The 33rd edition of the LEN European Water Polo Championships is to kick off on Saturday in Barcelona and it promises two weeks of thrilling action, featuring 16 men and 12 women teams. At the opening press event, held on the top of the Montjuic, LEN President Paolo Barelli declared that this was going to be greatest water polo show of the whole year.
Though the water polo European Championships return to Barcelona after 48 years (in 1970 it was held together with the other aquatic disciplines, the city was busy during this almost half-century with staging major aquatic events. The 1992 Olympic Games stand out just as the 2003 and 2013 editions of the FINA World Championships. The Champions League Final Six tourneys in 2014 and 2015 were also remarkable occasions and the famous Bernat Picornell Pool on the Montjuic now welcome the world’s best water polo players once again.
The opening press event was held in the neighbouring Palauet Albeniz where breathtaking views of the city offered an amazing backdrop while Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, LEN President Paolo Barelli and OC Chair and Royal Spanish Swimming Federation President Fernando Carpena delivered their respective speeches.
President Barelli underlined that the water polo family always came to Barcelona as if its members returned home. “Each time Barcelona offers her very best that’s why all of us love to be here” he said. “The level of organisation, the marvellous environment created for the event and the strength of European water polo are all firm guarantees to witness another highly successful tournament.” The LEN president thanked for the city, the organisers and the partners for the commitment to stage an unforgettable spectacle which would serve as further proof of Europe’s leading role in this discipline.
In the second part of the event the eventual protagonists, coaches and players shared some thoughts on their expectations. Title-holder Hungary’s boss Attila Biro said that even if only six players remained from the gold-medal winning side from Belgrade 2016, they were determined to reach the semi-finals again. “This is a young team with a lot of talented players which has all the potential needed to be successful. However, in today’s water polo you cannot take anything for granted as the top six teams are really on the same level. Anyway, we want to reach the best four and from that point anything is possible.”
Host Spain was champion in 2014 and silver-medallist at the 2017 Worlds but moreover they won the gold in the Picornell pool at the 2013 World Championships. “It’s a great memory and we would love to repeat it but as Attila (Biro) said this field is extremely balanced, among the top six sides anyone could claim the title” head coach Miguel Oca said. “Our team worked really hard during the last weeks and the players are ready to do their best.”
Thanks to the draw, the opening day already features a big game between these two sides. Ahead of the Spain v Hungary contest, the players think it can be anybody’s match. “Though our team is new and we are in the middle of a building process, I think we can show our strength on the opening day” Hungary’s Anna Illes said (she played for the 2016 champion side).
Spain’s Anni Espar – who was a member of the world title winning team five years ago – also highlighted how balanced the field was. “We are ready to go for the title just like we do every time. We will face a very strong Hungarian team on Saturday evening and there will be a series of tough matches as the best six teams are on the same high level. We will do our best and will see if it’s enough to make the top.”
For the second time, the water polo Europeans will feature 16 men and 12 women teams. Serbian men and Hungarian women start the tourney as title-holders, however, since their 2016 triumphs other sides also achieved big successes. Croatian men became world champion in 2017 and added the LEN Europa Cup gold to their treasury this April but later Montenegro (runner-up in Belgrade 2016) won the World League Super Final to sign up for the title-contenders’ list in Barcelona.
Among the women, Spain finished as the best European in last summer at the Worlds (beaten by the US in the final) while Greece clinched the women Europa Cup this spring and the Netherlands went almost all the way in the World League before succumbing to the mighty Americans in the final.
LEN offers free live streaming from each and every match on its website (www.len.eu), though geoblocking might occur in some countries when the right-holder broadcaster televise a given encounter. A live-scoring system offering detailed stats and play-by-play descriptions is also available.