RIO DE JANEIRO — Serbia’s rough start to the Olympics seems like a long time ago now. Filip Filipovic and company are headed to the men’s water polo final, and they got a little revenge along the way.
Filipovic, Andrija Prlainovic and Slobodan Nikic scored two goals apiece, and Serbia shut down Italy for a 10-8 victory in the semifinals on Thursday.
Serbia was a heavy favorite coming into the tournament, but the world champions played to a draw in each of their first two games and then lost 6-5 to Brazil. It recovered with four straight victories, beginning with a tight 10-8 win against Australia that played a key role in the water polo-crazy country making it out of the preliminary round at all.
Serbia also had a chance to get to the final in London, but lost 9-7 to Italy and had to settle for its second straight bronze.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Nikic said. “After four years, waiting, and then again playing against Italy for the semifinal, it was big revenge for us.”
Next up is a showdown with defending Olympic champion Croatia, which advanced with a 12-8 victory over Montenegro in the first semifinal. The countries also met in the world championship final last year, with Serbia winning 11-4 in Russia.
It was the highest scoring game in Rio for Croatia, which was coming off a 10-6 victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals. Croatia also beat Montenegro 7-5 in the semifinals of the London Games.
“It’s amazing, of course,” goaltender Marko Bijac said. “I think we still don’t think we know what we have done here, but for sure we don’t want to stop here.”
Serbia grabbed control of its semifinal by scoring the first six goals, shutting out Italy all the way to Valentino Gallo’s goal with 1:52 left in the second quarter.
“Our defense was perfect today,” Nikic said.
Gallo, Christian Presciutti and Alessandro Velotto had two goals apiece for Italy, which beat Greece 9-5 in the quarterfinals.
“I didn’t like our approach to the game,” Italy coach Alessandro Campagna said. “They play hard on defense, for sure. We knew that. But we play a little shy.”
Croatia had to go with 12 players after Damir Buric was suspended for one match due to a brutality call in the victory over Brazil. But Andro Buslje and Andelo Setka combined for four goals in the fourth quarter, helping Croatia turn away every push by the Red Sharks.
“We played without one player. It was more difficult, yeah, but finally every player (gave) his 120 percent and finally we played very (good) game,” Croatia driver Javier Garcia Gadea said.
Darko Brguljan and Aleksandar Ivovic had three goals apiece for Montenegro, which finished fourth in each of the previous two Olympics. Milos Scepanovic, who made a couple of big plays in Montenegro’s 13-11 win over Hungary in the quarterfinals, had just two stops.
“We concede maybe seven, eight goals a game. Today we concede seven goals in the first half,” Montenegro coach Vladimir Gojkovic said.
“If we want to win a medal we must play defense on level (with) how we play until this game.”
Montenegro got within two goals twice down the stretch, but Setka responded each time for Croatia. Setka’s power-play goal with 2:44 left made it 11-8. Buslje capped the scoring with a long range shot with 1:13 remaining.