Serbia beats Croatia to win 2015 world championship

The final day of action of the 2015 World Championships water polo got underway on Saturday in Kazan with Team USA finishing in 7th place after beating Australia 6-10 in the first of four games. Poor shooting for the Aussie Sharks (6 for 31) prevented them from battling for the win as USA gradually walked away in the second half. Led by captain Tony Azevedo's 4 goals, the Americans got away from Australia after a near 14-minute drought that marked the early part of the 2nd period. As Alex Bowen and Azevedo (in his record 8th FINA World Championship) struck again in the first minutes of the final period, with the score at 4-10, the game looked to be played. The Sharks did mange to score 2 more goals in the final minutes but USA's win was already secured as they finish the championships in 7th place, while a dissapointed Australia team settles for 8th.

The battle for 5th place, a rematch of the gold medal final 2 years ago in Barcelona, saw this time Montenegro prevailing for the 10-9 victory. A deserved one as the Montenegrins intensity on defence, and the poor shooting by Hungary (9 for 30), had the dethroned champions in trouble of playing for the win. Montenegro scored at the right moments, led by Aleksandar Ivovic' 3  hits but the goals in the fourth period by Mladjan Janovic and Vjekoslav Paskovic, both of them on quick counter attacks, got Montenegro up by 3 each time which proved decisive in the end. Although Hungary managed to come back, the game's final goal by Daniel Varga was scored with just 15 seconds remaining so Montenegro could play out the clock and secure their 5th-place finish.

Bronze medal

The high-stake match-up started slow but did not took long to be ignited. Greece's first man-up was a hit as Christos Afroudakis scored from the left wing at the end of the attacking time. It was Fabio Baraldi who earned a penalty in the following posession, but Alex Giorgetti hit the upright to miss the opportunity. Now all of a sudden the game went back and forth with nice drives and counter attacks, being past its slow opening. Greece in the next minutes saw two goals being dissallowed because of allegedly too much movement when shooting of a free throw so still just led 1-0 at the end of the period. The second quarter was marked by heavy defence causing the game to get slowed down because of static play and little drives. The deadlock was broken by emerging youngster Francesco di Fulvio who scored in the near corner from 5 metres out on the right side so get Italy next to Greece: 1-1. Little chances followed back and forth but each side's active zone defence worked well in preventing the dangerous centre forwards from getting the ball earning exclusions or even scoring. After Pietro Figlioli save a close attempt being saved after a nice drive and quick passing, Greece struck on the other end. Angelos Vlachopoulos quickly catched and shot getting past Italy's goalie Stefano Tempesti with over a minute remaining in the first half. And Vlachopoulos got on to be the hero of the first half for Greece scoring his 2nd goal not long after on a nice drive along the right side for the 3-1 lead. That 2-goal advantage could not be maintained until the half, though, as Pietro Figlioli in the next attack scored on the end of an man-up posession from the left corner to get Italy back to 3-2 before the first half expired and the big break got the teams the opportunity to prepare for an undoubtedly close second half.

No changes to the scenario when the third period got underway as both teams made several stops, either to good help defence, or turnovers by the attacking side. An Italian man-up was saved by the tight Greek defence before Emmanouil Mylonakis was left open on 'his' right side and made Italy pay straight away to get Greece leading 4-2. The answer came from another youngster on Italy's roser, Alessandro Velotto who hit with 4.40 remaining. Now Greece looked to have found an answer as they struck again on extra man with Konstantinos Mourikis on the post to tip in a nice pass and get his team to lead 5-3 with 3.40 to play in the 3rd. But Italy hung on as Andrea Fondelli came through by scoring on a counter attack where he was left open on 5 metres and got the score back to 5-4. By now the exclusion were called more often and so more opportunities arose. Greece used another man-up to score, again after beautiful passing, finished by Alexandros Gounas, before Matteo Aicardi put Italy right back to trailing just 1 turning for a nice backhand goal at centre forward, as just a minute remained in the period. It got better for Greece when they could force another exclusion by Christodoulos Kolomvos at centre forward with under half a minute remaining, finished off the game's top scorer Angelos Vlachopoulos who scored his 3rd from the right wing with just 6 seconds on the clock. Still it wasn't played though as the final set play saw Matteo Aicardi tipping in a nice goal as both sides stayed incredibly close exchanging goals with the score at 7-6 before the final period was to determine a winner. Once more it took the teams over 3 minutes to get the first score on the board for the quarter. This time though it was Italy who struck first and therewith levelled the score. Matteo Aicardi drew a penalty, converted by Pietro Figlioli for the 7-7 score as still 4 minutes were to be played. Greece got the big chance to score what would be an important, if not decisive goal, with 1 minute left, but Fountoulis hit the upright bar after a well-played man-up. Italy got the final long attack but saw Fracesco di Fulvio hitting the crossbar from outside. In the final seconds, Greece's long-distance attempt was easily saved by Tempesti so a penalty shootout was to decide this thrilling encounter.

