The Split 2022 LEN European Championships were a true celebration of spectacular water polo which combined with the incredible atmosphere generated by thousands of spectators will leave not only long-lasting memories, but a true legacy in Croatia.
It was an event hailed by LEN First Vice President Josip Varvodic, a former Croatian Olympic water polo player himself, as “one of the best aquatic festivals” he had ever witnessed.
In the water, the hosts Croatia claimed their first European men’s title since 2010 with a 10-9 defeat of reigning champions Hungary, while Spain successfully defending their European crown with a 9-6 triumph over Greece in the women’s competition.
Individual performances were also acknowledge with MVP (most valuable player) awards for Hungary’s Szilard Jansik and Eleftheria Plevritou of Greece.
Here we bring together some of the key action from the tournament which you can watch again, in full – courtesy of LEN TV – via the links below.
MEN’S EVENT – GREAT GAMES
GROUP B FIXTURE:
GREECE 5-5 CROATIA
This game – in front of a sellout 8,000 strong crowd was among the main highlights in the last round of the men’s prelims.
FRANCE 10-9 SERBIA
France won a thriller against Serbia, to secure a top eight finish for the first time since 1958, in what was one of the shocks of the tournament.
HUNGARY 10-8 SPAIN
Eight weeks after a devastating seventh place finish at their home Fina World Championships Hungary – with a new coach and new-look team – managed to beat World champions Spain…
For one and a half periods the world champions kept the game under control and Hungary could barely penetrate their defence.
Suddenly, before the break the ‘Magyars’ found their form and netted five goals in four minutes to lead 7-5 at halftime.
Spain were not beaten yet though and managed to reset their defence and shut out their rivals for the entire third period while coming back to even at 7-7.
However, there was one more twist in the tale, the Hungarians scored three goals in 2:40 minutes while killing three man-downs (including a 6 on 4). That tremendous, key, defensive efforts – which included 12 blocks plus 12 saves from Soma Vogel – was the perfect counterbalance to Spain’s superior shotmaking.
ITALY 10-11 CROATIA
Host Croatia beat Italy in a thrilling match to reach the final for the first time since 2010 – that also happened on home soil in Zagreb.
The game offered everything you may expect in such a high-profile and high-pressure encounter.
It was also a highly physical battle with 33 exclusions and three red cards for the Italian players. That left them fewer and fewer options in the bench, still, their fighting spirit helped them to come back from 7-5 and then 9-7 down.
They had the ball at 10-10 with 1:34 minutes to go, but an awkward though quite brave move from Loren Fatovic – hunted down the goalie, pushed his hand under the water with the ball in it – earned Croatia a penalty and Konstantin Kharkov buried it.
Italy had two more man-ups but missed both, so the home players could begin their joyous celebrations with the ecstatic crowd.
MEN’S BRONZE MEDAL FINAL:
SPAIN 7-6 ITALY
In the rematch of the World Championship final, this time for the bronze medal, Spain bettered Italy in an outstanding battle...
Italy – despite playing with one less player in the third straight match, because of suspensions, fought back from two goals down to level at 6-6 in the fourth period but Spain’s veteran star Felipe Perrone hit the game-winner.
Spain thus closed their season with another medal, after the world title, and it was a third successive European podium finish for the team.
MEN’S GOLD MEDAL FINAL:
HUNGARY 9-10 CROATIA
Just as in 2010, the Croats made it again at the home Europeans – lifted by 9000 fans and then lifting the roof of the fully packed Spaladium Arena they won a thriller against title-holder Hungary to claim a second European title in their history…
Like the two previous European men’s finals, this one was also decided by penalties, but unlike the last editions, not in a shootout.
After the two unbeaten sides battled through three and a half thrilling periods they found themselves locked at 8-8. Three penalties were called within 40 seconds with Jerko Marinic-Kragic putting away the first. Krisztian Manhercz hit the bar at the other end, then the ensuing counter ended in another call and Marinic-Kragic didn’t miss the second one either for 8-10, with 2:07 to go.
