Olympics Rio 2016: Serbia to clash with Croatia in water polo final

Olympics Rio 2016: Serbia to clash with Croatia in water polo final

Serbia’s men’s water polo squad will play in the final of the Rio Olympics after beating Italy 10:8 (3:0, 3:2, 1:0, 3:6) late on Thursday European time.

After losing to Italy in the semi-finals of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Serbia got their revenge on Thursday (17 August) by easing past the Italians 10-8 (3-0, 3-2, 1-0, 3-6) to reach the final of the Rio 2016 men’s water polo competition against Croatia.

The world and European champions may have scraped through the group phase but since the tournament switched venues from Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre to the Olympic Aquatics Stadium they have been back to their formidable best.

Against Italy it was Andrija Prlainovic who set Serbia on their way to victory, scoring after a minute of play from outside five metres. Slobodan Nikic and Dusko Pijetlovic extended their team’s lead to 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

It was a poor start for the Italians, who could not find a way past Serbia’s mean defence and goalkeeper Branislav Mitrovic. Italy coach Alessandro Campagna looked particularly frustrated when Niccolo Gitto missed an easy chance following a double exclusion.

Goals from Filip Filipovic, Stefan Mitrovic and Prlainovic, with his second, put Serbia 6-0 up before Valentino Gallo and Alessandro Velotto found a way through for Italy to cut the deficit to four at half-time.

Nikic scored the only goal of a tight third quarter as Italy continued to struggle in front of the net. Christian Presciutti’s shot from distance was easily saved and Andrea Fondelli saw his effort on extra smash against a post.

Strikes from Velotto, Gallo, Michael Alexandre Bodegas and Pietro Figlioli along with a Presciutti double made the scoreline more respectable for Italy in the final quarter but with Filipovic, Nikola Jaksic and Dusan Mandic also finding the net for Serbia the result was never in doubt.

Croatia will contest their second successive Olympic final after beating Montenegro 12-8 (4-3, 3-2, 1-1, 4-2) in the semi-finals of the men’s water polo competition on Thursday.

In what was a repeat of the last-four stage at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Croatia again came out on top as they started strongly and out-muscled Montenegro during the early exchanges.

Croatian Andelo Setka opened the scoring after 28 seconds with a powerful shot from outside five metres and when Andro Buslje and Luka Loncar made it 3-0, Montenegro coach Vladimir Gojkovic was forced to call a time-out to wake his team up.

It worked, as 37 seconds later Aleksandar Ivovic of Montenegro found space on extra to fire home and then Drasko Brguljan burst through on goal and teased goalkeeper Croatian Marko Bijac before placing a delicate lob into the far corner of the net.

Darko Brguljan then levelled for Montenegro before Sandro Sunko scored his first of the match to give Croatia a slender 4-3 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After such an explosive start, the match settled at the beginning of the second quarter with both teams having to fight hard to create space. Ivovic and Darko Brguljan were again on target for Montenegro but goals from Javier Garcia Gadea, Sunko and Marko Macan put Croatia 7-5 ahead at half-time.

Loncar extended Croatia’s lead at the start of the third quarter with an impressive backshot that crashed against the inside of the right post and in, while Ivovic completed his hat-trick for Montenegro.

It is no surprise Serbia will start Saturday’s final against Croatia as favourites as they have dominated the international water polo scene since finishing third at London 2012, winning six of the seven major events staged.

As well as triumphing at the 2015 world championships (beating Croatia 11-4 in the final), the Serbians have won four consecutive world league titles (2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016) and one World Cup (2014).

They have also been crowned European champions twice (2014 and 2016) and the only medal missing from their collection is the one they aim to win on Saturday: Olympic gold.