LONDON (AFP) –
Croatia won their first Olympic Games gold medal in the men’s water polo with an 8-6 win over Italy in the final on Sunday.
Croatia remained unbeaten in the tournament to go one better than their silver medal at Atlanta in 1996 when they beat Italy in the semi-final.
The Italians were bidding for their fourth Olympic title but after scoring the opening two goals they were outplayed by Croatia, who led 8-4 before two late consolation goals tightened the final margin.
Croatia were led by Maro Jokovic with three goals and a double from Miho Boskovic, while Maurizio Felugo, chosen in the all-stars team from the London tournament, scored three times for Italy.
It was a personal triumph for Croatia’s Ratko Rudic, who became the first water polo coach to win four Olympic titles, two of them with the former Yugoslavia in 1984 and 1988 and another with Italy in 1992.
“The gold medal is the reward for our high level of play,” Rudic said.
“We had eight wins out of eight matches. I can’t remember any Olympic tournament where the winner was so dominant. This is a result of hard work by a team who spend days and nights analysing the opponents with great enthusiasm.”
Defender Sandro Sukno said Croatia had much to be proud about overall at the London Olympics.
“A nation of only four million people has won six Olympic medals in London. Not many countries can say that,” Sukno said.
Felugo said Italy’s young team would only get better for the next Olympics in Rio in 2016.
“We are very pleased with silver, however there is a slight element of disappointment as we dreamed of gold,” Felugo said.
“But we are a young team and we have only been together for three years. We will be back in Rio.”
The Italians led 2-0 after goals from Valentino Gallo and Felugo before Croatia replied through Ivan Buljubasic with 1:34 left in the opening quarter.
Italian goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti backed up his defence with a couple of instinctive saves to deny Croatia in the opening term.
Croatia had a stronger second quarter to lead 3-2 after goals from Jokovic and Samir Barac from long distance.
Boskovic put Croatia in command with two goals after Felugo had scored his second for Italy.
Boskovic scored with an extra player shot and converted a penalty after Gallo committed a penalty foul.
Croatia took a two-goal cushion into the final quarter and stormed to a 7-3 lead with a brace from Jokovic before Alex Giorgetti pulled one back.
Sukno scored with 3:14 left before the Italians found the net with the last two goals from Christian Presciutti and Felugo.
“Today we played an amazing match. We played at about 99 percent. Croatia is not an easy team,” Italy coach Alessandro Campagna said.
“We didn’t finish our opportunities in attack and some small details didn’t work out. This made the difference. It’s a pity.”
Serbia earlier won the bronze medal with a come from behind 12-11 win over Montenegro.
Serbia clawed back from 11-8 down to net the next four goals unanswered to follow up their bronze medal win over Montenegro in Beijing four years ago.
Filip Filipovic was Serbia’s hero with two of his three goals coming in the final minutes of a combustible match with both Serbia’s coach Dejan Udovicic and his assistant receiving red cards as tensions boiled over.