New Zealand won its first ever U21 world title while Spain took its first gold medal for almost 20 years in a gripping day of action at the 14th ICF Canoe Polo World Championships in France on Saturday.

In two finals befitting their status as deciding matches at a world championships, hot favourites New Zealand outlasted a spirited German team to take the U21 women’s title 3-2, while Spain caused a minor upset by beating a highly-rated German team in extra time, 5-4, to secure their first U21 men’s title since 2004.

It was the first ever gold medal for New Zealand in the women’s U21, and they had to beat a team who has won the title in five of the six years it’s been contested to get there. The team from Oceania showed they meant business from the first day of competition, beating both France and Germany in the preliminary rounds, and handing out double-figure thrashings to almost every other team.

They opened the scoring in the final, and were never headed, although a last minute German flurry caused some anxious moments for the New Zealand players and fans.

Rewatch U21 women's final: New Zealand v Germany

“It feels pretty bloody good right now,” New Zealand captain Kate Blincoe said.

“We knew we had to give everything we could, we knew the Germans were going to fight hard right to the end. We had a game plan for those last couple of minutes by losing a couple of paddles, but we did what we needed to.

“I’d go as far as to say we’re sisters, we’re super tight, and that’s the key to our success. We’re just a great bunch of girls and an awesome team.”

Spain won U21 men’s gold in 2004, and followed up with a bronze two years later, but has not won a medal since. On Saturday they first survived a hard-fought and feisty semi-final against Italy, and then went in as underdogs but emerged triumphant against a German team who had not lost a game all week.

The two teams traded goals during regular time, leaving the score locked at 4-all at the end of the second half. The Spanish started extra time with a player in the sin bin, but scrapped their way through the opening minutes, before firing the shot that brought home the gold.

Rewatch U21 men's final: Spain v Germany

“It was a very tough game, German is a very good team with very strong players,” Spanish captain Pablo Garcia Puig said.

“But I think we played the right game and showed everyone how we could play. It’s always difficult being one less on the pitch, but we always love the golden goal because we have very strong shooters.

“I always know we are very confident going into golden goal. I love my team, we’ve been together for a long time, there’s only three new players so I think we did well together.”

A capacity crowd hoping to witness French medals were left disappointed, with the U21 men’s team failing to make the top four, and the U21 women’s team suffering a surprise loss to a young Spanish team 4-1 in the bronze medal play-off.

Rewatch U21 women's 3rd place: Spain v France

Italy won a third consecutive men’s U21 bronze medal and their fifth overall by beating Poland 5-4, also in extra time.

Rewatch U21 men's 3rd place: Italy v Poland

Sunday will see gold medals decided in the men’s and women’s competitions.

Pics by Balint Vekassy

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