Greece, Spain, Netherlands and Italy triumph on day one

Credit: European Aquatics

Greece were the big winners in the opening round of preliminary games in Eindhoven as they edged past medal rivals Hungary in the game of the day, while there were dominant wins for Italy, defending champions Spain, and the hosts Netherlands, who were cheered on by just over 2,300 loud and passionate fans.

Group A: Netherlands 24-6 Croatia, Hungary 12-14 Greece
Group B: Israel 11-20 Italy, Spain 17-8 France

Spain arrived in Eindhoven as the defending champions and Miki Oca’s formidable squad appears to have a firm grip on the trophy they won in Budapest and Split as they eased past France 17-8 on Friday afternoon.

Winning all four quarters with nine different scorers, Spain had great joy shooting from the perimeter.

Rifling in shot after shot, with most finding the top corners, France goalkeeper Mia Rycraw was powerless to stop the onslaught.

Credit: European Aquatics

“It was the first game of the tournament and we started very well, and defended very well,” commented Oca after the game. “At the end, we can say we’re very satisfied with this game.

“Now, we still have two more games in this round, Israel and Italy, and then after that, the real competition starts, in the quarterfinals.

“So, we have to do our best in this first round, to get the best qualification place, and see what happens.”

Elsewhere in Group B, Italy, who won the bronze medal at the last European Championships and also the 2023 World Championships, brushed aside Israel 11-20 with an outstanding attacking display in the first game of the afternoon session.

Italy’s dominance was clear, scoring eight from 11 on extra, and setting the tone early with seven unanswered goals to take a 2-10 lead midway through the second quarter.

Israel did manage to show glimpses of their own attacking prowess at times, finding a way through to the Italian goal 11 times, but they never really troubled their opponents.

“I said in the beginning that we have to focus on defence, but unfortunately we couldn’t follow the rhythm of Italy at the start and we conceded a lot of easy goals,” Israel coach Dimitris Mavrotas said after the defeat.

“20 goals, it’s too much. Scoring 11 goals is very good for us, but conceding 20, it hurt us a lot.

“Tomorrow is a different game and we’ll play without any stress, even though we know we are playing against Spain, who are also a very good team.

“We’ll try to make some corrections and I hope that we’ll perform better. Today, the first game, is always with a little more stress and that was obvious at the beginning.”

Credit: European Aquatics

In Group A, world champions and hosts Netherlands treated around 2,300 fans to a powerful performance against Croatia.

Although much tougher tasks await, the Netherlands began their pursuit of adding the European crown to their world title in impressive fashion.

Croatia may have scored first early in the opening quarter, but their lead lasted for just 13 seconds, before four goals without reply put the Dutch firmly in control and they were 5-2 up by the end of the first.

The gap kept widening and the score was 11-4 at the turnaround, then 18-5 after the third, as the Croats were unable to repel the relentless attacking waves.

All 10 outfield players for the Netherlands found the net as they wrapped up a  comfortable 24-6 win.

Credit: European Aquatics

The last game of Friday – Hungary versus Greece – was the one everyone had been waiting for, and it lived up to all expectations as both medal contenders traded blows throughout an explosive encounter.

With the scores locked at 4-4 after the first, a Nikoleta Eleftheriadou penalty and Eirini Ninou goal on extra put Greece 4-6 up at the start of the second to open up the first two-goal lead of the game. 

The 2016 European champions soon closed the gap with two quick goals of their own to level at 6-6 at the long break, as the intensity levels showed no signs of waning.

Both defences were giving everything, but Greece goalkeeper Chrysoula Diamantopoulou could only watch as left-hander Dora Leimeter let fly with a perfect missile from deep to put Hungary back in the lead at 7-6.

The end-to-end action continued, and somehow Athina Giannopoulou was allowed to swim through unmarked to receive the ball 3m out and fire past Alda Magyari at the near post to tie the scores once more.

There was still time for five more goals, with three for Hungary, as Krisztina Garda’s shot from extra edged her side 10-9 ahead going into the final eight minutes.  Greece hit back at the start of the fourth to take the lead at 10-11, then Hungary replied instantly for 11-11, but goals from Giannopoulou and Eleftheriadou made it 11-13 and although Rita Keszthelyi-Nagy hit one back, Eleni Xenaki fired in to seal a memorable and pulsating 12-14 win.