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

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Spain wins the 2020 European Championships, holding Russia scoreless for ten minutes to rally from a two-goal deficit. Photo Courtesy: Hiroyuki Nakamura / FINA

In a thrilling conclusion to a tournament that has seen them emerge as the top women’s program on the continent, Saturday Spain captured gold in the women’s final of the 34th LEN European Championship at Budapest’s Duna Aréna. Behind four scores by Maica Garcia Godoy and Clara Espar Llaquet’s goal a minute and a half into the fourth quarter, as the Spanish women rallied from a two-goal deficit to capture their first European Championship since 2014.

2020_european_champ_logoFollowing the match, which caps a fantastic stretch for his team, including a silver medal in the 18th FINA World Water Polo Championship last summer, Spanish Head Coach Miguel Oca praised “his girls’” effort.

“I don’t know how we did it,” he said. “The girls were fantastic. Even when we were trailing they didn’t stop coming on.”

Then, looking to savor Spain’s ascension to the top of European polo—and with their men playing for gold on Sunday against host Hungary—Oca added: “The Olympics are in the distant future and a whole new tournament.”

In defeat, the Russians got a brilliant performance from captain Ekaterina Prokofyeva, who scored four goals, including a score early in the third period that gave her squad a one-goal lead—and advantage that grew to 10-8 when Maria Borisova beat Spanish goalie Laura Ramos with two and a half minutes remaining in the third period.

Then, Spain rallied, scoring five straight times, capped by Paula Leiton’s goal at the 1:30 mark of the fourth period to give her team an insurmountable lead. Prokofyeva and Alena Serzhantova scored two quick goals in the final minute as Russia—after being held scoreless for almost tem minutes, mounted a furious comeback. But Oca’s squad was able to burn the final 22 seconds of the match and capture Spain’s second title in 35 years of women’s European Championship play,

Besides silver in the final, the Russians came away from Duna with perhaps an even bigger prize: a berth in the 2020 Olympics. This was a result of the berth in the Tokyo Games being available to the winner of the men’s and women’s bracket in this year’s European Championship. Spain had already qualified for the 2020 Games by virtue of a silver finish to the Americans at the FINA World Championships.

In remarks after the match, Russia assistant coach Andrei Belofastov acknowledge that this consolation for dropping the final match was indeed quite prized.

“Coming here our goal was to enter the semi-finals and secure the berth for Tokyo,” he said. “We did a good job, we are satisfied,” he said, then added: “Before the championships we would have signed for the finals without hesitation.”

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Russia’s. Ekaterina Prokofyeva. Photo Courtesy: Sherie Key / USAWP

Later today, the Spanish men have a chance to make history by joining their countrywomen as gold medalist when the face host Hungary. A win in the final will give make their country only the second-ever double gold medalists at the European Championships, and the first since Italy accomplished the feat in 1995.

It would cap what has been an incredible run of success for Spain; their men also won silver at the 2019 FINA World Championships, punching their collective tickets to Tokyo. The final will be packed with Hungarian fans cheering on their beloved squad; they have much to celebrate no matter how their team does. By virtue of advancing to the final opposite Spain, Hungary has qualified for the Olympics, capturing the other berth because Spain had previously qualified for the 2020 Games by virtue of its finish last July in Gwuanju.

The men’s gold medal match is available for live streaming via Digital Motion here; match time is 1 p.m. (EST).

In a consolation prize of sorts, the Hungarian women captured bronze earlier Saturday with a 10-8 win over the Netherlands. Rallying from a three-goal deficit, Head Coach Atilla Biró’s squad got goals from Rebecca Parkes, Natasa Rybanska, Dora Leimeter, Leimeter again and Anna Illes to close out the game and the Dutch.

Leading the way for Hungary were Leimeter, Parkes, Dorottya Szilagyi and Rita Keszthelyi-Nagy with two goals apiece. Maud were has two scores for the Netherlands, which got single goals from six players. Head Coach Arno Havenga’s squad will look to regroup in time for the European Olympic Qualification next March in Italy. Like the Hungarians, the Dutch have yet to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.