© David Damnjanović

Montenegro top Hungary for final versus Serbia, Rio qualification

The 2016 European Championships will see a re-match of the continental final in 2012. In a tense battle that had it all Montenegro beat Hungary 8-5 to advance to the gold medal match, and more importantly, grab the only available qualification spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Carried by the terrific atmosphere Montenegro managed to repeat the level of intensity and play of the quarterfinal win over Italy on Thursday. Fierce defence and fast swum counter attacks made the difference in the end of a tight match. Therewith after some less success recently Montenegro returns to the title match of a major international tournament. Awaiting them are rivals Serbia who defeated Greece in the semifinals earlier.
One of the standouts on the Montenegro team was goalkeeper Milos Scepanovic who put on an incredible saving percentage of 68,8 blocking 11 of the 16 shots fired at him. After the match the goalie explained the importance of the win: ''An incredible victory. After a few bad competitions we are back again. Back in a final, a great final'', Scepanovic exculted. But was the main objective just the Olympic qualification? ''Well, we are playing an European championships. So we are mainly thinking about that. Of course it is very special to also be qualified no, saving us from playing a qualification tournament which can be difficult in some moments. But for now, I am just focussed on the final against Serbia.''
With both teams aware of the situation, and coming off convincing performances in the quarterfinals, this semifinal was a battle right from the start. The first half of the period the teams took their time to mainly focus on defence which led to outside shots and as both goalkeepers were ready to play they stood out in the first period. Denes Varga did so in attack for the Hungarians scoring twice on a one-of-kind shot like only he's capable off, and a converted penalty shot while veteran Nikola Janovic got the Montenegro scoring rolling in between. His younger brother Mladjan Janovic managed to level the score even before the end of the opening period scoring on extra man after 2 exclutions for Hungary.
A same pattern looked to unfold in the second term which included two long periods without a goal, mainly due to active and good pressing defence. It caused Denes Varga trouble in the remainder of the encounter where he went just 0 for 4. Goals were exchanged though with Nikola Janovic scoring again, youngster Krisztian Manhercz doing so beautifull and Darko Brguljan hitting one above the head of Viktor Nagy, who was on his usual tear, not too liked by the Montenegrins who got even more fired up.
In the second half, as the score remained close, Hungary could just not get in the lead. Shots were fired but came off the crossbars multiple times before Drasko Brguljan, playing for OSC in Hungary, finally scored from the right side whereafter he had some words for Nagy. The reponse by Hungary came quick with Manhercz hitting an incredible no-look shot from the left side getting Hungary back to trailing by 1: 5-4. The decision of this great battle basically came late in the period, as one would expect in these kind of matches. First Hungary tied the game at 5-5 through a strong hit by Norbert Hosnyanszky who struck from outside early in the period. Then Montenegro got up 2 goals in critical phase of the contest. Aleksandar Ivovic showed his skills hitting a nice driving shot surprising his marker Denes Varga for the 6-5 scor, and two minutes later, only 2 minutes were remaining, Nikola Vukcevic struck from the post-position on extra man in what looked to might be the decider. The Hungarians however did not gave u. But as their attempts got less and less convincing, the Montenegro win was uphand. The dagger, who fitting, was for Aleksandar Ivovic. Swimming a fast counter attack after a Aleksandar Radovic steal Ivovic scored in the near corner with 25 seconds on the clock, celebrating the winning goal with the fans.

Photo: David Damnjanovic.

The Netherlands vs. Spain

A re-match of the 2014 Europeans final only this time with a different outcome. The Netherlands edged Spain on penalties in a thrilling semifinal to eliminate the defending champions from repeating while securing a spot in the gold medal match themselves. Despite not converting the first attempt of the shoot-out, by Lieke Klaassen, the Dutch overcame the early miss as goalkeeper Laura Aarts saving the attempt from Clara Espar to tie the score. Then the shoot-out went into the sudden-death phase where Aarts emerged as game winner saving the shot by left-hander Pilar Peña for the win after Sabrina van der Sloot had scored hers before. Therewith the world's number 2 reached the final and remained in the race for the only available qualification spot for the 2016 Olympics; belonging to the winner.
The match, as expected, was close throughout but it was the team of the Netherlands who took a 2-0 lead after a great start. The response by the defending champions however was big. Three goals later Anna Espar scored the 2-3 goal that turned around the score. Now a tense and close match followed. The Netherlands were on the positive side of the score most of the time but repeatedly could not decisively walk away from their opponents. In the third period the Dutch took an 8-6 lead thanks to consecutive goals from Sabrina van der Sloot, on extra man, and captain Yasemin Smit on a counter attack. But again Spain was there to answer this time as Judith Forca hit a deflected shot from outside. It proved not the last time for Spain to be forced to cutting a deficit. Marloes Nijhuis scored a nice perimeter shot early in the final term to get the Dutch lead back to 2: 9-7.
But resillience was the key word for Spain on Thursday. First, Beatriz ortiz finished a nice man-up, 2 minutes later Ortiz single-handedly got the Spanish side back scoring a counter attack goal to level the score at 9-9. With still over 4 minutes to play, plenty of time remained for either side to decide the outcome. But fierce defence from both sides, and probably nerves, prevented this from happening. In the final seconds Sabrina van der Sloot had a nice shot from the left side but saw it being saved, followed by Judith Forca missing another outside shot, for Spain with 4 seconds on the clock. The Netherlands tried it from long through Lieke Klaassen but to no avail as penalties would decided the outcome. Here Laura Aarts emerged as game winner for the Dutch saving 2 attempts including the decisive one from Peña to get the Netherlands into the final, for the 2nd straight time after the 2014 edition in Budapest.

