Greece’s young team is still finding its footing, trying to establish its place among the world’s elite. While they may not yet be considered clear title contenders, they are never too far away to be ruled out.
Over the past year, several fresh faces have emerged as full senior internationals for Greece, with an average age barely scraping over 22 years old. One of the regulars now is Vouliagmeni’s Athina Giannopoulou, who spoke with us ahead of the World Championships in Fukuoka.
“Greece always aims high, so with that being said, qualifying for the Olympic Games in Paris is the highest goal,” Giannopoulou told Total Waterpolo. “And winning a medal in the World Championship is part of it.”
However, Giannopoulou’s ambition is a tall order. Greece were champions of the world in 2011 but haven’t claimed a medal in that competition since then.
The United States, a team no stranger to medaling at the World Championships, has taken home gold at the last four competitions. Prior to the recent World Cup Finals in Long Beach, where Greece finished 5th, Alexia Kammenou put her Greek side through some intensive training, including three test games with the reigning World and Olympic Champions.
“Facing the number one team in the world and training with them helped us build our team spirit, and the tournament was a great test for the upcoming games as we worked on a lot of things to improve our game. The trip was tiring, but I believe both me and my teammates are mentally and physically ready to face this upcoming challenge in Fukuoka.”
“We have been preparing for this the whole season,” Giannopoulou admits.
Greece stunned many by storming to a silver medal at the European Championships in Split, but the Ethniki has not enjoyed the smoothest of form since then, with fairly indifferent performances at the World League Super Finals and the most recent tournaments in the World Cup. However, Greece’s number eleven – one of three Vouliagmeni players expected to be in the team for Fukuoka – believes the past is the past:
“In Split, I truly believe that the top 5 European teams were close, so the results may vary depending on the day. Our target from the beginning of the year has been the World Championships in Fukuoka, so any other result from the rest of the tournaments hasn’t affected us.”
Greece is placed in Group C alongside Italy, Brazil, and South Africa. Despite the possibility of finishing top of the group, the mature 22-year-old is not getting carried away:
“I respect all three teams in our group and believe we’re going to take it step by step and hope for the best.”
Regarding Giannopoulou’s own development, she has been in the best form of her career over the last 12 months. While she doesn’t often make the headlines, her work-rate and talent have made her an integral part of her coaches’ plans for both club and country.
“I’ve been working hard all these years, playing for my club Vouliagmeni and the national team. It has been great, and I always give 100% no matter what, and most importantly, I enjoy the game. I’ve been playing at a high level both with my club and the junior national team, so participating in these tournaments brings me excitement and helps me become a better player without stress.”
When asked to self-assess, Giannopoulou describes herself as “a player who has no fear but respect for the opposing team and, of course, someone who will help her teammates be the best version of themselves.”
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