© Gertjan Kooij

Croatia tops Greece on penalties, meets Serbia in final - Kazan day 12

The 12th day of water polo action at the 2015 world championships in Kazan started off with Kazakhstan equalling their best result at world championships stage by finishing 11th after knocking off South Africa 11-7. Team top scorer Alexandr Axenov took off for a tournament game-high 7 goals making a push to become the tournament highest goal-scorer with a total of 22. Although Kazakhstan led most of the game South Africa stayed close for three quarters but, unable to stop Axenov from scoring, had to settle for the loss in the final period. Regardless, finishing 12th also marks the best result at world championships for South Africa, the previous being 14th (1998 and 2007).

Canada came close to their best result (8th) at world championships by claiming the 9th position at the 2015 edition after edging Americas rivals Brazil on a penalty shootout 12-10 in an exciting battle. A took a while for the fire to be ignited but when that happened in the second half the game between the two familiar opponents saw an exciting battle for 9th place being contested. It was Brazil who looked to close out the quarter by gaining a 2-goal lead as Adria Delgado scored his 2nd of 3 goals from the left wing on man-up after some good passing by the Brazilians but after a beautiful full-length pass by Canada goalie Robin Randall in the last seconds, Nicolas Constantin-Bicari catched and scored to get Canada back to within 1: 5-6. Scoring proved difficult in the first half of the final period due to turnovers and several saves by Randall who more and more stepped up. Canada let Brazil pay the price on the other end when Justin Boyd broke the deadlock after nearly 3 minutes scoring a nice outside shot, only to see Brazil top scorer Delgado scoring on a quick reply not even 20 seconds later. Canada started their quest for the important equaliser and finally got it 2 minutes later after Brazil centre back Felipe Silva was excluded and Jarrod McElroy hit when time expired. In the final minutes both teams got their shots at what could have been the winning goal but especially Brazil let down on their man-ups missing 2 straight. Canada did with just 16 seconds remaining before Felipe Perrone took the final shot of regulation but, heavily guarded, could not beat Canada goalie Randall. In the shootout the strong-looking Randall wasted no time in stepping up once more. He saved Brazil's very first attempt, by Guilherme Gomes, and as all others went in, it was Nicolas Constantin-Bicari who decided the outcome by scoring the last one of the series as Canada won 12-10 and took 9th place while Brazil had to settle for 10th, still their best ever result at world championships.

The second pair of the games saw the 5th-8th place classification semifinals being contested. First up were Montenegro and Australia, meeting each other for the second time after their 5-5 draw in the group stage. The Montenegrins wasted little time in grabbing control of the game as they fired away from outside and as Australia goalkeeper Joel Dennerley did not played his best game, had success early on. Aleksandar Radovic hit twice nicely and after Drasko Brguljan scored on man-up in the second period Montenegro was up 5-1. For the Aussie Sharks, not looking quite the team from the first half of the tournament, Aiden Roach scored a nice one from the left wing to get Australia back to trailing 5-2 at half-time. In the third period signs of a Sharks comeback appeared as Richie Campbell started contributing. The talented shooter, quiet this tournamen so far, scored twice in a row identical goals from outside as now Australia got back to 5-4. Not much later Montenegro got awarded a penalty shot, but Aleksandar Radovic hit the upright bar of goalie James Stanton who got in after the first period replacing the unlucky Joel Dennerley. Two attacks later Montenegro did had success when Mladjan Janovic finished a counter attack with subtle lob. And Montenegro continued as centre forward Filip Klikovac beautifully drew a penalty, converted by Aleksandar Ivovic. Tournament standout Aaron Younger struck back scoring from way out as Australia came back to trailing just a single goal (7-6) with 2.30 remaining in the third period. The game basically went back and forth at this stage as the next goal was scored by Mladjan Janovic who shot around 2 defenders on man-up to restore Montenegro's 2-goal lead. There things got worse for Australia. First a goal by Tyler Martin was disallowed as his defender Janovic was excluded during the drive, the subsequent man-up led to a turnover and then Vjekoslav Paskovic scored a goal left side near corner surprising James Stanton who'd thought to have that side covered. So after three quarters, suddenly Montenegro was up 9-6. The game hopped on the final period without any highlights before, after an extra man where Darko Brguljan lost handle of the bal, Australia struck in the counter attack with Jarrod Gilchrist scoring from the left side. Montenegro's response, once more, did not took long. Mladjan Janovic hit of a free throw to once more restore order. Despite Australia struggling more on the offensive end they did score when Tyler Martin tipped in his own rebound in between two Montenegrin defenders to get the Sharks back to 10-8, but with 2 minutes remaining, time became an issue. Especially when two attacks later Mladjan Janovic continued his stellar play drawing a penalty and scoring it. With the score at 11-8 the final minute was announced. Australia missed a man-up and by then the match looked well played as Montenegro could use their time. And so despite tying the Montenegrins for three quarters, losing the first one 4-1 and falling behind 5-1 in the second term proved to cost Australia the game, eventually losing by 3.

