Serbia defeats defending champs Croatia for men's water polo gold
Gold medal match – Serbia 11, Croatia 7
Three games into the Rio Olympics, Serbia looked to be in danger of not even making it to the quarterfinals.
The Serbians, who came to Rio as the defending world champions and clear gold medal favorites, tied their first two games against Hungary and Greece and lost to host Brazil 6-5 in the third game.
There was a reason Serbia was considered one of the best teams in the tournament though, and the rest of the way they proved it, winning their next five games concluding with an 11-7 win over Croatia Saturday in the gold medal match for the country’s first Olympic gold medal.
Croatia stood very little chance against Serbia’s high powered offense after the first quarter. Serbia outscored Croatia 3-2 in the second quarter and 3-2 in the third to grown their lead to four goals heading into the fourth quarter.
The win breaks a streak of consecutive bronze medals in the 2012 and 2008 Olympics. This is just Serbia’s second-ever Olympic gold medal and first in a team sport.
Having won the world championships, Serbian coach Dejan Savic said before the tournament "we will only be satisfied with winning the gold medal.”
“We have won everything else, now we want this,” Savic added. “Every competition before Rio was one step closer to this goal…We feel the pressure, especially from the Serbian media and newspapers. They are waiting to cut the head off from our team if we don't win the gold.”
Savic’s team came through in the second half of the tournament. After starting 0-1-2, Serbia scored 52 goals in their final five games, outscoring opponents by 38 goals in that span.
Dusan Mandic scored four goals on six shots to lead Serbia Saturday. Dusko Pijetlovic and Filip Filipovic added two goals each. Goalkeeper Branislav Mitrovic saved 12 of 19 shots his way, including seven of 10 from beyond five meters, and five of seven extra player shots attempts.
Croatia has now gone nearly six years since defeating Serbia in a men’s water polo tournament, a streak dating back to September 2010 in the semifinals of the European Championships. The defending gold medalists will now take home silver for the second time, the other being the 1996 Olympics.
Croatian goalkeeper Marko Bijac saved just four of the ten shots that came his way in the first half, and finished with just five saves on 13 shots on the day. Backup goalkeeper Josip Pavic also struggled, saving just two of five shots.
Sandro Sukno had three goals on six shots for Croatia, and Javier Gadea added two goals on sixshots. Croatia made just three of 18 shots from beyond five meters.