Montenegro booked their spot in the men’s Rio 2016 water polo tournament and set up a European Championship final date with their neighbours Serbia after winning their semi-final clash 8-5 against Hungary in Belgrade.
With the host nation having booked their place in the gold medal match yesterday, the second semi-final had the additional spice of being an Olympic qualifier, as Serbia had already earned a berth due to winning the International Swimming Federation (FINA) World League last year.
Under FINA rules, the winners of the tournament earn a Rio spot with that place then passed to the next ranked team should the champions have already made it.
Hungary, the record 12-time winners, went into the contest as marginal favourites having remained unbeaten throughout the competition at the Kombank Arena, while their opponents had tasted defeat in the group phase.
Predictions of a close match proved entirely justified with the opening quarter seeing the teams locked at 2-2, but the Montenegrin team were able to edge into a 4-3 lead by half-time.
Defences remained on top for the majority of the match but the crowd were left expecting a grandstand finish when Nobert Hosnyanszky scored for Hungary to draw the scores level at 5-5 at the start of the fourth and final quarter.
Having tasted defeat to Hungary in the 2013 World Championship final and at the Beijing 2008 Olympic semi-finals, Aleksandar Ivovic was able to gain revenge after producing a superb performance in the dying minutes.
The 2015 Montenegrin Sportsman of the Year struck twice, either side of an effort from Nikola Vukcevic, to give his team an 8-5 victory.
It set up a repeat of the 2008 final, won by Montenegro, and the 2012 gold medal match in Eindhoven.
The latter meeting between the two nations, which existed as a union until 2006, was the first of two consecutive tournament wins for Serbia, who will vie for a third straight win in front of a home crowd.
Hungary will now meet Greece in the bronze medal match with their Rio hopes resting on a repechage tournament.
Meanwhile in the women’s draw, The Netherlands claimed revenge for the 2014 final by knocking out the defending champions Spain in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
The Dutch team looked set to reach the final in the fourth period having been 9-7 in front heading into the last seven minutes, but two late goals from Spain’s Beatriz Ortiz forced them to face a shoot-out.
Ultimately, Laura Aarts was the hero for the Dutch as she saved from Clara Espar and Maria Del Pilar Pena to give her team a 15-14 win.
They will meet 2012 and 2014 bronze medallists Hungary in the gold medal match, after they overcame Italy 10-5 in their semi-final.
The winners of tomorrow’s gold medal match will book a place at Rio 2016, with the losers joining Italy, Spain and the fifth place team at the Women's Water Polo Olympic Qualification Tournament in The Netherlands, during March.