Championships qualifications playoffs. Turkey staged a big finish and saved the game to a draw in Slovakia while Serbia played a surprisingly close match with Ukraine.
Israel earned a four-goal win and their women’s team is just 32 minutes away from making the European Championships for the first time ever. They did a great job against Portugal (14th in Belgrade 2016) – the decisive moments came in the third period when they scored three straight goals to go 10-5 up after 7-5 and managed to maintain the 4-5 goals gap until the end (14-10). Sunit Strugo netted 6 and Kerem Noy 4 goals for Israel.
The Czechs had big hopes after finishing second in the first round of the qualifications but the Croats quickly cooled them down with a 1-4 rush in the first period in Prague. The hosts climbed back in the following two quarters but the visitors netted four goals for 4-9 after 4-5, and even though the Czechs pulled two back in the end, the 6-9 win seems to secure a European Championship berth for Croatia again.
The winner of the first round Slovakia played the most thrilling game among all against Turkey. The Slovaks, chasing their first ever appearance at the Europeans, netted three connecting goals early in the third to go 8-5 up. The Turks, bottom ranked side at the 2016 championships, came back to 8-7 but soon the hosts went ahead once more, with 3:12 to go they led 11-8. There came Kubra Kus, though, and she saved the game to a draw almost single-handedly, she scored the last two and finished the evening with 7 goals. The 11-11 tie promises sheer excitements for the return match.
The Serbs were considered big favourites against Ukraine but the clash turned into an unexpectedly tight encounter. The hosts jumped to a 5-2 lead early in the third but the Ukrainians fought bravely and soon it stood 5-5. Serbia geared up once more and cruised until 9-5, then 10-6 but they couldn’t keep that till the end, Ukraine scored twice in 67 seconds and reserved some chance for the second game (10-8).
Germany needed some time to build a safe gap against Romania in Hamburg. The visiting side held on for quite a while, they were trailing only 11-8 in the third but they began to run out of gas. Soon the hosts doubled their lead (15-9) and never looked back. It ended in a scoring festival, the Germans won 22-14, Deike Gesa netted 8, and they can get ready for another appearance at the continental showcase.
The 33rd European Water Polo Championships will be held in Barcelona on 14-28 July 2018. Winners of the six playoff duels are to join the six top ranked sides of the previous edition.
European Water Polo Championships
Women’s Qualification, Playoffs, 1st leg
Czech Republic v Croatia 6-9
Israel v Portugal 14-10
Serbia v Ukraine 10-8
Slovakia v Turkey 11-11
Germany v Romania 22-14
France v Switzerland
Second leg: 3 March