Next up were Hungary and USA determing who will play Montenegro for 5th place. Both teams experienced tough losses in the quarterfinal with especially Hungary heart-broken after falling to Italy. It was Balazs Harai who quickly got the Hungarians up in front, but Tony Azevedo on his second try of a free throw succeeded for the 1-1 score. Hungary then went up 3-1 after Daniel Varga scored cross cage from the right side and Balazs Erdelyi, a player in the American college NCAA competition for 4 years, tipped in the ball after a nice drive, just enough over the goal-line before USA goalkeeper McQuin Baron grabbed it back. Goals were exchanged again as Bret Bonanni hit but Harai scored his 2nd of the game on a nice backhand with under a minute remaining in the first quarter for the 4-2 lead for the dethroned champion. In the second quarter a deadlock marked the first minutes and was finally broken by Hungary's Balazs Harai scoring a nice turnaround centre-forward goal. But after Josh Samuels struck back for USA, it was Denes Varga who joined the group of scorers ending a drought of almost an entire game netto time with a nice shot from outside around his defender. The Magyars continued to seek control but got surprised by Bret Bonanni who caught goalkeeper Attila Decker by surprise in the near corner to get USA back trailing 2 goals: 6-4. But before the first half was concluded, Hungary struck back. After nice passing Daniel Varga catched and shot from outside to have the Magyars going into the major break leading 7-4.
In the second quarter each team committed a turnover before Luca Cupido scored for Team USA reducing the deficit back to two: 7-5. And when Bret Bonanni hit nicely from the left wing on man-up in the following attack for the Americans, the score was now back to the closest margin. Several minutes went by again with teams having hard time to finish set plays. USA did earned exclusions but could not convert twice. The score got back to two for Hungary by the goal of the game as Denes Varga suddenly shot, guarded by Alex Bowen, from 7 metres out, to skip it into the roof of the goal. And Hungary pushed forward as standout Harai scored another one on a nce feed from Marton Vamos from the right side. Now USA had again to fight back from a 3-goal deficit as Hungary had established a 9-6 lead going into the final period. The match for 5th place seemed even further away for the Americans quickly into the 4th quarter as Norbert Hosnyanszky surprised USA goalie Baron in the near corner to extend the lead to 10-6. Tony Azevedo stepped up for USA shooting past Attila Decker on a quick catch-and-shoot goal to reduce the deficit with 5 minutes remaining. But Denes Varga was there to make things worse for USA scoring his 17th goal of the tournament nicely as only he's capable of. From the left wing on extra man Varga quasi-nonchalant scored cross cage for the 11-7 score as over 4 minutes remained. The exclamation point came from Hosnyanszky who fired off from the right wing as time expired to surprise Baron over the head. Hungary led 12-7 and with the game just 2.50 away from its end, the outcome looked decided. Azevedo added his 3rd goal by scoring on man-up after a timeout but by the walk he made back to the bench, also knew the game was played. The scoring wasn't over over however. In the very next attack veteran lefthander Norbert Madaras got on the board for just his 2nd goal of the tournament after catching and shooting from outside before John Mann hit on a nice drive at centre forward to raise the score to 13-9 with over a minute left. Both teams played out the clock in the final minute and with the score unchanged Hungary will play for 5th place facing Montenegro on Saturday while USA meets Australia for 7th.


