Spain, Italy to Meet in 2019 FINA Men’s Water Polo Championship Final

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Exuberance abounds as Spain stuns Croatia 6-5 and advances to the 2019 FINA Worlds Final. Photo Courtesy: Hiroyuki Nakamura / FINA

Tomorrow will see an unexpected conclusion to the men’s water polo bracket at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, as Spain and Italy will compete for gold. By virtue of advancing to the title match, both teams have already been booked for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—there were two berths available at this tournament. Pride is therefore a factor, as well as history; Italy last won a FINA Worlds title in 2011; it’s been almost two decades since Spain won in 2001.

fina-gwangju-jul19What’s noteworthy is how both teams arrived at this match. The Spaniards are perhaps the tournament’s biggest surprise. With a sole loss in Group C play—courtesy of Hungary by a score of 13-11—David Martin’s squad has reeled off four straight wins. Most impressive are victories the past two matches. On Tuesday in quarterfinal play, Spain beat Serbia, the reigning Olympic and European champion, by a score of 12-9. Then on Thursday Martin’s players upset the tournament bracket, sprinting out to a shocking four-goal lead then weathering a blistering comeback by defending champions and tournament favorite Croatia to take the semifinal match 6-5. In those two matches, the leaders for Spain were Blai Mallarach Guell (3 goals), Roger Tahull (3 goals) and goalie Daniel Lopez (21 saves).

Another valued contributor to a balanced Spanish attack is 33-year-old Felipe Perrone. An Olympic veteran—he was part of the Brazilian squad coached by Ratko Rudic that stunned Serbia in group play before finishing a surprising eighth in the Rio Games. A Spanish national, Perrone is back playing for his native country and has 11 goals over six matches. Leading all scorers on the team is Alvaro Granados Ortega, who with 15 goals has shown that he can compete against the world’s best; he dropped a hat trick on Hungarian goalie Viktor Nagy when Spain and Hungary met.

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Francesco Di Fulvio (#2) in action at the 2017 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

The Italians are a sterling 5-0 in FINA Worlds play, having handed Hungary its only loss in Thursday’s semifinal after a narrow 7-6 win over Greece in the quarterfinals. Key for Head Coach Alessandro Campagna’s squad has been Francesco Di Fulvio. With nine goals, including three in the 13-11 win over Hungary, Di Fulvio has been a reliable scoring option on an Italian side that has won four of its five matches by a total of six goals—reaching double-digits in scoring only twice—a 14-5 win over hapless Brazil and the win over Hungary.

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Protecting the Italian cage has been Marco Del Lungo; this tournament has offered redemption for the 29-year-old. He missed Italy’s run to sixth in the 2017 FINA World Aquatics Championships when he came down to a case of the measles. Del Lungo has a combined 20 saves in Italy’s quarterfinal and semifinal wins.

In their most recent meeting—at the 2018 European Championships—Spain tagged Italy with an 8-7 loss in the semifinals as the host Spaniards went on to earn silver. Action is available via streaming through the Olympic Channel; click here for more information.