Hungary vs. Italy

In the second semifinal Hungary outplayed Italy for a convincing 10-5 win setting up a final versus the Netherlands; the second time the teams meet after the group stage. Key word to the victory was defence, or perhaps collective. The Hungarian help-defence proved a nightmare for Italy who shot a horrible 15% with captain Tania di Mario going 0 for 8 while Roberta Bianconi scored once out of 7 tries and Elisa Queirolo remaining scoreless on 4 attempts in attack. Hungary meanwhile started to chip away in a dominating performance in the 3rd period going on a 3-0 run. And when Anna Illes scored the 8-3 goal with 2 minutes remaining in that period, few believed in Italy's chances for a turnaround. Hungary maintained their control despite conceding an early goal in that final session. Barbara Bujka and left-hander Hanna Kisteleki made an end to all Italian illusions and allowed the Hungarian fans in the Kombank Arena to cheer on their team in the final minutes almost continuous. Now they will get another chance against the Netherlands in a final not only to decide on the new European champion, but also who qualifies to the 2016 Olympic Games. Both teams met on day 1 of the championships with the Netherlands winning that match-up 14-10.

Photo: David Damnjanovic.

Turkey vs. Georgia

Georgia will play Slovakia for 13th place on Friday. In the classification semifinal, on Thursday morning, Georgia held off a late comeback to beat Turkey 11-12 for their first win of the tournament. A goal by Marko Jelaca, his only of the game, with 42 seconds remaining, proved decisive. Halil Beskardesler found the back of the net for Turkey in the final seconds but it came too late. Turkey now face Malta on Saturday for a 15th place finish. Top scorer for the winners was Mikheil Baghaturia who scored 3 goals. Mihajlo Korolija did the same for Turkey.

France vs. the Netherlands

In the battle for 9th place Romania will face France on Saturday. The French defeated the Netherlands 11-8 in a back-and-forth game. A great start which got France to lead 4-0 and 5-1 in the opening period was almost erased by the patient Dutch in the following session. With the score at 7-6 at half-time, the game could have gone either way after the main break. France however took a big step in the third quarter through their centre-forward tandem of Alexandre Camarasa and Romain Blary. Consecutive goals, with the score at 8-7, got them in the lead 10-7 at the end of the third period. Shots were missed by both teams before the Dutch broke the deadlock in the final term with 3.55 on the clock as captain Roeland Spijker hit. But what could have started a comeback was halted over a minute later. Blary, again, scored from the centre-forward position to decide the final score at 11-8. Now France go on to plat Romania for 9th place on Saturday, while the Netherlands take on neighbouring Germany for an 11th place finish.

France vs. Greece

The Greek women will play for a 5th place finish at the European Championships. On Thursday France was beaten 6-12. France scored the first goal of the game but then saw Greece walking away in the second period. With the score at 5-9 after the 3rd period Greece decided the outcome definitely by scoring twice in a row, through Alexandra Asimaki and Eleni Xenaki, for the 5-11 lead. Veteran Alkisti Avramidou finished the game as top scorer netting a triple for Greece. Now the winner of Germany-Russia will be the opponent in the classification match for 5th place. France meanwhile go on for a 7th place finish meeting the loser of the mentioned match-up.

2016 European Championships
Belgrade (SRB)

Kombank Arena

Programme and results

Thursday, January 21:

Turkey vs. Georgia 11-12 (2-5, 2-3, 3-3, 4-1) - men (ranking 13th-16th place, match 14)
Turkey scorers: Mihajlo Korolija 3, Srdjan Aksentijevic 2, Halil Beskardesler 2, Oytun Okman, Arslan Sutalo, Osman Gulenc, Cemil Ozbakis.

