Hungary Jr. blasts Italy, wins group, Spain on top in Dubrovnik

Credit: European Aquatics

Hungary, rather Hungary Jr., caused the upset of the event so far by handing Italy a five-goal beating, which also rocketed the young team to the first place in Zagreb. Spain finished strong to down France and also clinched the first place in Dubrovnik as Croatia could only bag one point after their thriller with Montenegro ended in a penalty shootout.

Group A: Spain v France 9-6, Montenegro v Croatia 11-11, pen: 4-2
Final standings: 1. Spain 7, 2. Croatia 6, 3. Montenegro 4, 4. France 1
Group B: Georgia v Greece 9-18, Hungary v Italy 10-5
Final standings: 1. Hungary 6, 2. Italy 6, 3. Greece 6, 4. Georgia 0
Tie-breaker, goal-difference: Hungary +3, Italy +2, Greece –5
The two top-ranked teams from each group advanced to the quarter-finals, the others will play crossover matches against Division Two sides.

Credit: European Aquatics

Spain was entangled to a tussle with the French who managed to bring their A-game to the pool once more after they were badly beaten by the Croats in the previous round.

For a while the game was very much reminiscent of the huge struggle the Spaniards had to overcome in the World Championships quarters last July – though this time they geared up earlier.

By netting four goals in a row and galloping to a 6-3 lead they seemed to sit comfortable in the driving seat.

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However, they were unable to keep that level while the French could pull back two in 63 seconds early in the fourth to make it 7-6 with 4:25 to go.

And they had several possessions to go, even a man-up, but it was well saved by Eduardo Lorrio, and Felipe Perrone (who else?) sent a magnificent lob to the French goal from their next attack.

It was also the 38-year-old genius who sent the ball home 25 seconds from time to secure a fine win for his side.

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And as it turned out, it was enough to finish top in Dubrovnik since host Croatia couldn’t beat Montenegro.

They took something out of the grand battle as a regular-time win by the Montenegrins would have dropped them to the third place and the wild world of the crossovers.

It was another grand clash which was also a rematch of a Fukuoka thriller – Montenegro upended their arch-rivals in the eight-finals and the Croats had to settle for their worst-ever World Champ performance, a 9th place finish.

So it was revenge time and the home side launched fierce attacks right away, grabbed a 2-4 lead in eight minutes, Konstantin Kharkov’s last-second action goal blew up the stands which were fully packed.

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However, the great start didn’t get the Croats going – soon only the numerous Montenegrin supporters made big noise when Miroslav Perkovic turned the cards by hitting a third straight goal for 5-4.

Marko Zuvela broke the ice at the other end, after 6:40 minutes to equalise from a 6 on 5.

The battle got just even more heated, after hitting two apiece, Jerko Marinic-Kragic buried a 5 on 4 and Kharkov added another one from a normal extra for 7-9 with 1:33 to go.

Still, Montengro could pull one back shortly before the break, Duro Radovic converted a penalty and after they managed to kill a man-down, Radovic’s blast from action brought them back to even two minutes into the last period.

The Montegrins were on fire again, managed to deny the hosts in back-to-back man-ups by tremendous blocks and Radovic completed a hat-trick from a 6 on 5 – with 3:51 to go, Croatia was facing the crossovers at 10-9.

Ante Vukicevic found the back of the net from their next extra, but at 10-10 it could have been anybody’s game in the last three minutes.

Up until a suspicious collision ended up in a 4min ejection of Vlado Popadic after the VAR review confirmed his elbowing of Josip Vrlic while swimming alongside each other.

With 2:13 to go, a penalty and a constant 6 on 5 secured a stress-free finish for Croatia. At least by first sight.

Loren Fatovic hit the post from the penalty, then Luka Bukic could put away a second attempt, so it still looked fine from the hosts’ perspective, as only 1:13 remained.

However, Jovan Vujovic forced an exclusion, gained some ground and equalised just eight seconds later for 11-11.

