France-Croatia (16-17): the Blues beaten at the end of the suspense in the semi-final of the 2024 Water Polo World Cup

France-Croatia (16-17): the Blues beaten at the end of the suspense in the semi-final of the 2024 Water Polo World Cup

The shot came so close… The Blues lost at the end of the suspense in the semi-final of the World Cup in Qatar. We had to wait for the cruel penalty shootout to see Croatia, one of the great nations of the discipline, snatch its ticket for the final against Italy, winner of Spain (8-6) in the ‘other half.

From the start of the match, the Croatians took charge. We’ve barely been playing for thirty seconds and Kharkov opens the scoring. Then Croatia comes away 2-0. On the French side, we mainly hit the crossbar and we relied on two good saves from Fontani to not let ourselves be left behind. And we are counting on the “Mbappé” of French water polo, Thomas Vernoux, to make the difference. The competition’s top scorer was quick to score with a beautiful top corner for the 23rd time in the Qatari fortnight. His cousin Romain Marion-Vernoux allows the Blues to turn with only one goal behind (2-3) at the end of the first quarter.

Then to come back to level at the start of the second with a magnificent shot from seven meters (3-3). Without playing their best, Florian Bruzzo’s men remain in contact with the checkered cups (4-4). At 4-5, a reflex save from Fontani prevented Croatia from taking off and Bjorch managed to equalize (5-5). Fontani even worked miracles at 5-6 by emerging victorious with a point-blank shot after a quick counter-attack.

Thanks to him, France, rather clumsy in front of the cage, reached the break with a rather flattering delay of just one goal. A much less uncomfortable position than in the quarter-final, where Ugo Crousillat’s teammates suffered a loss of four goals (3-7) before achieving the feat against the Hungarians.

At the start of the 3rd quarter, the French lost a lot of balls, the Croats dominated but did not manage to widen too big a gap because of a great Fontani. But a penalty conceded by Crousillat (excluded for the occasion after a third yellow card) and a goal seven seconds from the buzzer allowed Croatia to take a three-point lead (6-9) before the final period.

The Blues equalize 15 seconds from the end

At the start of the last quarter, Alexandre Bouet gives the Tricolores hope with a counter (7-9). Then Khasz puts the Blues back in orbit closely (8-9). In the process, Rubic allows his team to get some fresh air (8-10). The suspense is total, the tension is more than palpable and a penalty from Thomas Vernoux revives the French (9-10). Then Bouet offers the equalizer (10-10). With 52 seconds remaining, Fatovic thought he had given the victory to the Croatians but Khasz snatched the penalty with only 15 seconds remaining on the clock at the Aspire Dome (11-11). But this time, fate will not be favorable to the Blues…

“I’m very sad, it’s really difficult to lose like that,” said Alexandre Bouet, elected man of the match. But we still have a medal to go for, whether here (bronze against Spain) or in Paris…”


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