In the shootout, to emphasize how close the teams were, just one miss decided the outcome. It was youngster Francesco di Fulvio, after playing a very nice first world championships, who saw his attempt being saved by Greek goalie Konstantinos Flegkas and the game's top scorer Angelos vlachopoulos being the hero of the day as he netted the following attempt, sending Greece to the 2016 Olympic Games and winning the bronze medal here in Kazan.

Croatia vs. Serbia

Serbia returned to claiming the world championship after winning it in 2009 by beating Croatia 4-11 in the gold medal final on Saturday in Kazan. Turning around an early 2-0 deficit the Serbs dominated in the second half en route to their big victory. Top scorer and Most Valuable Player of the final was Andrija Prlainovic who scored 3 goals. Slobodan Nikic became the first player to win three FINA World Championships having been a part of the 2005 Serbia & Montenegro team that took the gold in Montreal, Canada, and in 2009 of the Serbian team that edged Spain on penalties to win the world title in Rome, Italy.
Paulo Obradovic was the first to strike after Croatia had posession three times and Obradovic finally hit on a man-up, earned by centre forward Luka Loncar. Serbia got their chances in the next attack, but even on man-up couldn't get past either the Croatian defence or goalkeeper Josip Pavic who saved shots by Milan Aleksic and Filip Filipovic. On the other end, the man-up for Croatia resulted in a goal as Antonio Petkovic surprised Serbian goalie Branislav Mitrovic crosscage for the 2-0 lead. Serbia however came back in the second half of the opening period through nice goals by Andrija Prlainovic (on man-up) and Dusan Mandic on a drive from centre forward. With another Croatian extra man saved, the scores was levelled 2-2 at quarter time. The deadlock of the tense match in the second quarter, which lasted almost half a quarter, was broken by Andrija Prlainovic who scored his 2nd goal already when being left open a bit too long by the Croatian defence. The next minutes saw a Croatian surge as they got 2 straight attacks but finally, on man-up could not hit again as Serbia kept their slim lead intact and used it to their advantage in the following posession where Prlainovic earned an exclusion and saw team-mate Milos Cuk hitting from outside as the Serbs got up 2 goals for the first time, now leading 2-4 with 2.37 to go in the first half. And that got even better when Filip Filipovic finished a man-up after fast passsing with under half a minute remaining in the first half so that Serbia were heading into the third quarter leading 2-5 after having fallen behind 2-0 in the first minutes.

