Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Spain produced the biggest upset of the season so far as they stunned the Olympic title holder Serbian team with a convincing performance in the quarter-finals of the World League Europa Cup finals in Zagreb. The Spaniards is to meet host Croatia which downed Greece in the second half. The other semi-final will feature a golden oldie with Hungary and Italy. The Magyars managed to take some revenge against their nemesis Montenegro while Italy had to come back from 6-8 down against the Russians but a 5-0 rush put them back on track.

The opening day was right away the most crucial one at the FINA/LEN World League Europa Cup as for four teams the ‘beneficial part’ of the journey ended right here on Friday in the famous Mladost pool. The losers in the quarter-final couldn’t dream on grabbing the first Olympic berth on offer – only the winners kept the chance to fight on for a place in the Tokyo tourney (except for the Serbs, as the hosts of the Super Final in June).

Hungary's defence at work: Montenegrins – pictured: Alexandar Ivovic with the ball – found it hard to find the holes on the wall - Credit: Dino Ninkovic

In the first battle Hungary and Montenegro put up a brilliant fight. The Hungarians took control towards the end of the first period with a quick double and soon enjoyed a three-goal lead but their rivals came back and trailed by one at half-time and before the third period (7-6) too. Still, the equaliser never came and at 8-6 the outcome was virtually decided when Vladan Spaic punched his defender and referees immediately threw him out with a 4min suspension for brutality. Playing 6 on 5 for four minutes with 5:20 to go secured the Magyars’ win who staged a 3-0 rush during this period.

Next came the re-match of last year’s European Championship final between Spain and Serbia. Back then the Serbs edged out their rivals in a penalty shootout but this time the favourites fell to the Spaniards who offered a sparkling display of attacking water polo while the Serbian players struggled in the back and also with adapting to the new rules. Still, after being four goals down at 13-9 with 5:46 to go, the Olympic title-holder had a late surge and after 13-12 they had four shots in two possessions to save the game to a shootout but this time luck wasn’t on their side.

The Spanish offence was pretty effective against the favourite Serbs

Italy had fond memories from Barcelona when they trounced the Russians 11-1 in the Europeans quarters – however, this time it was a totally different ballgame. The Italians lacked the edge for a while and even if they led 6-4 late in the second period, deep into the third they looked a bit hopeless as Russia went 6-8 up. However, the Russians faded in the fourth, couldn't score for 10:29 minutes and during that phase the Settebello netted five goals to win the game.

Francesco di Fulvio in action

In the fourth match Greece kept up for a while against Croatia, it was tied after two periods but the host side managed to take the upper hand in the third as they jumped to a three-goal lead and never looked back.

Since Serbia enjoys a guaranteed place in the Super Final as the host, only the winners of the Saturday semis will secure their SF berths while the bronze medal match on Sunday shall be a heated battle for the last spot.

Schedule for Saturday

Games for 5-8th places

15.00 Montenegro v Russia

16.45 Serbia v Greece

Semi-finals

18.30 Hungary v Italy

20.15 Spain v Croatia