Georgia scorers: Mikheil Baghaturia 3, Damir Tsrepulia 2, Marko Elez 2, Zurab Rurua 2, Beka Kavtaradze, Marko Jelaca, Konstantine Gegelashvili.

France vs. Netherlands 11-8 (5-1, 2-5, 3-1, 1-1) - men (ranking 9th-12th place, match 16)
France scorers: Igor Kovacevic 2, Romain Blary 2, Thibaut Simon 2, Alexandre Camarasa 2, Enzo Khasz, Ugo Crousillat, Mehdi Marzouki.

Netherlands scorers: Luuk Gielen 2, Ruud van der Horst, Lars Gottemaker, Lars Reuten, Roeland Spijker, Jesse Koopman, Thomas Lucas.

France vs. Greece 6-12 (1-2, 1-5, 3-2, 1-3) - women (ranking 5th-8th place, match 36)
France scorers: Marion Tardy 3, Louise Guillet 2, Michaela Jaskova.

Greece scorers: Alkisti Avramidou 3, Alexandra Asimaki 2, Eleni Xenaki 2, Christina Tsoukala, Margarita Plevritou, Antigoni Roumpesi, Triantafyllia Manolioudaki, Eleftheria Plevritou.

Germany vs. Russia 2-22 (0-7, 1-5, 1-6, 0-4) - women (ranking 5th-8th place, match 35)
Germany scorers: Bianca Seyfert, Claudia Kern.

Russia scorers: Anastasia Simanovich 6, Elvina Karimova 5, Anna Grineva 3, Ekaterina Prokofyeva 2, Nadezhda Iarondaikina 2, Kseniia Krimer 2, Ekaterina Tankeeva, Evgeniya Ivanova.

Netherlands vs. Spain 15-14 (4-3, 2-3, 2-1, 1-2; penalties: 6-5) - women (semifinal 1)
Netherlands scorers: Yasemin Smit 2, Sabrina van der Sloot 2, Nomi Stomphorst, Marloes Nijhuis, Vivian Sevenich, Maud Megens, Lieke Klaassen.

Spain scorers: Roser Tarrago 3, Anna Espar 2, Beatriz Ortiz 2, Judith Forca, Maica Garcia.

Hungary vs. Italy 10-5 (2-1, 3-2, 3-0, 2-2) - women (semifinal 2)
Hungary scorers: Anna Illes 3, Hanna Kisteleki 2, Rita Keszthelyi 2, Barbara Bujka 2, Dora Czigany.

Italy scorers: Arianna Garibotti 2, Federica Radicchi, Roberta Bianconi, Giulia Emmolo.

Italy vs. Croatia 8-6 (6-1, 0-1, 2-1, 0-3) - men (ranking 5th-8th place)
Italy scorers: Pietro Figlioli 2, Alex Giorgetti 2, Valentino Gallo 2, Michaël Bodegas, Stefano Luongo.

Croatia scorers: Sandro Sukno 2, Luka Loncar, Luka Bukic, Ante Vukicevic, Andelo Setka.

Montenegro vs. Hungary 8-5 (2-2, 2-1, 1-1, 3-1) - men (semifinal 2)
Montenegro scorers: Nikola Janovic 2, Aleksandar Ivovic 2, Drasko Brguljan, Darko Brguljan, Mladjan Janovic, Nikola Vukcevic.

Hungary scorers: Krisztian Manhercz 2, Denes Varga 2, Norbert Hosnyanszky.

Friday, January 22:

09.00: Malta vs. L45 - men (15th/16th place classification)
10.30: Slovakia vs. W45 - men (13th/14th place classification)
12.00: Turkey vs. Croatia - women (11th/12th place classification)
13.30: Portugal vs. Serbia - women (9th/10th place classification)
15.45: Germany (L35) vs. France (L36) - women (7th/8th place classification)
17.15: Russia (W35) vs. Greece (W36) - women (5th/6th place classification)
18.45: Spain (L37) vs. Italy (L38) - women (3rd/4th place classification)
20.15: Netherlands (W37) vs. Hungary (W38) - women (1st/2nd place classification)

Saturday, January 23:

09.00: Germany vs. Netherlands - men (11th/12th place classification)
10.30: Romania vs. France - men (9th/10th place classification)
12.00: Russia vs. Croatia - men (7th/8th place classification)
13.30: Spain vs. Italy - men (5th/6th place classification)
16.15: Greece vs. Hungary (L48) - men (3th/4th place classification)
17.45: Serbia vs. Montenegro (W48) - men (1st/2nd place classification)

N.b.: time mentioned is local time.

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