Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Host Netherlands came from behind to win an epic battle against Romania with a goal 4 seconds before the end. Georgia also claimed a really important win over Canada in the battle for the third place in Group A. As for the favourites, Montenegro added another big victory, against Brazil, before the upcoming showdown with Greece for the top spot in Group B, while Russia trashed the collapsing German team. Croatia had to dig deep to beat France – this contest was unexpectedly close but the Croats prevailed at the end.

To avoid a probable quarter-final match-up against Croatia and thus retain some hope – this was at stake in the crucial contest between Georgia and Canada in the afternoon. And Georgia’s ‘four musketeers’ – former greats from Croatia, Montenegro and Italy who became Georgian citizens in previous years – made the difference in the game, by scoring 10 goals out of their team’s 14. They had the most important asset: international experience which helps to find the best solutions in crucial moments. Once the gap was there – Georgia gained a 5-goal advantage early in the third at 3-8 –, the Canadians also overcame their nerves and started scoring (contrasting halves: it was 3-6 in the first, 8-8 in the second) but thanks to the ‘big boys’, Georgia never let the Canadians closer than three goals.

Boris Vapenski – Champions League winner with Partizan Belgrade ten years ago - was one of the key contributors for Georgia - Photos: Marcel tel Bals

In the opening match on Day 3 Montenegro offered another dominant performance: after netting 21 against Canada on Monday, this time they stopped at 15 against Brazil – now comes the hard part for them, a clash against Greece.

Montenegro offered a great team effort in its first two matches

In Group A action the game of the day was the clash of the Netherlands and Romania. And what a game it was! Both teams could have won it, both missed crucial chances – at the end the Dutch was a bit luckier but also brave enough to make the most important shot of the day. They were strong enough mentally to overcome two crucial penalty misses – where one should give credit to Romania’s goalie Marius-Florian Tic who played the match of his life perhaps, posted an incredible 19 saves (including two penalty stops) but he was unable to put a hand on the last two Dutch shots while the hosts’ goalie Eelco Wagenaar came up with a huge save when it was needed the most, at 8-8, in the last minute, denying a centre action.

He could have been the hero of the day... Marius-Florian Tic is about to save his second penalty, the Romanian goalie posted 19 saves, still, came up one less than needed at the end...

Before this match the Russians demolished the Germans who practically fell apart, also mentally which was quite unusual from them – but it happened and it ended up in a 17-5 disaster.

It was Russia all the way

The last match between Croatia and France brought some unexpected events, especially in the first half. Based on what we saw on the first two days – the Croats were rolling, France had a single goal loss, then a win – the 2017 world champs were the heavy favourites. Add that just five weeks ago the two sides met in the World League Europeans Qualifiers, in the match for the 7th place, and the Croats crashed their rivals 17-5 with an 8-1 run in the first half. Now it stood 5-5 after sixteen minutes and even though the Croats managed to break away after 6-6 to 6-10, the French didn’t let it go and always found a way to reduce the gap to two goals. The Croats responded well, though, and never let them to come any closer so the finish wasn’t that nerve-wrecking for the 2017 world champions.

The Croats needed one good period, the third, to clinch their third win in as many days

Standings

Group A

1. Montenegro 4 (2 games), 2. Greece 4 (2), 3. Georgia 2 (2), 4. Canada 2, 5. Brazil 0

Group B

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