Spain blasts Italy, Serbia downs Montenegro
The men’s Europa Cup Super Final in Rijeka began with Spain’s stunning 7-goal win over Olympic silver medallist Italy. Olympic champion Serbia didn’t leave too much chance to arch-rival Montenegro while host Croatia blew France away. Hungary and Greece produced the opening day’s best encounter which ended in a thrilling 9-9 draw.
The opening match couldn’t have been any better as it offered some brilliant goals and loads of excitements. Greece enjoyed a great spell in the second period, scoring five goals but Hungary responded well with a 3-0 rush in the third to equalise at 6-6. Still, the Greeks seemed to have the upper hand in the fourth at 7-9 with 5:10 to go but the Magyar side fought hard and saved the match to a 9-9 draw.
A bit surprisingly, Spain thrashed Italy 11-4 in the second game – it was perhaps the worst performance from the Settebello in this decade. At one point they were 1-8 down, could score only twice in the first three periods. At the same time the Spaniards, host of this summer water polo Europeans in Barcelona in July, opened their campaign with a confidence-boosting win.
As it was expected, Croatia blew the French away in Group B. The world champions staged a pretty strong start, rushed to a 6-1 lead in eight minutes and rolled on – in an entertaining match they managed to score 20 goals in front.
The closing encounter of the opening day seemed to be a balanced affair for almost two periods when Montenegro missed a penalty while the Serbs scored a last-grasp goal from a 6 on 5, making it 6-3 instead of 5-4. When the Olympic champion side added another one for 7-3 early in the third that visibly broke the Montenegrins who could never come closer in the second half.
Group A: Hungary v Greece 9-9
Hungary came from behind to save this great game to a draw while Greece wasted a handful of chances to secure its win in the Super Final opener. After a calmer first period which saw a goal apiece and a series of missed 6 on 5s, the Greeks started rolling in the rematch of last summer’s World Championships semi-final. In a rare scene, they netted five goals within a period against the world silver medallists and gained a massive three-goal lead.
However, the Hungarians – playing the first big tournament in 18 years without an Olympic champion player in their line-up – showed their better half and netted three straight goals in 2:37 minutes to make it 6-6. They even had a shot to take the lead but the crossbar saved the Greeks and Marios Kapotsis sent the ball home at the other end from the distance.
A nice action goal early in the fourth brought Hungary to even once more but a double in 57 seconds seemed to give the edge for the Greeks at 7-9. However, they couldn’t add any more in the remaining 5:10 minutes and the Magyars managed to equalise – the last blast came from their rocket-launcher Marton Vamos with 47 seconds from time.
Group A: Italy v Spain 4-11
By the beginning of the second half both reserve goalkeepers were in the water – but for very different reasons. Italy’s Marco del Luongo put himself in a downward spiral in the first Spanish attack as an easy ball sailed through his hands – and he couldn’t recover from that, later he had to be substituted. By then Spain was far away, as the Spaniards managed to ride the wave, took a 0-3 lead while Dani Lopez delivered a couple of great saves in front of their cage. Italy’s first goal came after 10:44 minutes but that turned out to be an exception as their rivals defended really well and was effective in front, too.
Italy’s misery just got worse in the third, they couldn’t even make advantage of Dani Lopez’s sad finger injury which forced him to sit out for the second half. His substitute Eduardo Bejar began with some fine stops to further strengthen his team’s confidence and his mates rolled on, scoring from counters, 6 on 5s to go 1-8 up. The Italians could score once more after another 10:30 minutes but they visibly fell apart while Spain kept its disciplined play and was 2-10 up early in the last quarter, putting Italy’s worst beating in recent years in sight. It finished when seven goals separated the sides, still, Sandro Campagna had to admit that he hadn’t seen his Italian team playing that bad in recent years.
Group B: France v Croatia 5-20
It was a lopsided match right from the beginning. Croatia scored three goals in its first three possessions and rushed to a 1-6 lead by the end of the first period. The two sides represented different quality, the world champion Croats were better in each element of the game and dominated physically as well. It’s a telling number that the hosts were 20 for 27 in making their shots. Remi Garsau could produce three saves in the game and their team-mates didn’t help him in defence as the Croatian super-shooters made most of their chances from the centre, the perimeter and 6 on 5s.
Group B: Serbia v Montenegro 9-5
In the heavy-weight bout of the opening day Serbia didn’t leave too much chance to its ‘brothers’. Montenegro opened the scoring with a fine goal from the centre and had a man-up to double this lead, instead the Serbs equalised at the other end from a perfectly carved 6 on 5. It was a balanced opening period, still, the usual big blast from Filip Filipovic in an extra put the Olympic champions ahead with 5 seconds from time.
