TOKYO (AP) — Filip Filipovic and Serbia draped the country's flag over one of the goals at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Then they huddled in the water and yelled “Serbia!” in celebration.
They followed their winning formula all the way to the end — of an era.
Nikola Jaksic scored three goals on three shots and Filipovic made several big plays, helping Serbia beat Greece 13-10 in the men’s water polo final at the Tokyo Games on Sunday.
“I am emotionally empty, just done. It was just an amazing journey," coach Dejan Savic said.
Serbia became the first country to repeat as Olympic champion since Hungary won three in a row from 2000 to 2008. It earned its fourth medal in its fourth appearance in the Olympics’ oldest team sport.
And it will never look the same again.
Filipovic, still a big-time force at age 34, said he is among seven players who are retiring from the national team. He plans to join Olympiacos next month, where he will play for Greece coach Theodoros Vlachos, but the gold medal victory was his last game for Serbia.
“This was for most of us the last dance, and I think we showed how we did it for the very end,” Filipovic said.
Dimitrios Skoumpakis, captain Ioannis Fountoulis and Angelos Vlachopoulos scored two goals apiece for Greece, which earned its first medal in men’s water polo. Its previous best finish was fourth in 2004 in Athens.
“For us, it's very, very important,” Vlachos said. “It's our first medal in Olympic Games, and we are happy.”
Greece also matched the country’s best result in a team sport at the Olympics, joining a silver medal in women’s water polo at the Athens Games.
It was a surprising run for Fountoulis and company, and the Greeks pushed Filipovic and the mighty Serbs deep into the fourth before fading. The teams exchanged hugs in the pool when it was over.
“It's not easy to play against Serbia,” Vlachos said. “Serbia, last two games, semifinal and final, really is the real Serbia. So they deserve it."
Serbia learned some valuable lessons while winning bronze medals in 2008 and 2012, namely how to pace itself during the grueling tournament. It finished fourth in its group at the Rio de Janeiro Games, and then muscled its way to its first Olympic title.
Five years later, it was more of the same.
Serbia split its first four games in Tokyo and finished third in Group B, but it raised its game to another level when the quarterfinals rolled around. Filipovic’s tiebreaking goal with 26 seconds left put Serbia back in the final with a dramatic 10-9 victory over Spain on Friday.
“The important thing is that we believed from the very beginning,” Filipovic said. “We believed even when we lost these two games. We believed that we are here not to just take participation, but we came here to do some great things.”
That they did.
It looked as if Serbia might roll right over Greece when it jumped out to a 6-3 lead. But Alexandros Papanastasiou tied it at 7 with 4:05 left in the first half.
It was tied at 10 with 7:23 left when Serbia began to pull away for good.
Andrija Prlainovic converted a penalty shot and Jaksic scored a power-play goal. Mandic made it 13-10 when he scored on a powerful throw with 4:08 remaining, and then celebrated by head-butting a jubilant Filipovic.
“We definitely weren’t ourselves in there today," Greece's Konstantinos Genidounias said.
Mandic and Prlainovic also scored three times for Serbia, and Filipovic had two goals. Branislav Mitrovic made eight saves.
“It's the end. We've done it,” Mandic said. “Our dreams came true once again, and it's an incredible moment."
Viktor Nagy led Hungary to the bronze medal in his last game, making eight saves in a 9-5 victory over Spain.
Marton Vamos scored two goals as Hungary rebounded from a disappointing 9-6 loss to Greece in the semifinals.
Hungary is the winningest program in men’s water polo with nine golds, but the bronze in Tokyo was its first medal since its run of three straight Olympic titles from 2000 to 2008. It finished fifth in London and Rio de Janeiro.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
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