After a slow start, the 3-minute deadlock was broken by Croatian starting centre forward Luka Loncar who made a nice turn at his position to score. Greece got an extra man two attacks later but couldn't finish as Emmanouil Mylonakis saw his shot being saved by next season's team-mate at Olympiacis, Josip Pavic. On the other end Sandro Sukno showed off his shooting skills. Slowly threathening he beautifully scored under the crossbar on man-up for the 2-0 lead deep into the quarter. Greece finally had success. Centre forward Konstantinos Mourikis made the nice drive, earned a penalty, which was scored by Ioannis Fountoulis. Croatia's first chance to extend the lead was well defended by Greece on man down but a minute later, it was Luka Bukic who ended up on the right side and at the end of the period, scored cross cage to put his team up 3-1 at the end of the quarter. The second period saw Croatia establishing its defence that caused Greece trouble even reaching their ever-dangerous centre forwards. The slow-pacing, physical defence had its success, especially after Paulo Obradovic took Greece captain Christos Afroudakis to the centre forward for the fierce bank-handed goal and 4-2 lead. Greece responded in the following attack. The Greek offence got set, got their positions and Angelos Vlachopoulos had time, and saw his attempt, deflected, going past Pavic midway through the second period. Croatia in this phase though looked the the upper side and it didn't took long for them to restorde their 3-goal lead. Petar Muslim was given too much time on the left wing on man-up and made the Greek team pay for it by scoring turning up the score to 5-2 with 4 minutes to play in the half. The break-through for Greece was up at hand though. In the following possession they finally reached Konstantinos Mourikis at the centre-forward position with room to turn as he scored straight away and got Greece back to 5-3. And there was more. Christodoulos Kolomvos got Greece another extra man posession not much later and Fountoulis was at the end of it scoring from his left wing: 5-4. That score didn't changed until the end of the half despite Croatia earning a man-up with 7 seconds remaining, which couldn't be finished as Damir Buric' tip-in was blocked.
At the beginning of the third session things didn't looked too different, and Croatia struck first again. Luka Loncar, like in the first half, scored. This time being the final station on a nice man-up play to put the score to 6-4, almost halfway through the quarter already. But like the goal ignited Greece's hunger to come back, it was Kolomvos who drew another exclusion in the following attack and the man-up was again well played leading an open Angelos Vlachopoulos who delivered. Coming close? Well, not too much for Croatia. After earning a man-up, Petar Muslim continued his stellar play this tournament on the left wing scoring one his trademark goals around the defender. However, the Croatians couldn't enjoy their 2-goal lead too long as in the following posession in a phase where exclusions were flying around, Greece captain Christos Afroudakis stood up on offence scoring nicely from outside on man-up to get the Greek back within one: 7-6. And with over a minute left in the quarter, the game slowly got onto an expected close final. But with a 2-goal lead for Croatia restored. Maro Jokovic fired one home of a free throw for Croatia as now the reigning Olympic champion led 8-6 with just eight minutes to be played. But Greece wasn't to back down now. On one of their many extra mans (double digits by then) Alexandros Gounas nicely hit around his defender on the left corner. By this time however getting a stop on the other end became an issue for Greece. Paulo Obradovic scored his 2nd of the game from right wing on man-up just 30 seconds later to get Croatia back up on a 2-goal difference, again. And that was with just over 5 minutes remaining in the match. More than enough time, one would reckon. It proved so. Croatia missed a man-up via Luka Bukic and on the other end, Vlachopoulos didn't miss so that the score was brought back to 9-8. Still however the exclusions were flying around, and after a Croatian miss by Muslim, it was Fran Paskvalin who drew another kickout that was finished by Sandro Sukno incredibly. He threathned long, in one rhythm only to shoot, no-look, and score above the Greek goalie Flegkas' head for the 10-8 score. Like one would expected Greece got back once more. Afroudakis threw a quick pass to Emmanouil Mylonakis who didn't hesitated and scored to get the 2005 world championships bronze medal winning nation back to trailing 10-9 with under a minute remaining. In the next attack Croatia was finally denied and now Greece found temselves earning another exclusion on the centre-forward position with a timeout left and 35 seconds to go. The timeout was taken and Greece did it. After good passing, Kolomvos scored from the post with just 27 seconds on the clock for the equaliser, at last. Croatia took a timeout, put in 2 centre forwards but no exclusion could be drawn in the tense final seconds, despite 2 attempts of reaching either Paskvalin or Buric so that a shootout was next up with the 10-10 score, to decide the thriller. In the penalty series it was Croatian goalie and 2012 FINA world player of the year Josip Pavic who decided things. Knowing 2016 Olympic Games qualification was at stake, he denied Ioannis Fountoulis scoring and that proved enough as his team-mates all did score so that Andelo Setka had the honour of netting the winning penalty shot as celebrations were ignited and Croatia qualified for the 2015 world championships final and 2016 Olympics.