A fairy-tale ending to the home team’s march – the star of the local club Jadran Split netted the winning goals to secure the hosts’ victory.
WOMEN’S EVENT – GREAT GAMES:
GROUP A FIXTURE:
HUNGARY 8-9 GREECE
Greece controlled much of this encounter with Hungary and led by two at the beginning of the fourth period. Then came eight ‘crazy’ minutes. The Magyars finally found their form and after four quick goals led 8-6 with 2:24 on the clock. However, the Plevritou family struck back for Greece, with all three siblings scoring and Eleftheria’s brilliant lob won it five second from time.
GROUP B FIXTURE:
FRANCE 7-8 ISRAEL
Israel produced their most impressive victory to date with a tight defeat of a strong French side in the early stages of Group B at the Split 2022 European Water Polo Championships.
NETHERLANDS 7-10 SPAIN
Spain took the upper hand with three brilliant periods against the previously unbeated Dutch side who unlike Spain had topped their group ahead of the knock-out stage.
Spain, the reigning champion, produced a brilliant first half, held the Netherlands on three goals – they almost completely switched off the Dutch scoring machine with some astonishing defending.
Then Brigitte Sleeking came up with two great woman-up goals in the third, and even though Spain retook the lead soon, the Netherlands seemed to have found the right rhythm.
However, it turned out to be just a brighter spell, the Spanish regained the control in the fourth, built a massive four-goal gap and never let their rivals back to the game again. Elena Ruiz hit four, but it was a real team effort, especially in the back: goalie Martina Terre had to deal with only 12 shots (13 were missed or blocked).
GREECE 12-9 ITALY
Greece produced a spirited and very disciplined display to end Italy’s 100% winning run and secure themselves a place in the Split 2022 final.
Greece produced a strong start and that enabled them to take a two-goal lead by halftime.
Soon in the third, a minor collapse in Italy’s defence gave the Greeks a 9-5 lead and from that point they simply cruised to victory.
Some of their players celebrated with tears in their eyes and for good reason, the Greeks hadn’t reached any major event semi-finals since the 2018 Europeans, they missed out on a place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and exited the 2022 Worlds at the quarter-final stage.
WOMEN’S BRONZE MEDAL FINAL:
THE NETHERLANDS 13-16 ITALY
The bronze went to the Italians, who won a fantastic contest against the Netherlands in what was a re-match of the Budapest 2022 World Championships’ bronze medal clash.
This was a 29-goal classic and water polo at its best. There were nine goals in the first period, an 8-5 lead for Italy in the second, only to see the Dutch coming back to 8-8 till the break.
Thanks to a 7-2 rush, they jumped from a 5-8 deficit to a 12-10 lead, but when they seemed to sit comfortably in the driving seat, the Italians found some extra power to equalise for 13-13.
With one minute and 32 seconds to go, they hit what proved to be the game-winner before adding two further goals in the remaining time. It secured Italy their first major international medal since 2016, when they claimed European bronze and silver at the Rio Olympics.
WOMEN’S GOLD MEDAL FINAL:
SPAIN 9-6 GREECE
Spain claimed gold in a low-scoring but thrilling final to become the first team since Russia in 2010 to retain their title.
Spain began the game at an astonishing pace with goals and a saved penalty in the opening period.
However, the Greeks arrived to the match in the second and by halftime they pulled it to trail by just one – 4-3. In the third three penalties were called in 1:36 minutes, but only one was score, by Elena Ruiz, to double Spain’s lead before the last break.
Still, the Greeks fought on and in the fourth they finally equalised at 6-6 with 4:04 on the clock. However, the Spanish reply came immediately, plus two more in the finish.
The Spanish could start their celebrations with their rivals unable mount another comeback. It meant Greece had to settle for a fourth silver, after previous runner-up positions in 2010, 2012 and 2018.