Water Polo: Hungarian Men Win First European Championship Title in 21 Years After Penalty Shoot-out

Hungary clinched their first men’s European title in 21 years at the 2020 European Water Polo Championships. In addition to winning the title, the nation has also booked their spot to the Olympics. Overall, 16 nations competed in four groups of four with the group winner advancing directly to the quarter-finals while the second and third place teams played in a play-off match. The European Water Polo Championships is was held in Budapest, Hungary from January 12th to January 26th 2020.

World Championship bronze medalist Croatia went undefeated to win Group A which included stopping a comeback attempt by Montenegro in an 11-10 narrow victory. Montenegro finished second while Germany also advanced thanks to an 8-5 victory over Slovakia.

Defending Olympic champion Serbia was the top nation in Group B as they went undefeated. A tie-breaker was needed to determine the other advancing teams. The remaining teams finished with 1-2 records due to the Netherlands defeating Romania (9-8), Romania defeating Russia (11-10) and Russia defeating the Netherlands (15-9). Due to having the best goal differential between tied teams Russia (+5) advanced in second place along with Romania (even) who finished third.

An 11-11 draw between host nation Hungary and World Championship silver medalist Spain meant Group C was decided based on goal differential between the entire group. Hungary held a +40 differential meaning they finished first while Spain (+33) finished second. Also advancing to the play-offs was Turkey who was able to defeat Malta 13-10.

Group D was topped by defending World Champion Italy as they went undefeated to advance directly to the quarter-finals. Also advancing was Greece who had victories over Georgia (17-10) and France (12-10) and Georgia who finished third thanks to a 9-7 win over France during the first set of matches.

While the play-off round did not see any seeding upsets it was not an easy win for some of them. Russia needed to hold off a fourth quarter push by Georgia in order to win their match 14-13 while Greece had early struggles against Romania where they were down 5-4 at half-time, but scoring six unanswered goals during the third quarter allowed the nation to go on to win comfortably 14-7. The other two matches were won by Montenegro and Spain who defeated Turkey (17-6) and Germany (12-6) respectively.

The quarter-finals began with defeats to the defending World and Olympic champions. Italy lost to Montenegro 10-8 while Serbia lost in a penalty shoot-out 4-3 to Spain after drawing the nation 6-6. Also securing victories to the semi-finals were Hungary and Croatia who scored victories over Russia (14-10) and Greece (14-11) respectively.

The first semi-final match between Croatia and Spain was a very cagey affair with neither nation giving up more than a two-goal lead. Going into the final quarter the match was tied 6-6, Spain would go on to win the match 9-8 to advance to their second straight final. Joining them was Hungary who held off a late comeback attempt by Montenegro to win the match 10-8. As Spain already qualified to the Olympics, this meant Hungary qualified to the games regardless of the result in the final.

A very defensive final between Hungary and Spain saw lead changes between the two nations, but ultimately ended in a 9-9 draw. The title was decided via penalty shoot-outs where Hungary scored all five of their shots while Spain was unsuccessful in their final shot, giving Hungary its first men’s European title since 1999. The bronze medal was won by Montenegro who defeated Croatia 10-9.

Non-qualified teams will have one more opportunity to qualify to the Olympics via the World Olympic Qualification Tournament to be held in March.

Men’s Tournament
* Hungary

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