Croatia won gold in the men’s water polo, overpowering Italy 8-6 to take home their first Olympic title in the sport and ending an era of Hungarian domination.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. We’ve waited so long for this medal, thank God it’s a gold,” Croatia’s Maro Jokovic said.
Croatia, who were unbeaten in the tournament, celebrated in style, with their coaches jumping fully clothed into the pool and sitting on the floating goal until it collapsed, as they clapped and cheered supporters in the crowd.
“What an amazing feeling. I can’t explain this. This is the top of the top,” said captain Samir Barac, 38, who retires from the sport after winning gold in his fourth Games.
Croatia’s victory marks the end of the Hungarian dominance of the sport after a run of three successive Olympic titles.
The bronze medal went to Serbia for the second time in a row after they beat Montenegro earlier in a 12-11 thriller.
Serbia turned around a three-goal deficit and scored in the last minute to take third place in a tournament where the Balkan-based countries showed their mettle.
Croatia ran away with the final in the second half, shutting down an Italian team who were not the slick machine they had been in the semis and who struggled to find a way past the tournament’s top-ranked goalkeeper, Croatia’s Josip Pavic.
“We fell into their provocations. They were trying to play a physical match. We decided to play along with them and it just didn’t work out,” Italy’s Pietro Figlioli said.
Croatia, like the other teams from the former Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, are renowned for their physical and aggressive style.
“It only takes one game to lose the gold and that was the one unfortunately,” Figlioli said.
Italy, the world champions, had a tough route to the finals, having to overcome favorites Serbia in the semis and Hungary in the quarters.
“We spent all our energy for Hungary and for Serbia, and in the final, maybe, we were a little bit tired, and they have easier rounds and maybe in the final they arrive less tired than us,” Italy’s Valentino Gallo said. “They are strong in every part of the game. They are the best team for sure.”
Both teams featured on the podium for the first time since 1996, when Croatia won silver and Italy took home the bronze.
The final was trumped by the bronze match for drama and excitement. A repeat of the outcome of the third-place game in Beijing, it was an intense physical clash in which emotions ran high.
“This bronze medal is more shiny for us than if we had got into the final and lost against an opponent,” Serbia’s Filip Filipovic said.