World champions Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Greece to fight for the medals

Credit: European Aquatics

Italy beat Hungary in a thrilling and entertaining encounter to reach the semifinals of the European Championships in Eindhoven. Joining the Italians in the medal round – which will be contested by the same final four as in Split – are world champions and hosts Netherlands, title holders Spain and Greece, who all sailed through their quarterfinals unscathed. Greece’s victory against France also ensured them a place at next month’s World Championships in Doha.

Quarterfinal results
Spain 17-6 Croatia
Netherlands 25-6 Great Britain
Greece 15-7 France
Italy 12-11 Hungary   

1st-4th semifinals (Thurs 11 Jan)
Spain v Greece
Netherlands v Italy

5th-8th classification semifinals (Thurs 11 Jan)
Croatia v France
Great Britain v Hungary

Credit: European Aquatics

Tuesday’s fourth quarterfinal was the highlight of the fifth day’s action in Eindhoven and saw Italy win a fierce and enthralling battle with Hungary 12-11.

The 2022 bronze medallists started brightly, with Roberta Bianconi hammering in a hat-trick in the opening eight minutes to help put Italy 4-2 ahead.

Hungary levelled the scores at the start of the second through Dora Leimeter and Vanda Valyi, but their defence wobbled once more as Italy hit a 3-0 rush for 7-4.

As the action swung from end to end, Krisztina Garda cut the gap to two (7-5) just before the turnaround.

The two sides continued to trade blows throughout a frantic and feisty third period, with Hungary getting within one twice, but they could never quite reel the Italians in.

With the score 11-9, Hungary began to throw everything at Italy in the final quarter and Valyi soon made it 11-10.

Silvia Avegno converted a penalty to briefly settle Italy’s nerves for 12-10, but when Rita Keszthelyi made it 12-11 with 1:50 remaining, Hungary were on the charge.

Agonisingly for the Magyars, Italy’s defence stood firm and the game was gone when Dorottya Szilagyi missed a glorious chance on extra in the final seconds, shooting straight at a grateful Caterina Banchelli in the Italian goal.

Hungary looked heartbroken after the final buzzer, maybe contemplating the fact that this is the first time they’ve failed to make the top four at back-to-back European Championships.

Credit: European Aquatics

Title holders Spain marched into the semifinals after breezing past Croatia 17-6 in the day’s opening quarterfinal.

As Miki Oca’s squad relentlessly pursue a third consecutive European crown, he could even afford the luxury of resting two of his key players, Anni Espar and Maica Garcia Godoy, who had front-row seats poolside to cheer on their triumphant team-mates.

After storming into a 5-1 lead around the seven-minute mark, Spain appeared to relax a little and did have a few problems briefly after that, as Croatia matched them 4-4 until half-time. 

The lead was still four though (9-5), and from then Croatia began to fade, losing the third 3-0 and fourth 5-1.

Spain mercifully clicked through the gears in attack and firmly shut the door at the back, almost, for Croatia.

Credit: European Aquatics

“We had to try our best and we finally got the win we wanted, and we’re very excited to be in the semifinals,” commented Spain’s Paula Camus after the game.
 
“Our goal is to try to win the semifinal, then the final, and take the gold.”

Spain – whose top scorers with four each were Camus and Pili Pena – had particular joy from their six on fives, scoring nine from 12.

Great Britain’s winning run at this tournament came to an abrupt end when they met the world champions Netherlands in the second quarterfinal.

The Netherlands, backed again by a large and noisy crowd inside the Pieter van den Hoogenband Swimming Stadium, were totally dominant and showed no mercy throughout a one-sided 25-6 affair.

Credit: European Aquatics

With such a gulf in funding and resources compared to their opponents, Great Britain were powerless to stop the relentless Dutch attacks, as the hosts quickly built up a 7-1 lead after the first, which grew to 15-3 at the turnaround.

The Netherlands eased up slightly in the third, winning it 3-1, but then finished with a powerful 7-2 final quarter.

Lieke Rogge was the pick of the Netherlands’ attackers, leading the scoring with five goals from five shots, while Simone Van de Kraats, Kitty Lynn Joustra and Lola Moolhuijzen all fired in four each.

