Hungarian Fans Ecstatic as Men Beat Spain 14-13 for 2020 European Water Polo Championship Gold

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Hungary's Denes Varga—a veteran of three Olympics—helped his country to its first European Championship in two decades. Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

The script for the 34th LEN European Water Polo Championship could not have been better for Hungary and its rabid fans; a tie match between the home team and Spain, and a gripping shootout decided on the last shot as the Hungarians won 14-13 to capture gold at Budapest’s Duna Aréna.

2020_european_champ_logoAfter Gergo Zalanki beat Spanish goalie Daniel Lopez, Hungarian back-up goalie Soma Vogel—in for the last two rounds of the shootout—stopped Alvaro Granados on the shootout’s final attempt, sending the capacity crowd into pandemonium. It was Hungary’s first European Championship win in two decades, when the Magyars took down Croatia, just before one of the greatest runs of success in Olympic team sport history; gold medals in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Games.

Tamas Marcz, Hungary’s head coach, was there at the beginning of that run, backstopping the 1999 Euro Championship win and the first Olympic gold. Now, he leads a talented team into a new decade and perhaps a new era of Olympic success, starting with the 2020 Games. By advancing to the final at Duna, Marcz’s squad claimed a Tokyo berth.

A combination of young and old led Hungary to victory on Sunday. Denes Varga, their captain who has been to the past three Olympics, including a gold medal effort at the 2008 Beijing Games, notch two goals and converted the first penalty shot in extra time. Zalanki, second on the squad to Vargas with 16 goals in this tournament, also contributed two scores and book-ended his captain’s shoot out success.

The win also completes a stretch for Vargas where his Ferencváros team captured top honors at the 2019 LEN Champions League Final Eight tournament—the top professional league championship in Europe.

25-07-2017: Waterpolo: Hongarije v Rusland: Boedapest (L-R) during the waterpolomatch between men Hungary and Russia at the 17th FINA World Championships 2017 in Budapest, Hungary Photo / Foto: Gertjan Kooij

Hungary’s Viktor Nagy. Photo Courtesy: Gertjan Kooij

Spain was led by Alberto Munarriz’s three goals and two scores from Blai Mallarach Guell. Lopez had 11 saves during the game, and all but one in the shootout. The loss was a blow to a Spanish coup at the European Championships; a 13-12 win over Russia in Saturday’s women’s final which opened the door to a sweep by Spain. They were striving to become the first country since Italy in 1995 to capture gold in both the men’s and women’s bracket at the European Championships.

[Spain Wins 2020 European Women’s Water Polo Championship; Men Play for Double Gold Sunday versus Hungary]

During regulation play, only once did one side have more than a two-goal advantage. That came in the first period, when Munarriz Egaña scored back-to-back goals to give Spain a 3-1 lead. The Hungarians immediately rallied, with Daniel Angyak, Zalanki and Vargas scored three-straight times to give the host team a 4-3 lead.

A tit-for-tat match ensued, with neither team establishing a lasting lead. When Balazs Harai scored with less than four minutes remaining in the final period, Hungary had a 9-8 advantage. But, after a couple of fruitless possessions, Munarriz Egaña converted with a minute and a half remaining to again tie the match. Both defenses held in the waning seconds, with goalie Viktor Nagy stopping Munarriz on a breakaway with seconds remaining. He then completed a spectacular run by the home team in this tournament—a 5-0-1 record—by holding off the Spaniards and installing Hungary as a prime contender for gold in Tokyo.

Montenegro tops Croatia for Bronze in Budapest

Led by Aleksandar Ivovic’s five goals, and a furious comeback that saw them outscore Croatia 7-2 after intermission, on Sunday Montenegro captured third place, with a 10-9 win in the bronze medal match. The Croatians built a four-goal advantage in the first half on the goals by Luka Bukic, Loren Fatovic, Maro Jokovic (two), Luca Loncar, Ante Vukicevic and Josip Vrlic.

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Montenegro’s Aleksandar Ivovic. Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scarfi

When Vladan Spaic scored with 1:36 remaining in the fourth period to tie the match at nine-all, Montenegro had come all the way back from a deficit that had ballooned to four mid-way through the third period. On their next possession, Ivovic—Swimming World’s 2018 Male Water Polo Player—beat Croatia back-up goalie Ivan Marcelic on a six-meter blast to complete the Montenegrin’s stunning comeback.

After a two-month recovery, Croatia and Montenegro will be back in the hunt for an Olympic berth when they participate in the Men’s European Qualification. March 29 – April 5 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Sebia, Spain, Italy and now Hungary have all booked a berth to the 2020 Games, and—unlike their prime rivals on the continent—will devote all their planning to preparing for the sports biggest tournament this July in Tokyo.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Jeroen Keun

    Which other European countries will particiapte at the olympic qualification tournament?

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Dear Jeroen:

      Thanks for your email. I’ve a bit of digging to confirm this, but my expectation is that Croatia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania and Russia will be joined by their neighbors France, Germany and host Holland. Also, Brasil and Canada will participate; all are chasing the four remaining slots to Tokyo.

      There are 12 teams advertised (but not named) on the site for the tournament; I’ll look for confirmation of the other two (suspects are Turkey and Georgia).

      Your correspondent