And the Serbs continued in the third period by striking already in the first attack. Stefan Mitrovic made a nice drive on Luka Loncar, got the ball and despite some resistance, managed to score from the left corner for the 2-6 lead. Remaining scoreless in the 2nd quarter, Croatia finally managed to strike back with 5.30 to play in the 3rd as Sandro Sukno scored on extra man from the left wing. But there looked no stopping Serbia now as in the next attack, after Dusko Pijetlovic earned an exclusion, Milos Cuk finished a nice play to get Serbia up 3-7 with 4.55 left to be played. Croatia's next man-up saw Petar Muslim fumbling the ball but in the counter attack, Cuk couldn't also finish. And Croatia got another shot when Milan Aleksic was excluded and the Croats took a timeout to set up their extra-man play. Here Paulo Obradovic got the ball on the post but saw his shot being blocked. Exclusion were flying around now and after Serbia missed twice, it was Sandro Sukno wasting little time after Luka Loncar earned a man-up scoring from 5 metres out on the nice skip shot to get the score back to 4-7. The final minutes saw the game going back and forth but no goals so that the Serbs led 4-7 going into the final 8 minutes. There the advantage even got up to 4-8 when Dusko Pijetlovic hit from the post on man-up, his majority of goals,especially during this tournament, for the 4-8 lead with over 5 minutes remaining. And after Croatia couldn't finish another man-up, saved by Mitrovic on a Buric shot, it was final standout Andrija Prlainovic who netted his 3rd shot of the game in what was likely to become the decisive one getting the Serbs up 4-9. And with 3.50 remaining in the game, Croatia's resistance got a visible blow there.  It became appearant as Croatia went to indivual efforts above team set plays. Sandro Sukno got two shots from outside but couldn't hit and on the other end Milan Aleksic decided the outcome htting from way out getting the score up to 4-10 as the Serbs lightly started celebrating the inevitable victory. The exclamation point came from debuting youngster Nikola Jaksic who scored a free throw from 5 metres and got the final score on the board. After Mitrovic made 2 more saves to keep the score as dominating as it looked, the celebrations on the Serbian bench and among the Serbian fans in the stadium got underway. After 2009, Serbia again is world champion.

Dusko Pijetlovic (SRB) - Voted Tournament Most Valuable Player by Media Representatives
''This is my second time so I'm getting used to it.'' (kidding) ''No, this is an incredible feeling. To know your team is the best in the world is an incredible feeling, the best I had since the birth of my son. Today we were the better team. We really played for each other. That made the difference. Our charisma is what won the tournament for us.''

Andrija Prlainovic (SRB) - Final Game Most Valuable Player
''I think it was one of the first times that I got awarded MVP of an important game on national team level such as this world championship final. The joy these guys have offered me this tournament, but especially this last six days, is simply amazing. Our performance this tournament is probably one of the best by one team in water polo history. Tonight we became part of water polo history.''

2015 FINA World Championships
Kazan (RUS)

Final round

Saturday, 8 August (men)

Australia (L M41) vs. USA (L M42) 6-10 (3-2, 0-2, 1-4, 2-2) - M45 (7th/8th place classification)
Australia scorers: Aaron Younger 2, Richie Campbell, George Ford, Johnno Cotterill.

USA scorers: Tony Azevedo 4, Alex Bowen 2, Bret Bonanni 2, Nikola Vavic, John Mann.

Montenegro (W M41) vs. Hungary (W M42) 10-9 (2-2, 2-1, 2-2, 4-4) - M46 (5th/6th place classification)
Montenegro scorers: Aleksandar Ivovic 3, Vjekoslav Paskovic 2, Darko Brguljan 2, Mladjan Janovic 2, Aleksandar Radovic.

Hungary scorers: Balazs Erdelyi 2, Norbert Hosnyanszky 2, Daniel Varga 2, Marton Szivos, Denes Varga, Krisztian Bedo.

Greece (L M43) vs. Italy (L M44) 11-9 (1-0, 2-2, 4-4, 0-1; penalties: 4-2) - M47 (3rd/4th place classification)
Greece scorers: Angelos Vlachopoulos 3, Emmanouil Myloankis, Christos Afroudakis, Konstantinos Mourikis, Alexandros Gounas.

Italy scorers: Pietro Figlioli 2, Matteo Aicardi 2, Francesco di Fulvio, Alessandro Velotto, Andrea Fondelli.

Croatia (W M43) vs. Serbia (W M44) 4-11 (2-2, 0-3, 2-2, 0-4) - M48 (1st/2nd place classification)
Croatia scorers: Sandro Sukno 2, Antonio Petkovic, Paulo Obradovic.

Serbia scorers: Andrija Prlainovic 3, Milos Cuk 2, Dusan Mandic, Dusko Pijetlovic, Milan Aleksic, Nikola Jaksic, Filip Filipovic, Stefan Mitrovic.

Final rankings

1. Serbia
2. Croatia
3. Greece
4. Italy
5. Montenegro
6. Hungary
7. USA
8. Australia
9. Canada
10. Brazil
11. Kazakhstan
12. South Africa
13. Japan
14. Russia
15. China
16. Argentina

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