In the second the Serbs started dominating, Dusko Pijetlovic netted a man-up than lobbed magnificently from the centre while Branislav Mitrovic stopped a penalty. It could have been 5-4, instead 6-3 appeared on the scoreboard in the middle break since Gavril Subotic put away the ball from a 6 on 5, just beating the buzzer. The third began with a Serbian penalty, Filipovic buried it to make it 7-3 while the Montenegrins missed their next 6 on 5, providing a sharp contrast on how effectively the sides dealt with their key opportunities. As a consequence it stood 8-4 before the last period and that prepared the field for eight calm minutes, producing one goal apiece.
LEN Europa Cup Super Final – Day 1
Hungary v Greece 9-9
Italy v Spain 4-11
- Spain 3, 2-3. Greece, Hungary 1-1, 4. Italy 0
France v Croatia 5-20
Serbia v Montenegro 9-5
- Croatia 3, 2. Serbia 3, 3. Montenegro 0, 4. France 0
Friday, 6 April
16:00 Hungary v Italy
17:30 Croatia v Montenegro
19:00 Serbia v France
20:30 Spain v Greece
Saturday, 7 April
16:00 Italy v Greece
17:30 France v Montenegro
19:00 Serbia v Croatia
20:30 Hungary v Spain
Sunday, 8 April 2018
16:00 For places 7-8
17:30 For places 5-6
19:00 Bronze Medal Game
20:30 Men’s Europa Cup Final
HUN v GRE 9-9
Tamas Marcz, head coach, Hungary:
“At the end of the day, I’m satisfied with this result as we came from behind. I’m really appreciating Greek water polo and what their head coach has been doing in recent years with his team. Playing against them is never easy and we really had to fight to claim at least a point in this very nice match. What made me happy that I saw our young players battling hard, never giving in, remaining tough and determined. This is a good base from where we can move on.”
Theodoros Vlachos, head coach, Greece:
“You’ll never have a game in hand when you play with Hungary. At certain periods we did well, but at the beginning of the third they scored twice in a short time, one from action and one from a penalty and our big lead had gone immediately. Later we had the chances again to gain a bigger lead but my players didn’t react well. We had man-ups but bad decisions came in succession. I expect the players to focus better in these situations, especially in the fourth quarter as these are the moments when games are decided. Despite this, I think we played a very nice and exciting game, a really good opening for the Europa Cup Super Final.”
ITA v ESP 4-11
Alessandro Campagna, head coach, Italy:
“I haven’t seen my team playing like this for years, it was our worst performance for a long time. The first period was a disaster, we were sleeping, right the first shot showed that and we could never really come back. Since we didn’t make any specific preparations for this event it was even harder to find anything to improve this situation. Spain did a great job, we congratulate them, they played aggressively and well organised they deserved this win. I don’t want to make excuses, at this stage I have to assess what can work and what can’t to make some progress in the future.”
David Martin, head coach, Spain:
“We are very happy but we know that this result is not real. We started the game well, defended well, made some shots and gained a big lead. Italy made mistakes at the same time, some unusual ones so this is why the picture is not real. I’m happy that my team could maintain the level of defence despite Dani Lopez was injured, we showed that we were a great, united team, and of course we have a great second goalkeeper Eduardo Bejar who also performed well.”
FRA v CRO 5-20
Nenad Vukanic, head coach, France:
“First of all, we are really happy to be here and have the chance to play with the best seven teams in the world. We are here to learn from such rivals as world champion Croatia. We are in the same group with three of the top four teams from the last Olympics, it’s a tough challenge but also an excellent opportunity. We had great games in the qualifications against Romania, Spain and Hungary, we make some changes in our game and try new things here.”
Ivica Tucak, head coach, Croatia:
“I think we started this tournament in a good way but this is a game we have to forget immediately and start to focus on the next one against Montenegro. We have our playing style both in defence and in offence, we had some good counters, we applied those and never stopped or slowed down.”
SRB v MNE 9-5
Dejan Savic, head coach, Serbia:
“It was a good game to start this tournament, our defence worked well though I think the difference between the two teams was not real. I wouldn’t agree that the goalkeepers made the difference today, we just made most of our chances, had some good plays in 6 on 5s and had a good rhythm, this was the decisive factor today.”
Vladimir Gojkovic, head coach, Montenegro:
“Congratulations for Serbia, they were the better team today. We played well in the first half, I think we also did a fine job in defence for most of the time we just missed too many chances in offence. Perhaps if we score the penalty and a man-up we would have gone even by half-time but we miss a couple of key players and it’s no doubt that Serbia has better quality now.”