In these World Cups in Budapest in which the Spanish difficulties in the pool have been more than evident -barely the bronze in the synchronized highlight modality-, water polo appears as the usual hope. The responsibility in this case falls on David Martín’s men’s team, silver in Barcelona ’18, Gwangju ’19 and Budapest ’21, fourth in the last Games, and with arguments to finally storm the roof. In the first major tournament without the historic Dani López Pinedo, a 19-year-old boy named Unai Aguirre continues to grow under the sticks. A goalkeeper with the reflexes and charisma of whom he feels special.

Unai Aguirre’s saves and howls of encouragement were the common thread of yesterday’s competitive victory for Spain against Montenegro (7-6) who had the tie in their hands in the same twilight. But Durdic, the most incisive player of the Balkans, ran into the Spanish goalkeeper, the lock of a team that says they are ready to finally attack that gold that resists so much. Spain, in fact, still has to look back and recreate the mythology of that team defended by Jesús Rollán, World Champion in Perth ’98 and Fukuoka ’01.

Before, yes, Spain must save two more steps. The first will be this Friday (9:00 p.m.) in the semifinals that will face Croatia, which yesterday left Serbia (12-14), double Olympic champion in Rio and Tokyo, in the ditch. The Croatians, indecipherable in their game of volcanic appearance, already fell against the Spanish in the semifinals of the last World Cup in Gwuangju, where they won the bronze medal. In the last Olympic Games, yes, they did not manage to pass the quarterfinals.

In any case, this selection by David Martín, in which the youngsters have acquired the appropriate weight and leadership to cross the last frontier, is showing in Budapest that he is willing to suffer. The memorable comeback against Italy in the first phase already avoided the round of 16 to meet Montenegro in the quarterfinals yesterday. And the Balkans, who appeared assuming a presumed inferiority -they beat Japan in the round of 16 by a single goal (10-9)-, managed to squeeze as much as they could from the Spanish team.

And that David Martín’s men got up early in the duel with the confidence that the first two goals from Famera and Munarriz should have granted -who, by the way, did not score again against the uncomfortable rival defense-. But while Unai Aguirre kissed the ball after his first big save, the Montenegrins knew how to oppose very similar arguments. Lazovic was huge in goal (2-1 at the end of the first period), and Montenegro did not allow Spain to extend their lead beyond two goals (5-3 at the end of the second quarter). Álvaro Granados, usual offensive argument, would also be nailed to a goal.

The only time that Spain sensed some calm was thanks to the goal with which Cabanas opened the third quarter (6-3). But Durdic was there to deny the escape. First, with two consecutive goals that tightened the game; then, with a surreal mischief when touching the ball just before Sanahuja was about to shoot a penalty. Despite the indignation of the Spanish bench, there was no response from the referees or from the VAR, also incomprehensible in the aquatic environment.

A whiplash from Blai Mallarach could well have sealed the standings four minutes from the end. But there was no way to celebrate anything until Unai Aguirre lowered the blind 15 seconds from the end.

With the Spanish men’s team surpassing the quarterfinals again, a round that they have been saving since the 2018 European Championship, the delegation finds some relief in a World Cup where disappointments have accumulated. Miki Oca’s women’s team, conditioned by a setback against Greece in the group stage, was already removed from the metals last Tuesday against the unaffordable United States. Meanwhile, Adrián Abadía and Alberto Arévalo close this Thursday their participation in jumps from the one-meter springboard, where the options are minimal.

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