Penalties decided the Budapest 2022 FINA World Championships men’s water polo crown after defending champion Italy came back from 9-6 down in the final quarter to force the shootout after equalising two minutes from time. The fairytale of back-to-back titles did not eventuate as Spain became a three-time champion with a 15-14 victory in sudden-death penalty shootout. For Spain, it came a long time after the previous titles of Perth 1998 and Fukuoka 2001.
ITALY 14 SPAIN 15 in sudden-death penalty shootout (FT: 9-9. Pens: 5-6)
This was a world class match between two class team who faced each other in the Gwangju 2019 final with Spain emerging the winner. In the round matches, Spain finished 14-12 and it was a repeat tonight but the 15-14 margin was a sudden-death affair. Both teams missed a chance in the five-goal-per-team rotation to enter sudden death. As Spain was the first shooter, it sent in the first two and Italy one. Then Giacomo Canella had his shot rejected by Unai Aguirre and Spain was the champion for the first time in 21 years. Ironically, it will defend its crown in Fukuoka next year when the next edition is staged. Spain could have been forgiven for wanting to celebrate victory much earlier. It led 2-0 and 3-1 early before finishing the first period 3-3. A shutout in the second quarter was telling as Spain raced to 6-3 at the long break. It advanced to 7-3 thanks to captain Felipe Perrone. Italy won the next segment 3-1 to close two goals behind at the final break. Spain punched another goal and the three-goal margin was tantalisingly close to the gold medal. Italy would have none of that and the magical Francesco di Fulvio converted a penalty that appeared to come from an errant button push by the Spanish team when not in possession. You have to own the ball before calling a timeout. Eduardo di Somma felt the pressure too much and was red-carded from the water, leaving Italy one short. Vincenzo Dolce received a rebound ball and scored from deep left for 9-8. Then that master of the long shot, short and everything in between — di Fulvio — blasted from the top at 2:03 for 9-9, which proved to be the deciding factor in the shootout. It was there that Spain excelled and took home the top prize.