Montenegro claims gold after penalty shootout
At the end of a championship with full of upsets, Montenegro beat Spain to claim its second U17 title after 2013. The thrilling final was decided in a penalty shootout, while Hungary beat Russia in the bronze medal match.
Despite finishing only third in its group with two defeats, Montenegro beat all odds and all teams crossing its way in the knock-out stage. The Montenegrins lost to Croatia and Hungary in the prelims but beat France with ease in the eight-finals then claimed three single-goal victories, over Italy (10-9, QF), Russia (8-7, SF) and Spain (11-10, F).
The event in Malta was full of surprises, especially the quarter-final day produced upsets: Serbia, Croatia, Italy and Greece all fell – the ’tournament’ for the 5-8th places became somewhat similar to a medal round at other events. This time Spain upended the Serbs (11-8) with a great performance, Hungary downed the Greeks (9-4) while the Russians overcame a three-goal deficit in a brilliant encounter against Croatia (12-11).
Spain rolled on and with an outstanding rush in the first half, gaining a 10-5 lead, they defeated Hungary in the semis 11-9 to set up a final with Montenegro. Spain’s Bernat Sanahuja was simply amazing as he netted 5 goals in each of the last three matches. Still, this outstanding individual effort wasn’t enough against the Montenegrins in the gold medal game.
Spain was still in the lead before the last period (6-4) but three connecting goals put Montenegro ahead in the fourth. Sanahuja equalised for 7-7 with 1:27 to go so the title was decided in a penalty shootout. The Spaniards missed two, the Montenegrins buried each, denying their rival to achieve an unprecedented feat by making a unique double: the Spanish girls won the U17 European title three weeks ago in Novi Sad, but the boys had to settle for the silver here. (Ironically, the same happened to the Greeks in the U20 World Championships: there the boys won in Belgrade but the girls lost the final, to Russia, also in a shootout.)
In the bronze medal contest Hungary opened with a 5-1 first period and never looked back against the Russians (14-11), while Serbia finished 5th, bettering Italy. The Montenegrins claimed their second U17 title after 2013 – Malta should be their favourite venue as their first win also came here, four years ago.
Men’s European Junior Water Polo Championship, Malta