Croatia v Italy 11-10
Francesco di Fulvio kicked off the party with a 6m shot 29 seconds into the game – the reply came immediately, Konstantin Kharkov sent the ball home from the first man-up. Mirroring extras followed – both went in, both times the ball got a wicked deflection on a blocking arm. Some great defending followed, passes were stopped in man-downs, the goalies made stops on shots coming from the perimeter.
Croatia got a 6 on 4 nearing the last minute, Jerko Marinic Kragic let the ball fly and it bounced in from Marco del Lungo’s hand – while the other Marko, Bijac made the difference in the first period as he denied Jacopo Aleasiani, though the Italians also played in 6 on 4.
Though Italy had a 6:20 minute-long silence after the two fast goals, Andrea Fondelli quickly halted that phase with a great bouncer from the perimeter after just 20 seconds in the second. Then again, the blocking hand fooled Del Lungo in a man-down at Marinic-Kragic’s shot. Bijac made a save at the other end in a man-down, Del Lungo delivered a big one on Loren Fatovic’s blast. That was crucial as the Croats missed their next extra as well, while Italy, with some luck, managed to go even again, when Luca Marziali sent the ball home from close range, the ball fell to his hand after Bijac’s save.
And soon they were ahead, di Fulvio had a clean shot in 5m in a man-up, for him, that’s even easier than a penalty. Andria Basic responded with an action goal, the ball somehow sneaked in under the goalie’s arm, then the Croats killed a man-down and Marinic Kragic netted his third from the right wing, again from a 6 on 5 for 6-5, with 1:47 on the clock. Bijac posted his 7th save in a man-down inside the last minute, and Marziali was red carded in the dying seconds for provokating his opponent, a big blow for the Italians who played with one man less due to an earlier suspension (of Vincenzo Renzuto, whose brutality went unnoticed against Montenegro, but not during a post-game review).
Italy’s first extra was anything but a fine execution, unlike the Croats’ play which set up Marko Zuvela on the 2m line and he managed to send the ball home while the defenders tried to hunt him down. It was the first two-goal lead, so Alessandro Campagna rather went for a time-out before their next 6 on 5. It didn’t help, Bijac made a save on di Fulvio’s shot, and Cannella hit the post after the rebound – though Vincenzo Dolce didn’t miss the following one for 7-6. Soon it was 7-7, di Fulvio’s trademark 6m blast did the damage – while the Croats’ level in offence dropped a bit. The Italians could have scored a third one in a row, but the pass never found the finisher at the post in another man-up – while Rino Buric scored a great one from action.
That was a turning point again, Cannella fired the ball into Bijac from a 6 on 5 – while the other end the Croats got a 6 on 5, which turned into a 6 on 4 (plus another red card for Edoardo di Somma for gesturing on the referee), so Italy left with two substitutions and a two-goal deficit as Marinic Kragic scored his fourth (the fans were loud as he is from Split). Andrea Fondelli gave back some hope with a fine hit from a man-up so Italy trailed 9-8 before the final period but faced a huge challenge as the Croats had two more substitutes to use (though two of them were fouled out already).
Luca Damonte’s fine left-handed shot from action in the last second of the first possession silenced the crowd – soon Italy lost another player, Fondelli, with a third exclusion, though they managed to kill the Croats’ man-up. Bijac delivered a couple of saves on perimeter shots, then Nicosia did a huge stop on Kharkov’s ball in a man-down, but after the corner-throw the Croats still managed to put the ball on Basic’s hand whose one-timer sent his team ahead once more. Not for long, though, Italy also made the most of their man-up, Lorenzo Bruni had an easy finish from close for 10-10, with 3:24 to go. Nicosia posted two more stops, then Italy had a man-up, but Damonte was denied by the block.
With 1:35 to go, things went wild – a turnover was called against the hosts, but Fatovic jumped onto the goalie’s hand holding the ball, to earn a penalty. Kharkov buried it – but Italy still had two more man ups, however, Bijac made a tremendous save in the first while the second was denied by a blocking hand once more. And that was it – an extraordinary end to an extraordinary match, the Croats made the final for the first time since 2010. That was in Zagreb – for them home is really sweet.
Ivica Tucak, coach, Croatia
“It was a very hard game. It was a victory of water polo today, and we won. Everybody from my team, the players, the staff, the coaches should be very proud because they did their job very well. Congrats to everyone. Now we need to focus for the final game against a very big and strong team. I’m sure that we want to win more than our opponent and we will show our best in the final.”
Alessandro Campagna, coach, Italy
“It was a tough game. To play here in Croatia in the front of full stands, the home crowd – that was very hard. I would like to congratulate to my players, I think they played very well. Nothing more to say.”
Jerko Marinic Kragic, player, Croatia
“I am literally out of myself! Still, the job is not finished yet. We now have a day rest but then it’s back to business. We know fully well what is expected of us – the gold medal.”
Marko Bijac, goalkeeper, Croatia
“I honestly don’t know what to say… I am overwhelmed with the emotions. A huge thank you to all the fans. Split has proved once again what a true sports city it is. I thank everybody from the bottom of my heart. The medal is achieved, but our goal is the gold medal. The final against Hungary will be difficult, they have the best shooters. It will be very hard to close them off. Now we have to rest, get what
happened tonight out of our heads and get ready for the final. With the help of this magnificent fans, we can do it.”
Andrea Fondelli, player, Italy
“It was an amazing game in an amazing arena. We lost it by a penalty. I don’t want to say anything about that. I am proud of my team, because with no players, we fought until the end. I am really proud of them. In two days we are going to have another final. The bronze medal match against Spain and we are going to be ready for that.”