Italy got off to a man-up straight away in their first attack but couldn't start the scoring. Who did was Andrija Prlainovic who furociously scored on another extra man to get Serbia up 0-1. It got better when a fierce and ready-looking defence by Serbia denied Italy another goal after centre back Nikola Jaksic was excluded. But in the counter attack Milos Cuk came free and could score easily to get Serbia even leading 0-2 with 4.29 to play in the first period. That intensity was the key in the opening period for Serbia who ran another quick counter attack in which Stefan Mitrovic drove nicely and got open in front of Italy goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti to score for 0-3. Things got worse for the Italians as another exclusion was called against them, and after the Serbia man-up looked denied, Dusan Mandic got the ball and blasted a rocket in the near corner for the incredible 0-4 score with 3 minutes remaining. Italy couldn't change it in the second period. Serbia played an extremely tightened defence but were also quick on the counter attacks. That got Stefan Mitrovic and Zivko Gocic in front of Tempesti and both scored to extend the lead to 5 and 4 goals, as Alex Giorgetti and Francesco di Fulvio saw shots from outside, in case of Giorgetti on man-up, finally getting behind Serbian goalie Branislav Mitrovic, who got the start in favour of Gojko Pijetlovic. Serbia kept drawing exclusion and at the end of the first half, even two times in a row. The second time, it was a goal as youngster Nikola Jaksic got the pass on the post for the tip in as the Serbs continued to stun the crowd at the Water Polo Arena in Kazan by now leading 2-7 with a minute remaining in the first half. A turnover by the European champion was not taken properly by Andrea Fondelli for Italy so turned into a free throw for Serbia. Dusko Pijetlovic took it, passed onto the driving Mitrovic who scored another goal as now the Dejan Savic coached side closed the first half by leading a stunning 2-8.

In the third quarter it was Italy who struck first in their attempt to close in on the Serbs. Andrea Fondelli got the ball after an offensive foul on Prlainovic in the previous posession and scored cross cage. But it didn't last long... Dusko Pijetlovic got open in the next attack just enough to receive a perfect pass and blast it behind Tempesti to restore the 6-goal difference. An almost identical goal was scored in the very next attack, for Italy, as Fabio Baraldi catched and shoot to score and get Italy back to trailing 4-9. In the remainder Italy finally got a hold to the many exclusions but kept having trouble with finishing of their man-ups. But as the personal fouls started to be called slowly but surely more in the direction of the Serbs, especially in the transition, the chances kept coming. Overcoming the Serbian defence, also on man-down, still proved a burden. Even three more man-up in the final minutes of the third period were denied, but also in set plays the Italians could not force a way of getting to the Serbian goal. The scenario looked to continue in the final session. Here Italy got theirself an extra man but fierce Serbian defence held them from scoring. On the other end Milan Aleksic got time on the 6-on-5 posession and shot the ball deep left past Tempesti for the 4-10 score and, with 6 minutes remaining, an even possible decision. It didn't meant the scoring was over, though. An Italian attack that was almost over got promoted into a goal by Andrea Fondelli who lobbed way over Mitrovic to score and get the Alessandro Campagna coach side to trailing 5-10 with 4.45 to go. It took the Italians until the 2.30 mark before another goal be scored. After Filip Filipovic was excluded, again on the transition, Stefano Luongo finished from the left wing and got the score up to 6-10. But time was running out. And after the two more Serbina attacks, after Tempesti had to tip a Milos Cuk shot from way out, the believe on the Italian side looked virtually gone. The final minute turned into a formality, with eather side knowing the outcome. Celebrations started among the Serbian fans in the stadium and on the Serbian bench as the Dejan Savic coached side avanced to the final and will try to play for the first world championships gold medal since the memorable 2009 edition in Rome where they defeated Spain on penalties.

Zivko Gocic (SRB) - Captain
''We played very, very good. I think the key was in that in the first two quarters we scored three or four goals from set plays. We knew the Italians would be tactically well prepared and that if we would go on to a man-up/man-down game, it would be good for them. But we managed to score the, let's say, normal-play goals and got up 0-4 and 2-8. That was the key.'' On Croatia in the final: ''Believe me, this will be a totally different match, because we are from the same school. But to get the gold medal you have to win every match and now we need just one more.''

Dejan Savic (SRB) — Head Coach
“It will be a great final, the two best teams in this championship. Today we started strong and produced a very good game in the first two periods. It was easy to make the result to the end. We are happy and congratulations on one more step to our goal.

