Team USA, after going winless in the group stage, eliminated last year’s World League finalists Hungary from medal contention on a winning penalty shot from captain Tony Azevedo with just 2 seconds remaining as they ended up victorious 8-7. The Hungarians were suffering from a slow start and quickly fell behind 0-2 and in the second period even 0-3 before the first goal of the Magyars was scored. Then the game went on to become more balanced despite Hungary grabbing a 6-4 lead in the third period. It looked to become an ‘up and over’ situation but USA prevented that by responding with two huge goals, scored by centre-forward John Mann and captain Tony Azevedo. But it did not stop there. Alex Bowen, with over 5 minutes remaining even got the Americans in the lead again as Hungary struggled on their so far reliable offence. It was not until the final minute that they looked to prevent a possible huge upset as Denes Varga, who had previously missed a penalty shot, this time managed to convert to tie the game at 7-7. It was not enough though as USA called a time-out and in the final possession earned a penalty shot through a Luca Cupido drive. Captain Azevedo stepped up and was not to be denied as he drained the penalty and got Team USA the 8-7 win as just 2 seconds were remaining and Hungary could not score from distance in their final attempt. The Americans will meet either Croatia in the big semifinals on Saturday.
Brazil rebounded from their tough loss to Hungary on day 3 of the World League Super Final in Bergamo by edging Australia 9-8 to make it to the semifinals posting their best result at the World League final tournament so far. Head coach Ratko Rudic, facing his apprentice and former assistant Elvis Fatovic, had worked out a tactical plan that worked as Australia struggled to cope with the Brazilian defence. Things however looked to have gone their way in the first half as a tight contest was ended with a 3-4 score in favour of the Aussie Sharks after centre-forward Joel Swift scored with 18 seconds remaining in the half. And after Rhys Howden netted one to extend Australia’s lead to two, they looked to have taken the first step to a repeat of last year’s semifinal appearance.
But Brazil quickly responded and gradually during that third period looked to carry the momentun into their squad with the first real signs of that development being displayed in the final stages of the session after two consecutive goals by Josip Vrlic and Felipe Perrone for the Brazilian side. Swift was there to tie early in the 4th quarter on a fine centre-forward goal but the decision fell in the next phase. Adria Delgado scored one on a man-up for the Ratko Rudic coached squad whose defence remained tight and causing Australia trouble. Even more so after prodigy Guilherme Gomes scored a wide-open attempt in extra man with 4 minutes remaining giving Brazil a 9-7 advantage. Australia head coach Elvis Fatovic called a time-out, launching a final-minutes assault that only resulted in a well-executed man-up play by Johnno Cotterill after beautiful passing by his team, but with just 1.48 remaining. Fierce Brazil defence in the game’s final phase saw them hanging on as they secured the close but important victory, now awaiting the winner of the China-Serbia match-up in the semifinals on Saturday.
The hosts Italy were eliminated in the third match-up of the day. Croatia, after a strong start, got into a real dogfight with the home team, even had the game winner to be tipped in, in the very last second of the game, but eventually won a shootout series 4-2 on two saves from goalkeeper Josip Pavic to win 14-12 and advance to the semifinals where USA awaits. It was a typical back-and-forth contest between two sides known for their great defence, also displayed during this week in Bergamo. After the strong start by the Croatians, the response by the home side was equally impressive. They turned around the score in the second period to even grab a slim 5-6 lead at half-time. Different sites however in the third session where Croatia grabbed back control and even managed to shut down the Italian offence in a 3-0 display as the Croatians, in less than 4 minutes, re-took the lead: 8-6.
