Italy set up Croatia clash
Defending world champions upset the odds to beat Serbs
Last Updated: 10/08/12 10:46pm
Italy celebrate against Serbia
Italy stunned pre-tournament favourites Serbia 9-7 to book a place in men's Olympic water polo final against Croatia.
The reigning world champions now have the chance to win their fourth Olympic crown - but first since Barcelona 20 years ago - while the Balkan team will face arch rivals Montenegro in a repeat of the Beijing bronze medal match, which they won.
A strong start proved decisive for the Italians, after they forged a two-goal lead in the first quarter.
Serbia battled to claw back the deficit in the remaining three periods, but Italy went on to reclaim that two-goal margin by full-time.
The Italians opened the scoring in the first minute of the match but the Balkan side equalised soon after.
Serbia thwarted an Italy power-play before breaking to score one of their own through captain Vanja Udovicic. The Italians did convert a man-up to draw level, then two long-range deflected shots found their way into the Serbia goal to give the world champions a two-goal lead at the end of the first period.
The European champions had chances to score early in the second period, but two long-distance shots were saved and another rattled the woodwork.
Instead Italy struck first to take the score to 5-2.
Serbia responded by firing home a man-up opportunity and prevented the Italians from converting a power-play of their own. Again the Serbs were denied by the woodwork, and again their defence stood firm to hold off an Italian man-up.
The sides traded extra-player goals in the final 70 seconds of the half to go into the break at 6-4 to Italy. Serbia fired in the first goal of the third period with a power-play to come within one score of their opponents, but Italy scored a man-up to restore the two-goal cushion.
The Balkan side should have netted twice from extra-player situations, but one close-range effort rattled against the upright, while another was saved by the head of the Italy goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti.
A back-shot from centre-forward Danijel Premus in the dying seconds of the period gave Italy a three-goal lead.
A crucial Serbia man-up in the opening minutes of the fourth period kept them in the hunt, and strong defensive displays against two Italian power-plays stopped their opponents from scoring.
But a goal for Italy went three up with 70 seconds remaining, and despite a Serbia goal in the last minute, Tempesti was kissing the ball in celebration before the final whistle.
Valentino Gallo netted a hat-trick for the winners, while Maurizio Felugo bagged a brace, Amaurys Perez, Alex Giorgetti, Christian Presciutti and Premus scored one each. Udovicic scored a hat-trick for Serbia, as Slobodan Nikic, Milan Aleksic, Filip Filipovic and Andrija Prlainovic each scored once.
Earlier Croatia edged out rivals Montenegro 7-5 in a pulsating clash.
A commanding performance from the Atlanta runners-up will give them the opportunity to win their first water polo gold medal as an independent country on Sunday.
The 7-5 win over their Balkan neighbours - in a match that meant more than just the action in the pool - extends Croatia's 100% record in the London 2012 tournament to seven wins from seven.
They were strong in defence and ruthless in attack, and the scoreline flattered Montenegro, who were wasteful in possession.
Croatia - known as the Barracudas - powered to a four-goal lead at half-time.
Montenegro - who call themselves the Red Sharks - rallied in the second half to outscore their opponents by two, but they never looked capable of clawing back the deficit.
Montenegro had 31 shots to score their five goals (16.1%), compared to Croatia's 24 for their seven scores (29.2%).
Sandro Sukno bagged a brace for the winners, as Damir Buric, Miho Boskovic, Petar Muslim, Ivan Buljubasic and Andro Buslje scored one each. Aleksandar Ivovic and Vladimir Gojkovic scored twice each for Montenegro, while Boris Zlokovic fired in once.