Historical first for Israeli women
All but one side retained their respective European Championships berths, thus the men’s field will be the same as in 2016 while there is one newcomer in the women’s competition: Israel will make its first ever appearance on the big stage this summer in Barcelona.
After the first leg in the men’s playoffs two duels remained open but the favourites in those clashes delivered in the second matches. Malta, trailing by a goal against Belarus from last Saturday, quickly rushed 5-2 ahead in the first. The visiting team tried to stay close but after 7-5 the Maltese decided the outcome by netting four connecting goals, including three in a span of 1:24 minutes early in the third. As usual, Steve Camilleri led their charge, he scored six goals while his team won by seven (16-9).
The game between Turkey and Ukraine brought more excitements. The first leg ended in an 8-8 draw and at halftime the match stood 3-3 in Istanbul. The hosts had a better spell in the third and led 5-3 before the last break. The fourth period produced more goals (nine) then the previous three combined – the Ukrainians could have some hope while scoring for 8-6 with 3:55 to go but the Turks responded with two in 50 seconds and that closed down the game.
The other six duels all finished the same way: after decisive victories in the first leg, the winners repeated their flawless performances, so France, Romania, Germany, the Netherlands, Georgia and Slovakia will return to the championship after 2016.
Five of the six women’s showdowns also saw teams retaining their 2016 berths against the challengers. The only exception is Israel which managed to oust Portugal. A four-goal win at home, followed by another convincing game in Oeiras – the Israeli’s qualification was never in danger. This is going to be the nation’s first ever appearance at the European Championships.
In the first leg two more matches produced a tight result, and the encounter between Turkey and Slovakia was as thrilling as the previous one which was tied. This Saturday the Turks led 5-3 at halftime but the Slovaks hit back in the third and with three goals in 74 seconds shortly before the last break they went 7-8 up. With 5:21 remaining, they were still ahead at 8-9 but they couldn’t score any more while the hosts equalised 3:15 minutes from time. Slovakia missed a 6 on 5, just as the Turks, then, with 0:48 to go, the hosts earned a penalty and Kubra Kus netted her 6th goal (she scored 7 in the first) and sent her team back to the Europeans.
Serbia beat Ukraine by two goals two weeks ago and the favourite side showed its strength in the return leg even more spectacularly: they held the hosts on a single goal. Ukraine could score once, late in the first period and not any more. The Serbs won 1-6 and after enjoying the hosts’ right to play at the Europeans in 2016 now they qualified on their own right. France, Germany and Croatia also booked their respective spots for July.
The draw for the European Championships will be held in Barcelona this Wednesday (7 March) from 12.00 CET, live streaming will be available on the LEN website.
European Water Polo Championships, Qualifications, Play-offs, 2nd leg
Israel v Georgia 10-11
Lithuania v Netherlands 6-14
Malta v Belarus 16-9
Turkey v Ukraine 10-7
Switzerland v France 5-12
Germany v Poland 23-6
Czech Republic v Romania 6-17
Slovakia v Portugal 9-2
Portugal v Israel 9-11
Switzerland v France 3-16
Romania v Germany 9-6
Croatia v Czech Republic 14-9
Ukraine v Serbia 1-6
Turkey v Slovakia 10-9