Courtesy: LEN Media
The champions in the previous three editions, Spain (in 2014), Hungary (in 2016) and title-holder Netherlands all made the semi-finals, re-joining just like each occasion since 2014. Russia returns for the first time after 2012, they beat Italy with ease, and 2018 silver medallist Greece is also out.
Quarter-finals: Hungary v France 16-3, Russia v Italy 13-7, Greece v Spain 9-
12, Slovakia v Netherlands 2-22
For places 9-10th: Croatia v Israel 7-11. For places 11-12th: Serbia v Germany
11-11 (penalties: 2-4)
Fixtures for Thursday:
Semi-finals: Hungary v Spain (17.30), Russia v Netherlands (19.00). For places
5-8th: France v Greece (14.30), Italy v Slovakia (16.00)
The semi-finals will feature three teams which were constant players in the top flight in the last three editions, in fact they were the respective winners in those championships. The Netherlands (champion in Barcelona 2018) and Hungary (Belgrade 2016) enjoyed an easy ride what is a usual reward for the group-winners: since the top six sides are far above the rest of the field, the 4th placed teams they face are no match for them.
In the first quarter-final the Dutch downed the Slovaks by 20 goals and in the evening the Hungarians blew away the French too. Here the resistance was a bit tougher from the underdogs as they trailed only 8-3 at halftime but they ran out of power for the second half where the Hungarian rallied to an 8-0 rush.
More excitements were expected in the middle two fixtures but both matches had a calm finish as Russia out-played the Italians and Spain also sank Greece with a convincing performance. Italy’s 6-goal defeats from Spain and the Netherlands in the prelims showed that the Setterosa wasn’t in top shape and the game against Russia was another painful proof for that.
The Italians could hold on till half-time but when Russia netted two in 50 seconds to go 8-5 up early in the third, the Italian team started fading away. They were 10-6 down before the last break and there was no way back from there – they lost the second half 7-2. One of the most telling stats (besides taking only 23 shots, compared to Russia’s 32) was their disastrous man-up play, 0 for 10 in this match (Russia was 5 for 11). This also meant that Italy, which had always made the semi-finals between 1991 and 2016 (13 editions in a row), will miss the top four for the second consecutive championships.
The following encounter was something similar: Spain also led 6-5 at halftime before they started rolling. The Greeks couldn’t keep up with their rivals in the second half: they similarly had fallen below their first-half level against the Hungarian and the Russians. Though they equalised for 6-6 but then the Spaniards netted three unanswered goals in a span of 2:13 minutes and added two more in the fourth to go 6-11 up and that decided the outcome.
The early matches produced more thrills, especially the one played for the 11th place by Germany and Serbia. The Germans jumped to a 2-5 lead in the second, the Serbs bounced back any early in the fourth they led 11-7. But the Germans didn’t give in and netted four connecting goals, the last one came 11 seconds from time to save the match to a shootout and they won the first penalty-roulette at this Europeans. Then Israel staged a great 6-2 run in the second quarter against the Croats and maintained that gap till the end to clinch the 9th place, just like in Barcelona 2018.