The tension surrounding the final threatened to boil over throughout, and did so at the end of the first period of extra time, which had just seen two goals in less than 30 seconds. Scuffles involving the players broke out at the poolside.
The two coaches, Spain's Dragan Matutinovic, a Croatian, and his Italian counterpart, Ratko Rudic, who was born in Serbian Belgrade, both played down the extra-time fracas as just being part of the game. 'I like that. If not it would be boring,' Matutinovic said. 'As far as I'm concerned the best team won and that's that.'
His players thought they had added to their nation's hugely successful Games with just 30 seconds left of the first period of extra time when they converted a penalty to go into the lead for the first time in the match at 8-7, but the Italians salvaged an equaliser with the last throw of the period.
Another two periods of extra time of three minutes each way were needed to settle the medals. With 32 seconds remaining in the second half of the third period of extra time, Fernando Gandolfi scored for Italy. Even that was not the end of the excitement as a desperate Spanish shot hit the post three seconds from the end.
The man who did most to bring Italy the gold was Massimiliano Ferretti, who scored four goals. Spain were left with the consolation of bringing home their first water polo medal since the sport came into the Games in 1900.
Earlier, the Unified Team, who had won every game in the qualifying competition but lost to the Italians in the semi-final, beat the United States 8-4 to take the bronze medal.Reuse content