June 23, 2019 – The Croatia water polo team lost to Serbia by a goal in the dramatic FINA World League final in Belgrade (12:11).
The 18th edition of the World League has come to an end, and while the final tournament of this competition is officially called the ‘World League Super Final’, the last game, the one for the gold, really was a super final.
Croatia vs. Serbia, two of the world’s water polo giants, met on Sunday in Belgrade to determine not only who would win the World League, but who would secure their spot at the Tokyo Olympics next summer.
This ‘El Classico’ of water polo was held for the second time this week, after Serbia defeated Croatia by a goal in the group stage of the competition on Wednesday. Thus, Sunday became the rematch of rematches, with more than a medal on the line.
It’s no coincidence that we’ve seen these two nations often meet – recall, they were finalists in the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, and met in the semifinals of the World Cup in Budapest 2017 and the Euros in Barcelona in 2018.
“What is more beautiful than playing at this pool in Belgrade, one of the water polo temples? Another final, against Serbia. Where do you get more motivation? This is why we live for sport. That’s what I’m going to tell my players, and be assured that we will welcome the match in that respect,” coach Ivica Tucak said before the game.
“Today, my boys and I will give our all, our whole heart, and I hope, I think we have a very, very great chance of winning.”
At 4:45 pm, the game was off.
The first half of the first quarter saw goals by Buljabašić and Vukičević for 0:2 Croatia, and thanks to a goal by Maro Joković with a second to go, the first quarter ended 1:3 for Croatia.
Serbia woke up in the second quarter – and Filip Filipović tied the game for Serbia at 4:4 with just over three minutes to go. With a minute to go in the second, Serbia led 6:4.
Croatia won the sprint in the third quarter. Vukičević scored for the equalizer, and Fatović scored to retake Croatia’s lead for 6:7! With a minute to go in the third, the game was tied at 7:7, but Bušlje threw a rocket for 7:8 Croatia with less than 30 seconds to go. The third quarter ended at 7:8.
The final decisive quarter was met with a downpour, which is no surprise, considering Belgrade’s dark sky hinted at it throughout the game. With extremely difficult conditions to play in, Serbia managed to equalize for 8:8 with seven minutes to go. Croatia retook the lead thanks to Vrlić for 8:9 with six minutes to go. The final minutes wouldn’t go without excitement, and Serbia managed to equalize at 9:9, but Croatia came back for 9:10!
With four minutes left, Bijač made an incredible save to keep Croatia in the lead, but Serbia came back for 10:10 with three minutes to go. Filipović scored for Serbia – it was 11:10 with one minute to go. But Vukičević saved the day, and brought Croatia back with a goal. Serbia was granted a shot from 5 meters with 20 seconds to go, and scored to take the lead. In Croatia’s final attack, they were unable to equalize. The game ended 12:11 for Serbia.
Serbia has thus won the FINA World League and qualifies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
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