Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Montenegro came first in Group A by beating Georgia and Greece didn’t have any headaches while securing its second place against Canada. In Group B the ‘knockout’ match between France and Romania turned into a one-sided contest as the French blew their rivals away to secure their place in the top eight who could play for Tokyo on Friday. The Netherlands almost stunned the Russians, had a comeback once more but now their rivals had the last laugh and the thrilling win put Russia atop in Group B, while the Dutch dropped to the fourth place and should face Montenegro in the quarters.

The last day of the prelims began without excitements, the remaining two matches in Group A brought the expected results. The score (11-9) of the game featuring Montenegro and Georgia may show a tighter encounter but in reality the favourite side’s win was never in danger. In the middle of the encounter their gear dropped though – almost to reverse mood... During those 9 minutes Georgia came back from 6-3 to 6-5 but towards the end of the third the Montenegrins netted a 6 on 4 then sped up the play for a couple of minutes, staged a 4-0 rush for 11-5 and decided the outcome.

The Montenegrins took care of the business – and the Georgian offense too - Photos: Marcel tel Bals

Not even the scoreline showed that Greece and Canada were on the same level – the North Americans couldn’t withstand the pressure of the better team, practically collapsed right in the first period. The only questions remained open was whether the Greeks could score 20 or more (the answer was no, but they weren’t far) and if the gap went beyond 10 goals (yes – reached first in the middle of the third at 2-12, stopped at 13 at the end).

In the highlighted clash of the day France beat Romania with unexpected ease. This game decided the fourth qualifying spot in Group B, so the tournament was to be over for the loser – and it became obvious quite quickly that the Romanians could not hold off the French. Though they start was quite promising but after 0-2 came a real nightmare as the French staged a 6-0 rush. At 7-3 a missed penalty pushed the Romanians back to their downward spiral and their following 13:10 minute-long scoreless period – which included another saved penalty and wasted 6 on 5s – downgraded the contest into a lopsided test match.

The French did a clean job

Thus Romania bid farewell to its dreams of returning to the Olympics after London 2012 – four years ago they forced Italy to a huge battle in the quarters, now they could not even make the best eight here. The French retained their hopes to repeat their surprising feat from 2016 when they managed to qualify for Rio. However, back then they faced the Netherlands in the quarters and won by penalties – now they have a much higher mountain to climb tomorrow as they meet Greece.

The following match made up for the lacked excitements in the previous one – the Dutch routinely produced another thriller, this time against Russia. However, the decline in the happy ending was visible over the course of the days: two days ago they beat the Romanians with a last-grasp goal, yesterday they tied with France after a great comeback, again with a goal scored in the dying seconds but now they lost by a single goal and that put them to the fourth place.

Reaching high – the Russians now can hope to rejoin the top flight

Still, the hosts deserve all credits as they were on equal terms with the potential group-winner – don’t forget that a win here would put them to the second place and they would have faced Georgia in the crucial quarter-final, while Russia would have dropped back to third to clash with Greece instead of Canada. After being 4-7 down in the third, the home boys kept on fighting and in the fourth they staged a 3-0 rush to take over the lead at 9-8! But the Russians responded pretty well and with the spirited play of Dmitrii Kholod they also came up with a 3-0 run (Kholod netted two en route, 5 in total) and that was decisive as they led 11-9 with 81 seconds remaining. The Dutch launched a late surge and even had a possession to tie the game once again. A goal might have altered the ranks as a draw would put them to the third place while the Russians finish second – but this time Jorn Muller, the hero from Day 4, was denied so the hosts faces a mission (almost) impossible against Montenegro. At the same time, Russia clashes Canada and seems to have a very good chance to make top flight – indeed they did not even advance from their group in 2016, now they can think of returning to the Olympics for the first time after 2004.

The closing match had no impact on the ranks. The Croats looked for some consolation and confidence reboot after yesterday’s shocking loss to Russia – they went down 13-14 after leading 13-9 –, while the Germans wanted to finish their ruined campaign with some positives. Well, the outcome was anythign but a spirit-lifting experience... Instead, it mirrored all problems the Germans had here both in defending and in attacking. Until 8-5 they held on somehow but then came a 7:55 minute-long phase when the Croats staged a 7-0 rout and that inevitably led to another crashing defeat. The only good news the German could have here that with this game the tournament was over. At the same time the Croats almost had a shot on their scoring-record set here against the Netherlands (25, now they netted 22) and regained some of their lost confidence before the two most important matches in Rotterdam – the first, the quarter-final is due against Georgia on Friday.

Final rankings - preliminaries

Group A

1. Montenegro 8, 2. Greece 6, 3. Georgia 4, 4. Canada 2, 5. Brazil 0

Group B

1. Russia 9, 2. Croatia 8, 3. France 5, 4. Netherlands 5, 5. Romania 3, 6. Germany 0

Tie-breaking: results against the highest ranked team (Russia) considered – France: 12-13, Netherlands: 10-11 (higher number of goals scored)

Fixtures – quarter-finals

14.00 Montenegro v Netherlands

16.00 Greece v France

18.00 Georgia v Croatia

20.00 Canada v Russia

The first three ranked teams qualify for the Olympic Games.