Alex Giorgetti (ITA)
“I suppose it was a battle, a fight. Today Italy may have shown fear of Serbia. We had anger against Hungary with fire in our eyes. We are a young team and we don’t have any maturity. To have a great team you have to work a lot more. It was a catastrophe. In a semifinal it’s important not to see 8-2. Incredible. I was very angry, sad. So, I am one of the oldest players, also it is my fourth championship. I have to support my friends, play for third place and the bronze medal, also the Olympic Games qualification. We have to stand up and make a great match.”

2015 FINA World Championships
Kazan (RUS)

Semifinal round

Thursday, 6 August (men)

Kazakhstan (L M33) vs. South Africa (L M34) 11-7 (4-2, 1-2, 2-1, 4-2) - M39 (11th/12th place classification)
Kazakhstan scorers: Alexandr Axenov 7, Sergey Gubarev, Alexey Shmider, Rustam Ukumanov, Yevgeniy Medvedev.

South Africa scorers: Pierre le Roux 3, Joao de Carvalho 2, Nicholas Molyneux 2.

Canada (W M33) vs. Brazil (W M34) 12-10 (2-2, 1-1, 2-3, 2-1; penalties: 5-3) - M40 (9th/10th place classification)
Canada scorers: Constantin Kudaba 2, John Conway 2, Nicolas Constantin-Bicari, Justin Boyd, Jarrod McElroy.

Brazil scorers: Adria Delgado 3, Josip Vrlic 2, Felipe Perrone, Gustavo Guimaraes.

Montenegro (L M35) vs. Australia (L M36) 11-8 (4-1, 1-1, 4-4, 2-2) - M41
Montenegro scorers: Mladjan Janovic 4, Darko Brguljan 2, Aleksandar Radovic 2, Drasko Brguljan, Vjekoslav Paskovic, Aleksandar Ivovic.

Australia scorers: Richie Campbell 2, Johno Cotterill 2, Aaron Younger 2, Aiden Roach, Tyler Martin.

Hungary (L M37) vs. USA (L M38) 13-9 (4-2, 3-2, 2-2, 4-3) - M42
Hungary scorers: Balazs Harai 4, Denes Varga 3, Norbert Hosnyanszky 2, Norbert Madaras, Balazs Erdelyi.

USA scorers: Tony Azevedo 3, Bret Bonanni 3, Luca Cupido, Josh Samuels, John Mann.

Croatia (W M35) vs. Greece (W M36) 15-13 (3-1, 2-3, 3-2, 2-4; penalties: 5-3) - M43
Croatia scorers: Luka Loncar 2, Petar Muslim 2, Paulo Obradovic 2, Maro Jokovic, Luka Bukic.

Greece scorers: Angelos Vlachopoulos 3, Ioannis Fountoulis 2, Emmanouil Mylonakis, Christos Afroudakis, Konstantinos Mourikis, Christodoulos Kolomvos, Alexandros Gounas.

Italy (W M37) vs. Serbia (W M38) 6-10 (0-4, 2-4, 2-1, 2-1) - M44
Italy scorers: Andrea Fondelli 2, Francesco di Fulvio, Alex Giorgetti, Stefano Luongo, Fabio Baraldi.

Serbia scorers: Stefan Mitrovic 3, Dusan Mandic, Zivko Gocic, Milos Cuk, Dusko Pijetlovic, Milan Aleksic, Nikola Jaksic, Andrija Prlainovic.

Final round

Friday, 7 August (women)

14.00: Spain (L W41) vs. Russia (L W42) - W45 (7th/8th place classification)
15.30: China (W W41) vs. Greece (W W42) - W46 (5th/6th place classification)

20.30: Australia (L W43) vs. Italy (L W44) - W47 (3rd/4th place classification)
22.00: USA (W W43) vs. Netherlands (W W44) - W48 (1st/2nd place classification)

Final round

Saturday, 8 August (men)

14.00: Australia (L M41) vs. USA (L M42) - M45 (7th/8th place classification)
15.30: Montenegro (W M41) vs. Hungary (W M42) - M46 (5th/6th place classification)

20.30: Greece (L M43) vs. Italy (L M44) - M47 (3rd/4th place classification)
22.00: Croatia (W M43) vs. Serbia (W M44) - M48 (1st/2nd place classification)

N.b.: time mentioned is local time.

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