In the second half of the period both teams struggled to score with also goalkeepers Stefano Tempesti (Italy) and Josip Pavic (Croatia) displaying their qualities. It turned out that the fireworks were saved for the game’s final phase. Italy scored twice to draw level at 8-8 before Sandro Sukno made it look easy in the next posession scoring on man-up but afterwarsd displaying his dissatisfaction with the refs previous calls which earned him his 3rd personal foul. But after teammate Luka Loncar scored half a minute (3 minutes remaining) giving croatia a 10-8 lead, the Ivica Tucak coached side looked in the driver’s seat towards a semifinals berth. Nothing proved decided however as Francesco di Fulvio, again top scorer for Italy, netted his 3rd of the game and after a tense final two minutes, Stefano Luongo was left open just too much with 20 seconds on the clock as he scored in the near corner for the 10-10 tie. Croatia took a time-out and saw they could win it in regulation as Maro Jokovic assisted Fran Paskvalin on the post but his tip-in went off the crossbar as a shootout was to determine the winner. Here Croatia got redemption by remaining ‘perfect’ while goalkeeper Josip Pavic came up big denying Valentino Gallo and Francesco di Fulvio scoring while the Croats won the series 4-2 and game 14-12.
A bit of an anti-climax it was in Friday’s final match. Defending champions Serbia played China and, after a slow start and just 5-6 lead at quarter-time, used the remainder of the contest to cruise and let every field player score. Veteran centre-forward Slobodan Nikic led the charge with 5 goals as the tournament favourites had no trouble securing the expected victory as they set up a surprising semifinal match-up with Brazil after they eliminated Australia earlier.
2015 FINA Men’s World League Super Final
Schedule and results
Friday, 26 June
Brazil (2A) vs. Australia (3B) 9-8 (1-2, 2-2, 4-2, 2-2) – game 13
Brazil scorers: Felipe Perrone 3, Adria Delgado 2, Josip Vrlic 2, Guilhermo Gomes, Gustavo Guimaraes.
Australia scorers: Joel Swift 2, George Ford, Johnno Cotterill, Nathan Power, Jarrod Gilchrist, Tyler Martin, Rhys Howden.
Hungary (1A) vs. United States (4B) 7-8 (0-2, 3-1, 3-3, 1-2) – game 15
Hungary scorers: Norbert Madaras 2, Denes Varga 2, Balazs Erdelyi, Ferenc Salamon, Balazs Harai.
USA scorers: Tony Azevedo 3, Luca Cupido, Josh Samuels, Alex Bowen, Bret Bonanni, John Mann.
Croatia (3A) vs. Italy (2B) 14-12 (3-1, 2-5, 3-0, 2-4; penalties: 4-2) – game 14
Croatia scorers: Sandro Sukno 3, Luka Loncar 2, Andro Buslje 2, Maro Jokovic, Andelo Setka, Paulo Obradovic.
Italy scorers: Francesco di Fulvio 3, Alex Giorgetti 2, Stefano Luongo 2, Valentino Gallo, Matteo Aicardi, Fabio Baraldi.
China (4A) vs. Serbia (1B) 10-25 (5-6, 0-7, 3-5, 1-7) – game 16
China scorers: Tao Dong 3, Nianxiang Liang 2, Feihu Tan, Zhangxin Hu, Li Li, Liang Gu.
Serbia scorers: Slobodan Nikic 5, Dusan Mandic 3, Dusko Pijetlovic 3, Stefan Mitrovic 3, Zivko Gocic 2, Milan Aleksic, Nikola Jaksic 2, Andrija Prlainovic, Sava Randjelovic, Milos Cuk, Filip Filipovic.
Saturday, 27 June
16.00: Australia (L13) vs. China (L16) – game 17
17.20: Italy (L14) vs. Hungary (L15) – game 18
18.40: Brazil (W13) vs. Serbia (W16) – game 19
20.00: Croatia (W14) vs. USA (W15) – game 20
Sunday, 28 June
16.00: L17 vs. L18
17.20: W17 vs. W18
18.40: L19 vs. L20 (bronze medal)
20.00: W19 vs. W20 (final)
N.b.: time mentioned is local time.
Tournament winner earns berth for 2016 Olympic Games.