World champions and hosts Netherlands win European gold after sensational final in Eindhoven

Credit: European Aquatics

World champions and hosts Netherlands got the better of familiar foes Spain once more to clinch the gold after an epic final night of action at the European Championships in Eindhoven. In a repeat of the 2023 World Championships final, the Netherlands didn’t need penalties this time, winning 7-8 in regular time to ruin Spain’s hopes of winning a third successive European crown. Greece were also celebrating, taking home the bronze and a ticket to the Paris Olympics after a thrilling victory against Italy.

Gold medal game
Spain 7-8 Netherlands

Bronze medal game
Greece 7-6 Italy

5th/6th Final
France 3-14 Hungary

7th/8th Final
Croatia 9-11 Great Britain

Tournament Awards
Best Goalkeeper: Laura Aarts (Netherlands)
MVP: Bea Ortiz (Spain)

Final Standings
1. Netherlands, 2. Spain, 3. Greece, 4. Italy, 5. Hungary, 6. France, 7. Great Britain, 8. Croatia, 9. Israel, 10. Serbia, 11. Germany, 12. Czechia, 13. Turkiye, 14. Romania, 15. Slovakia, 16. Bulgaria

Paris 2024 Olympics Qualification
Greece

2024 World Water Polo Championships Qualification
Greece, France, Great Britain

Credit: European Aquatics

World champions Netherlands got their dream ending to what has been a fantastic and thrilling tournament as they secured a record sixth European title, ripping the trophy from Spain’s grasp after winning a sensational final 7-8.

“It was an amazing and crazy game,” beamed Netherlands’ goalkeeper Laura Aarts after winning the gold. “It was a fast game, and I think we were really, really good in defence.

“We were really dominant. It was a little bit rough in the beginning for our attack, but in the end, we just kept calm and kept playing.

“We train every day for this moment in the fourth quarter, to win in the last minutes. That’s what we do, what we trained for, to keep our heads and win it.

“Winning this gold is amazing, I still don\’t really believe it.

“It’s been amazing to celebrate the European Championship with this crowd. They are so amazing, so lovely. We\’re going to build a big party. “

Spain had led by three or more goals in the opening eight minutes of all their previous games in Eindhoven, but the hosts made sure the title holders didn’t have it all their own way this time.

After Judith Forca and Anni Espar put Spain 2-0 up within five minutes, it looked like history might be repeating itself, but the Netherlands settled and responded through an expertly-taken Simone Van De Kraats penalty.

The magnificent Pieter van den Hoogenband Swimming Stadium was a sea of orange, with another capacity crowd urging the Netherlands on, and the noise was deafening as that first home goal went in.

At the start of the second, the noise got even louder, as Kitty Lynn Joustra levelled from the centre for 2-2.

Joustra then made it 2-3 from extra, but Bea Ortiz was able to strike back for 3-3.

Credit: European Aquatics

Spain may have started stronger, but it was the Netherlands who finished the half on top, as Sabrina Van Der Sloot and Vivian Sevenich were both on target just before the turnaround to give the Netherlands a 3-5 lead.

Demonstrating why they have won the previous two European Championships, Spain levelled in the third (5-5) after goals from Elena Ruiz and Ortiz.

Goalkeeper Martina Terre also came up with a huge penalty save to deny Van de Kraats.

The Netherlands were briefly struggling, crashing three shots against the woodwork and missing on extra, but Lieke Rogge kept a cool head to nudge her side back in front (5-6) just before the final break.

With a gold medal at stake, the pressure was mounting, as the two giants of international women’s water polo prepared to battle out an action-packed last eight minutes.

Credit: European Aquatics

Paula Leiton silenced the home crowd when she tied the scores at 6-6 with 6:41 remaining, but Van der Sloot kept her composure on extra to put the Netherlands back ahead (6-7) with 3:52 on the clock.

As the seconds raced down, Maica Garcia rose highest from a six on five to slam the ball in for 7-7 with 1:48 to play, as penalties were looming, just like in Fukuoka.

Lieke Rogge had a glorious chance to win it for the Dutch on the next play, on extra, but she smashed the crossbar with a fierce shot from the left.

There was still time for a grandstand finish, though, and there were wild celebrations when Bente Rogge did what her sister Lieke couldn’t do moments earlier, firing in on extra with just six seconds remaining – the ball trickling over the line after rebounding off the woodwork and the back of Terre\’s head.

It was agony for Spain, as they couldn’t claw the ball away before it bobbled over the line, but it was sheer jubilation and ecstasy for the hosts as they spectacularly added the European crown to their world title. 

The Netherlands now standalone at the top of the overall European medal table with six golds, one above Italy, who have five.

This is also only the third time in the history of the competition that the tournament hosts triumphed, after Hungary in 2001 and Italy in 1999.

