Serbia thrashed water polo rivals Croatia 11-7 in the men's final Saturday, winning the country's first Olympic gold since the two neighbours split apart during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

"It feels like the whole team has reached eternity. These guys are unbelievable and this is a unique team," said Serbian top-scorer Dusan Mandic, who delivered four goals in the final.

The Balkan final took place amid renewed political tensions between the former Yugoslav sister republics-turned-foes, but this element did not figure in media reactions to the match, apart from readers' comments.

"Rulers of everything - water polo boys walk over Croatia to reach gold in Rio," the Serbian news portal B92 wrote.

"I still can't believe what just happened. We are the world, European and now Olympic champions. There is no better feeling and we are just in shock," Mandic said.

Serbia headed into the Balkan final as the favourites, having won six of the seven major events staged in water polo since the last Olympics four years ago.

In the final, 2012 Olympic champions Croatia managed to equalize after Serbia's early first goal, but the Serbs retook and expanded the lead up to 11-6 in the fourth quarter.

Croatia continued to fight until the end and reduced the debacle to 11-7 with a long-distance shot, less than three minutes before the end of the match.

Serbia had also beat Croatia 11-4 in the final of last year's worlds.

"Right now we have a very young team," Croatian coach Ivica Tucak said.

"I believe that 10 or 11 players on this team will play in Tokyo," he added, referring to the next Olympics in 2020. "I'm very optimistic about our chances in Tokyo."

Italy walked away with the bronze medal Saturday after beating Montenegro 12-10.

Montenegro held on throughout the bout but lagged behind Italy, who finished the first three quarters always in the lead at 2-1, 5-4 and 9-7.

"This is the third time in a row we've played for third place. The results have always been the same: lose the semi-final and lose the third-place game," Montenegro coach Vladimir Gojkovic told journalists afterwards. "I feel really sorry for my players."

Yugoslavia, which included Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, had been one of the most dominant Olympic water polo teams.

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