LONDON (Reuters) - Montenegro beat Spain 11-9 to book a place in the semi-finals of the men’s water polo tournament, giving the country a shot at winning its first Olympic medal as an independent nation.
Gold-medal favorites Serbia also qualified for the semi-finals after narrowly avoiding a huge upset. They trailed Australia right until the final four minutes of the match before winning 11-8.
Montenegro cruised through the middle periods of the game before letting a four-goal lead slip in a tense fourth quarter as Spain capitalized on their extra-player situations.
Competing in its first Olympics as an independent country since it separated from Serbia in 2006, Montenegro narrowly lost out on the bronze to take fourth place in Beijing.
“I don’t want to be one more time fourth, I want to take a medal. It’s very important for us to take a medal,” Montenegrin captain Nikola Janovic said after the win.
The team was cheered on in the stands by Prime Minister Igor Luksic earlier on in the tournament, who spent his holiday in London watching the country’s teams compete in water polo and handball, such is his desire for a medal for Montenegro.
Montenegro will play either Croatia or the U.S., who meet in a quarter final match later on Wednesday, in the semi-finals scheduled for Friday.
“We must be a little crazy. It’s the moment. It’s one moment (of) inspiration,” said Janovic when asked how his team will win their next match and guarantee a shot at the gold medal.
Spain, who last medaled in the water polo in 1996 when they took home gold, lost at the same stage of the tournament in 2008.
Serbia made a lackluster start against Australia and trailed 8-6 at the end of the third quarter but roared back to life with a torrent of goals.
They will meet either Hungary or Italy, who play later on Wednesday, in the semi-final scheduled for Friday.
Serbia, who won bronze in Beijing but have spent the last four years on a roll, winning every major water polo title on offer, are favorites to win the tournament after an unbeaten run so far.
Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Mark Meadows and Nigel Hunt