As well as losing the final, Spain will return home disappointed they missed the chance to join the exclusive club of nations – Netherlands, Russia and Italy – who have won the title at three consecutive European Championships.

Credit: European Aquatics

Earlier on Saturday, Greece took home the bronze medal and qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games after winning a thrilling contest with Italy 7-6.

The win means Greece will return to the Olympic Games after a 16-year absence.

“We were sure we were going to win this medal and the ticket to the Olympics, as this is what we have dreamed about for many years,” commented Greece’s Vasiliki Plevritou after the game.

“We’ve had a lot of stress in this tournament because we really wanted the Olympic ticket that has been missing from Greece for all those years.

“We started here in Eindhoven good, and then we played some not so good games, but we came strong for this game and we achieved what we wanted to do.”

Greece were on top in the opening quarter, going 3-1 up through Eirini Ninou, Margarita Plevritou and Alexandra Asimaki, with Domitilla Picozzi striking for the Italians.

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Left-hander Eleni Xenaki slammed in from deep on extra to extend the lead to three (4-1) early in the second, as Greece started to control the game.

Italy were struggling to find a way past the stubborn Greek defence and were mainly reduced to shots from the perimeter, which all failed to trouble goalkeeper Ioanna Stamatopoulou.

The halftime stats told some of the story, as Stamatopoulou recorded four saves from five shots on target, while Italy’s Caterina Banchelli had four from eight.

In the third, Italy finally did get back on the scoresheet, and it was no surprise it was the experienced Roberta Bianconi who arrowed in a shot on extra to make it 4-2 with 3:48 left in the quarter.

It had been a long 14 minutes and nine seconds between Italy’s goals, and they nearly fired in another three minutes later, but Giulia Viacava’s effort on extra crashed against the frame of the goal.

Greece, who were having particular joy through the centre, promptly restored their three-goal lead as Alexandra Asimaki struck from 2m just before the final break for 5-2.

The last eight minutes were exhilarating and pulsating, with both coaches – Alexia-Anna Kammenou and Carlo Silipo – wildly animated on the poolside throughout.

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With 6:29 on the clock, Giuditta Galardi scored for 5-3, then Bianconi converted seconds later to reduce the gap to one and cause Silipo to punch the air in celebration.

It was end-to-end exciting water polo, and Eleftheria Plevritou eased the increasing tension among the Greece players by making it 6-4 on extra with 5:18 remaining.

But back came the Italians, Giulia Viacava hammering home on extra, before a cooly taken penalty from Silvia Avegno sensationally levelled the scores at 6-6.

Silipo’s delight soon turned to anger though, as Nikoleta Eleftheriadou rifled in from 6m to edge Greece back in front with 3:30 on the clock.

Eleftheriadou’s strike proved to be the winner as their defence was able to hold firm to clinch the breathtaking victory.

What this means to the Greece team was clear, as Eleftheria Plevritou and several others were shedding tears of joy as the emotions of winning the bronze and qualifying for Paris poured out.  

The win also ensured Greece finished on the European podium for the second successive edition, after winning the silver in Split.

Italy, meanwhile, miss out the medals and will have another chance to qualify for Paris at next month’s World Championships in Doha.

Credit: European Aquatics

Saturday’s second game saw Hungary comfortably sweep France aside 3-14 in the 5th/6th classification final.

Winning all four quarters, Hungary dominated from the start and raced into an unassailable 1-9 lead at the turnaround.

There were a staggering 20 minutes and 46 seconds between France’s first and second goal, which summed up the gulf in class, but ultimately Hungary will reflect on this tournament as a major disappointment.

As for the first time in their history, they’ve failed to make the top four at back-to-back European Championships.

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For the first time since 2013, Great Britain will compete at the World Championships after they produced a stunning late comeback to beat Croatia 9-11 to finish seventh.

Croatia were leading 9-7 midway through the final period, but four unanswered goals from captain Kathy Rogers (2), Lily Turner and Toula Falvey completed a remarkable turnaround.

Great Britain’s return to the top table of international water polo has been a huge success for a squad that only recently reformed and has barely played during the last decade.

Despite securing the final ticket to next month’s World Championships in Doha, Great Britain captain Kathy Rogers was unsure whether her team will be able to attend.

Credit: European Aquatics

\”We can be so proud, as our team is not a professional setup – we have solicitors, architects, teachers…,” Rogers commented after the game.

\”So to come here and perform at this level is incredible and hopefully to now go to the World Champs.

\”We\’re an unfunded team, so we\’ve got our fingers crossed to go, but we\’ll see…

\”It\’s tough, we have to turn around now to our national governing body and ask, and see what we can do…

\”Our players have to request time off work… There\’s a few of us that are lucky enough to play abroad, but we\’ve got our fingers crossed. We\’re really hoping for it.”

Croatia, meanwhile, finish eighth, which equals their previous best performances in Europe after also placing eighth in 2010 and 2022.

Credit: European Aquatics