With one eye firmly on future tasks, Netherlands coach Evangelos Doudesis rotated his squad throughout, but so did Great Britain’s Nick Buller, who – after gatecrashing the top eight – will be hoping to defy the odds once more in the 5th-8th classification games.

Credit: European Aquatics

The third quarterfinal saw Greece triumph 15-7 against France, but the contest wasn’t as easy to start with as the scoreline may suggest.

A three-goal rush for Greece in the opening four minutes appeared to set the tone, but the 2024 Olympic hosts showed their potential by replying with a three-goal rush of their own.

Camille Radosavljevic scored the first, before two from Audrey Daule levelled the scores at 3-3 early in the second.

If that didn’t rock Greece, Louise Guillet’s strike for 3-4 certainly did.

Eirini Ninou quickly restored parity for 4-4, but Bouloukbachi then lit up the French bench on extra for 4-5 with 1:52 remaining in the half.

It was only now that the 2022 runners-up began to show their class, by smashing in six unanswered goals for 10-5 and winning the second half 9-2 to ensure there would be no upset. 

The win means Greece will contest the medals and play in Thursday’s semifinals, plus they booked their ticket to next month’s World Championships in Doha.

With two tickets remaining in the 5th-8th classification semifinals, France will be one of the favourites to join Greece, Italy, Hungary Spain and the Netherlands in Doha.

Credit: European Aquatics

Earlier on Tuesday, in the 9th-12th classification semifinals, Serbia edged Germany 12-11, while Israel swept aside Czechia 18-5.

After a disappointing 11-8 loss to neighbours Croatia in Monday’s crossovers, Serbia responded with a narrow one-goal victory against Germany to reach Thursday’s 9th/10th final.

Just like against Croatia, Serbia were again in front from the start, this time building up a substantial 5-1 lead after the first.

But the next two periods didn’t go their way, as Germany seized the initiative, winning the second quarter 2-4, then the third 3-5 to level the scores at 10-10.

Nada Mandic stepped up with two goals from 2m to restore Serbia’s lead early in the fourth, but Germany’s Greta Tadday reduced the deficit late on to set up a nervy last 55 seconds.

Germany called a time-out before their final attack, but Serbia were able to hold on for the win.

Credit: European Aquatics

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to take out all of their frustrations from yesterday’s surprise loss on Czechia in their 9th-12th semifinal.

It took them a little while to get going, as Czechia even took an early 0-2 lead, but Israel soon took control, levelling for 3-3 shortly before the end of the first.

After that, the floodgates opened somewhat, with Israel starting to dominate as eight unanswered goals moved the score to 11-3 in the third, and by then Czechia’s resistance was over. 

Israel added seven more in the final eight minutes to win comfortably 18-5, but as the only Division 1 side to miss out on the quarterfinals, they’ll still be hurting from Monday’s dramatic penalty shootout loss to Great Britain.

In Tuesday’s opening game, Slovakia clinched 15th place with a 18-10 win against Bulgaria.

Karin Kackova and Monika Sedlakova top scored for Slovkia with four each as they helped condemn Bulgaria to their fifth successive defeat in Eindhoven.

Defensively, Bulgaria struggled again, conceding nine in each half, while in attack, captain Tsvetelina Bizheva did have some joy, firing in a hat-trick, but it wasn’t enough to trouble the result.

Credit: European Aquatics

Türkiye, meanwhile, finished their campaign with an impressive defensive display against Romania, winning 7-3 to claim 13th place.

The game started with the tournament’s top two goalscorers after four days going head-to-head – Türkiye’s Kubra Kus with 17 goals and Romania’s Alina-Ioana Olteanu with 19.

Olteanu may have been prolific so far, but today, Türkiye goalkeeper Elif Dilara Aydinlik was in inspired form – blocking 12 shots from 15 to earn an outstanding 80% save ratio.

In fact, Aydinlik was maybe dreaming of keeping the tournament’s first clean sheet, as it took Romania a lengthy 25 minutes and 47 seconds to finally get on the scoresheet.

Olteanu ended up hitting two in the fourth, but it was Türkiye captain Kus who was happiest at the end, after bagging a hat-trick and ending the tournament on a high.