With 36 seconds on the clock, Tesanovic came up with another big save, so Montenegro had the ball and went for the game-winner.

Hero of the night, Duro Radovic took a free-throw and fired it in 19 seconds from time, but the refs already signed that he was inside the 6m line, so a turnover was called.

Croatia failed to convert the last man-up, which would have landed them the first place.

This was left to the penalty shootout – a win there would have still kept them on top, but Tesanovic made two stops while the Montenegrin shooters were all on target and came off with two points.

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Which was one less than would have helped them with their case, still, they enjoyed some sweet redemption that they prevented the Croats from finishing first.

Big things also happened in Zagreb. Not in the first match, though, there the Greeks did a professional job to beat Georgia – apart from some minor lapses, their experience and skills prevailed in the match.

At times, the pool looked like a shooting range, the Greeks fired 38 shots, 31 of them on target, Irakli Razmadze’s 13 saves held them under 20 goals – as a contrast, the Greek goalies faced only 15 shots coming on their goal.

The Greek players left the scene with a smile, thought, they’ve just secured the second place in the group.

True, no one believed that the Hungarians could snatch a huge win over Italy – beating the Settebello by five goals would have been mission impossible for their world champion line-up.

With most of their star players left at home to rest and prepare for the Worlds only, and bringing talented but inexperienced youngsters to the battlefield, the Magyars just wanted to play a good game with the favourite which had beaten the Greeks by seven goals 48 hours earlier.

The opening eight minutes didn’t rock the world though it was significant how brilliantly Hungary Jr. did in defence.

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Their 20-year-old goalie Viktor Gyapjas delivered one big save after the other, and only a close-range man-up goal broke the wall which gave a 1-0 lead to Italy after the first period.

One could barely see a quarter with only two shots from the Hungarians, but it was visible, that they were playing with the utmost discipline.

Which did not mean if they saw the chance, they wouldn’t let the ball fly as Vince Vigvari did from a man-up to equalise.

The Italians struggled in front got a lot more significantly as time went by, now Gyapjas even denied them with a penalty stop, while the defenders’ outstanding blocks dismantled four more man-downs.

Midway through this period Gergely Burian put away another man-up and their second-quarter-efforts were crowned by Adam Nagy’s pinpointer from 8m or so, with 0:06 on the clock, to complete a 3-0 run by the young guns.

When the Magyar kids added two more within 39 seconds to make it 5-1 early in the third, Alessandro Campagna thought he had seen enough and called an emergency time-out.

It seemed to help them, soon they forced an exclusion and a penalty, then in 25 seconds netted an action goal for 5-3, to gain some momentum.

Balazs Harai, the Hungarians’ only good-old warrior, killed that right away with a classic backhander, then a steal denied another Italian man-up and soon Vince Vigvari reset the four-goal gap with a fierce bouncer in an extra – again, the Hungarians were one goal away from the top spot.

Alessandro Velotto’s quick finish in a man-up gave some hope for the Settebello but it was still the Hungarian’s game at 7-4 before the final period.

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A fine action shot by Andrea Fondelli cut the deficit to two in just 28 seconds – few would have thought that this was the Italians last happy moment in this match.

The key for Hungary was again an immediate response: Fekete blasted another one from the perimeter just 25 seconds later, so Hungary’s project was still on the table at 8-5.

After four gruelling minutes of swimming and battling, Fekete hit another one, this time from an extra, so all the Magyars needed was one more goal in the remaining three minutes.

However, despite their flawless defending, the clock was ticking down and they were still looking for that shot in front – note, they were anything but fresh as the hard battle took its toll on the youngsters.

Luck took their side, though, to honour their incredible efforts – a rebound found their centre-forward, this got them a last man-up with 15 seconds to go, and Adam Nagy kept his calm and sent the ball home to make it 10-5, which was the necessary, though never-dreamt-of gap which put them atop in the three-way tie with Italy and Greece.

Credit: European Aquatics