Host City: Atlanta, United States
Venue(s): Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, Atlanta, Georgia
Date Started: July 20, 1996
Date Finished: July 28, 1996
Format: Round-robin pools advanced teams to classification matches.
Hungary and Italy were the heavy favorites. Since Barcelona they had met in the final of every major event, save one. Italy defeated Hungary at the 1993 World Cup and European Championships, and the 1995 European Championships. Hungary defeated Italy in the final of the 1995 World Cup. Italy also won the 1994 World Championship, where Hungary slumped and only placed fifth. The two teams were drawn in opposite groups in Barcelona and both won all their matches to advance to the quarter-finals. There Hungary defeated Greece and Italy defeated Russia to move onto the semis, with Spain and Croatia also advancing. One quarter-final saw Croatia meet their arch-rivals, Serbia & Montenegro, or effectively what remained of Yugoslavia. The Croats hated the Serbs for what they had done to their country in the early 1990s, and gained a measure of revenge by defeating them, 8-6.
But somebody had forgotten to remind Spain and Croatia that Hungary and Italy were supposed to meet in the final. Spain faced Hungary, which had beaten them 8-7 in group play, but in the semi-finals, Spain eliminated the Magyars, 7-6. In the other semi-final, the score was the same, Croatia moving on to the final.
The final was close, with Croatia leading at halftime, 3-1, only to see Spain tie the match, 5-5, after the third period. In the final period, Spain scored twice to win the gold medal, 7-5. At the end of the match the ball was in the hands of their greatest player, Manuel Estiarte, who finally won a gold medal in his fifth Olympics. Italy won the bronze medal, defeating Hungary in overtime, 20-18.