London ready for 'European' semis

The only non-European semi-finalist their was at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China was defeated in the London 2012 quarter-finals leading to an all European affair in this year's Olympics semis. Four giants out of Europe, three from the final four at the 2012 European championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands, will battle for a rather 'new' Olympic experience: playing for gold. 2007 world and 2010 European champions Croatia will face 2008 European champions and 2012 Europeans silver medallists Montenegro while a rematch of the 2011 FINA World League and world championships final will be played in the second semi-final as reigning European champs Serbia take on defending world champions Italy. Waterpolo-World previews.

The first of two semi-finals will be played between Croatia and Montenegro. Both teams know each other well but did not battled at a recent big stage. In the opening game of the 2010 European championships in Zagreb, Croatia the Montenegrins silenced a capacity crowd at the 5,000-seat Mladost Arena beating the home team 11-9. Croatia proved their right cruising to tournament win in the following weeks while Montenegro went on to finish in fith place. The sides met again in the 2011 world championships quarter-finals in Shanghai, China, now with Croatia as winners (9-6). But they weren't done. At the 2012 European championships in Eindhoven, the Croatians finished on top again beating Montenegro 10-8 in the preliminary round group B match.

At the current Olympic Games, both Croatia and Montenegro have claimed well-deserverd semi-finals spots with Croatia playing impressive waterpolo so far. In their 8-2 rout over the USA in the quarter-finals, the team showed once more at what level they are currently operating. Standout in that game, causing a lot of man-up misses for USA as the Americans tried for a comeback run, was starting goalkeeper Josip Pavic who has been played a very nice tournament so far. The Mladost-goalie could become a key-factor for his team if he will manage to continue his strong play leading the Croatian defense that only took two goals from USA. On the other end, Croatia's offensive is looking sharp with shooters Miho Boskovic and Sandro Sukno feeling well while centre-forward Niksa Dobud is showing improved play being backed-up by veteran Igor Hinic, a silver medalist at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA.


Montenegro meanwhile edged Spain 11-9 in the quarters grabbing a two-goal lead in the second quarter and although allowing the Spaniards to come a little closer in the final phase, the game was more or less decided by veteran Nikola Janovic who scored the 9-11 with 1.30 min left to seal their final four spot. Montenegro had a little dissapointing start of the London 2012 tournament losing their opening game against USA 8-7 but responded well beating outgoing champions Hungary 11-10 following an 11-11 draw with Serbia, the only not-win for the Serbs. Two key-players for the Montenegrins in the play-off phase will be emerging star Aleksandar Ivovic and centre-forward Boris Zlokovic, the best two scorers of their team so far. Both playing for Italian powerhouse and Champions League winner Pro Recco and after having performed well all season long, the strong efforts were continued in London as Montenegro looked to rely on both giants with Zlokovic being about the only natural centre-forward on the Montenegrin roster. Ivovic meanwhile has shown to be outstanding on both ends being the team's top scorer with 14 goals so far in the tournament. What could help Montenegro, and proved to did at the 2012 European is some more all around offensive power, from shooter Mladjan Janovic for example. The team top scorer in Eindhoven has a more quit tournament so far scoring 8 goals, tied with Partizan-player and team-mate Aleksandar Radovic. On the other end, Drasko Brguljan's has stepped up with 7 goals showing that there are other players claiming more offensively for Montenegro. The fighting spirit and team effort that took the Ranko Perovic-coached side all the way to the finals at the 2012 Europeans will be much needed against Croatia in order to write history and reach the Olympic final.

The second semi-final features a matchup, similar to the ones from the - hold on - 2011 FINA World League, world championships and 2012 European championships semi-final. In that recent run, Serbia is leading 2-1, only losing the world championships final (8-7) but has had all focus on the current 2012 Olympic Games trying to top their bronze medal from Beijing 2008. The second last obstacle in the way is an Italian squad that looked improved recently and is responsible for the elimination of Hungary winning 11-9 in the quarter-finals.


Yet another interesting duel between two sides that know each other very well, not only having met at some recent high stages but in preparation of these Olympics as well. Next to the participation in the 8-nation Cosenza exhibition tournament in Italy, both teams had common training just days before travelling to London. And although having played some impressive waterpolo in the group stage, the Serbs had all troubles in their quarter-final against Australia as they had to come back from being down 7-4 at half time. But like big teams do, they delivered scoring six unaswered goals, five in the final quarter, to rally to a 11-8 victory over the Aussie Sharks. Now they will face Italy, who put up a very nice performance in their game against Hungary showing their well-known active and versatile play combined with some nice long distance shooting that proved too much for the Hungarians as Pietro Figlioli and veteran Maurzio Felugo had their focus well-aimed. Just like the Serbs had no final answer to that game in the 2011 Shanghai final, the Italians will look to beat their opponents that way on Friday again. One difference for the Italians will be the chance of centre-forwards as Arnaldo Deserti was the second in Shanghai, he was replaced close before the London tournament by Croatia-born Danijel Premus who is looking good so far and could cause even more problems for the Serbian defense.

On the other end, Serbia's Andrija Prlainovic, lefhander Filip Filipovic and captain Vanja Udovicic are looking to be stopped as the standout-trio for Serbia delivered once again in the quarters with Filipovic on top scoring three goals, including the important 9-8 with four minutes remaining in that game. Experienced goalkeeper Slobodan Soro will be looking to rebound from a little dissapointing performance against Australia but is difficult to pass when showing good form. The Serbs are looking to get more and more strong back-up play from the rest of their team making the side one of the hot favorites for gold in London. But all the fine results from the group stage can be washed away in one match now as Italy looks to top their dissapointing nineth place from Beijing 2008 topping Germany 10-8 in that classification match. The encounter will be undoubtedly one in the list of great meetings both teams had in the recent past. Two great finalists will known on Friday evening.

XXX Olympic Games 2012 at London, Great Britain


Friday, 10 August - MEN
35. 14.20: United States (L31) vs. Spain (L33) - Semi-final 5th - 8th place
37. 15.40: Croatia (W31) vs. Montenegro (W33) - Semi-final 1
36. 18.30: Hungary (L32) vs. Australia (L34) - Semi-final 5th - 8th place
38. 19.50: Italy (W32) vs. Serbia (W34) - Semi-final 2

Pictured: Croatia's goalkeeper Josip Pavic (top photo), his teammate Ivan Buljubasic as he looks to shoot past Montengro's Mladjan Janovic (7) and Aleksandar Radovic (6) and Italian veteran Maurizio Felugo (bottom photo). Photos by Henk Swinkels.

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