Serbian Men Open 2020 European Water Polo Championship with Win Over Russia

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Serbia's Filip Filipovic and his Golden Age teammates hope to get one more European Championship title. Photo Courtesy: Serbian Water Polo Federation

After the European women had already played two matches, Day Three of the 34th LEN European Water Polo Championships saw the men finally hit the water in Budapest’s Duna Arena for the first time. On Tuesday defending champion Serbia, as well as Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Spain all won as 16 teams in four brackets opened play in pursuit of European Championship gold and—particular to this year—a lone berth in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

2020_european_champ_logoThe Serbs, which last summer sent their second-string to Gwangju, South Korea for the 2019 FINA World Championships—resulting in a disappointing fifth place finish—brought their “A” team to defend their Euro title from last year. Key players from last decade’s “Golden Age” of Serbian polo—including Nikoa Jaksic, Dusan Mandic, Gojko Pijetlovic, Andrija Prlainovic and captain Filip Filipovic—are in Budapest, and they opened their defense with a not-so-dominant 13-9 win over Russia.

The defending Olympic champions, who have already qualified for the Tokyo Games, held just a one-goal advantage midway through the fourth period before Prlainovic, Milos Cuk, Filipovic and Nikola Dedovic scored to put the match away. Next up for Serbia in Group B play on Thursday: a hapless Romanian squad that squandered a two-goal lead and lost 9-8 to the Netherlands.

A 4-1 burst in the third period had given Romania an 8-6 lead entering the final period. But goals from Jorn Winkelhorst, Harmen Muller and Guus Van Ijperen, combined with a strong effort in the Dutch cage by Eelco Wagenaar (11 saves) allowed the Netherlands to escape with the one-goal win. They will now face the Russians in the other side of Group B.

Emblematic of Romania’s problems is their inexperience; their captain Cosmin Radu is now 38 years old; remove him, Alexandru Ghiban (33 years old) and 32 year-old Tiberiu Negrean from Head Coach Athanasios Kechagias‘ line up, and the average age of the Romanian roster drops to 24—with not enough experience to be competitive in Budapest.

[Catching up with Romania’s Alexandru Ghiban and Dimitri Goanta]

The Hungarians got four goals from Krisztian Manhercz and three from Balazs Erdelyi, as the home team connected on more than half of their shots (19 of 36) to beat Turkey 19-5 in Group C play. Emirhan Yenigun and Togkan Ozbek chipped in two goals apiece for the Turks as their goalie tandem of Atilla Sezer and Kagan Kil combined for only four saves.

Hungary will face a much stiffer test Thursday when they play Spain, a 23-7 winner over Malta. The Spaniards were led by Alberto Munarriz Egaña’s five goals, including four in a second half spurt that saw a five-goal deficit for Malta balloon to 16. Malta was led by Steven Camilleri’s hat-trick; they’ll have a considerably easier time of it against Turkey.

In Group A play, Croatia captured a convincing 17-9 win over Germany. Leading the way for the Croatians was Lovre Milos with three goals, while four other players each scored twice. Goalie Makko Bijac had 10 saves in three quarters of action. For Germany, Marin Restovic had a hat-trick while Ben Reibel and Maurice Juengling scored two goals apiece.

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Aleksandar Ivovic in action for Pro Recco. Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scarfi

On Thursday, the Croatians will play Montenegro, a 15-4 winner over Slovakia, which will face the Germans. The Montenegrins were led by Aleksandar Ivovic; the 2018 Swimming World Male Polo Player of the Year registered four goals on six shots. Goalie Petar Tesanovic had ten saves in a relief role of Dejan Lazovic; the two goalies combined for 18 saves as the Slovaks—led by four players with one goal each—misfired on 22 of their 26 shots.

In Group D, Georgia’s Boris Vapenski hit a penalty shot with five minutes remaining—one of his three goals on the day—to close out the scoring in a 9-7 win over France. The French were led by Michal Izdinsky and Thomas Vernoux with two goals apiece and Remi Garsau, who registered 12 saves. On Thursday they will face Italy, a 10-6 winner over Greece. The Italians, who after intermission broke open a tie game by outscoring the Greeks 6-2, were led by Gonzalo Oscar Echenique, Pietro Figlioli and Stefano Luongo with two goal each.

The Greeks got single goals from six players; Konstantinos Genidounias, who in 2015 won the Peter J. Cutino award as the best male collegiate polo player in America, scored once on six shots while Emmanouil Zerdevas turned aside 13 Italian attempts. Greece will look to get a win Thursday as they face Georgia.

Later today the women return to play; the top match features undefeated Hungary (2-0) and Russia (2-0) squaring off. Other games include The Netherlands versus Italy, Spain versus Israel, Germany versus France, Greece versus Slovakia and regional rivals Croatia and Serbia.

For live streaming and all scoring sheets, visit the 2020 Budapest website here.