Russia and Spain will play for the gold medal on Saturday after thrilling semi-final wins over the Netherlands and Hungary respectively. Thanks to its shootout win, Russia returns to the final after ten years, while Spain can repeat its win from 2014, achieved here in Budapest. Regardless of the outcome, the Russians also booked their ticket to Tokyo since Spain had already secured its place last summer. Hungary seems to be cursed against Spain in the semis as this was their 6th loss in as many clashes, while the Netherlands miss the final after three consecutive appearances.
Women’s semi-finals: Russia v Netherlands 7-7, penalties: 4-3. Hungary v Spain 10-11.
For places 5-8th: France v Greece 3-13, Italy v Slovakia 16-4.
As expected, the semis offered thrilling matches – and great twists and turns right in the first duel between Russia and the Netherlands. The Dutch had a bit better start and jumped to a 1-2 lead but the Russians geared up for the second period and netted three connecting goals for 4-2. It was Holland’s turn then and by halftime they came back to 4-4 and it only remained tied because Maud Megens blasted a penalty wide – it was their second miss from the 5m line in the first half.
The Netherlands rolled on in the third and added two more, then had a man-up to go three goals up but they couldn’t take a shot and Olga Gorbunova netted a dying 6 on 5 to halve the gap at 6-5. And she was on target right from the first possession to equalise and from that point a great chess-game began. It was a huge tactical battle, the defences did an outstanding job, then after five minutes of breath-taking swimming and shooting, Brigitte Seeking sent the ball home from a 6m free through with 2:05 to go. But the Russian reply came immediately, Maria Borisova buried a 6 on 5 after a time-out and 1:35 minutes were left for the decision. It didn’t come in the regular time so the penalties decided the outcome.
And just as in the match, the Dutch missed two while the Russians buried all four to book their spot in the final after 10 years – and this win was also their ticket to Tokyo as the Spanish downed the Hungarians next. It also means that Russia maintains its status in European water polo as the only female team which has taken part in each edition since the beginning in Sydney 2000. (Note, that penalties earned the Rio spot for Russia in 2016 when they beat Greece in a shootout in the qualification tournament and they also clinched the bronze in Rio after a successful shootout against Hungary.)
The second semi between Spain and the Hungarians was just as exciting: the crowd saw a great opening period with three goals apiece – including a VAR-approved Spanish goal which otherwise would have been overlooked –, then Anna Illes netted a man-up for 4-3 but that didn’t end Hungary’s struggle in 6 on 5s, only proved to be an exception. At halftime the Magyars stood with 1/8 but they had a much better spell in the third when they scored three extras. However, their rivals were also on fire and at one point Spain led 5-7 but Vanda Valyi’s double brought the game back to even before the last break.
The fourth period then offered some exceptional scenes. The Spanish enjoyed a tremendous run as they netted four goals in a row. Their defence was superb and in offense their pinpoint shots bounced in from the woodwork in succession to give them a decisive lead of 7-11 with 3:17 remaining. Well, it looked decisive, but then, all of sudden, the Magyars started shooting with ‘all-in’ mood and all went in: in a span of 1:48 minutes they scored three for 10-11. Incoming goalie Edina Gangl made a save 33 seconds from time and soon joined her team-mates to set up a 7 on 6 attack, the ball found Rita Keszthelyi in front-of the goal, she could send it towards the net under pressure but LEN Award-winning Spanish goalie Laura Ester managed to catch it and sent Spain to the final once more here in Budapest, after 2014.
It also meant the Hungary’s curse in the semis against Spain continues: this was their 6th match in this phase of a major tournament and Spain won all six (2008 Europeans, 2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds, 2014 Europeans, 2019 Worlds and here) – and also, the Magyars lost SFs in succession recently, in Rio 2016, Barcelona 2018, Gwangju 2019 and here. They just hope to get a medal what they have always achieved in the January editions (2012, 2016) and in the Europeans held in Budapest (2001, 2014). However, against the Netherlands this task will be anything but easy. (len.eu)