The series of four World Water Polo Championships in four years continues on Sunday, with the first round of the female tournament at the 20th World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka
The men’s championship starts on Monday.
All eyes are on Spain, the reigning champion, which dominantly won the World Cup just two weeks ago. Spain boasts a roster of exceptional players who have been playing together for quite some time.
Twenty-two years ago, Spain won its second consecutive World Championships title, beating Yugoslavia in a low-scoring final ever (4:2). It happened just in Fukuoka. Felipe Perrone, the leader of today’s Spanish team, participated in the 2001 Fukuoka Championships, representing Brazil. He was fifteen then.
Today, Perrone and his teammates aspire to repeat the success of the Spanish generation that won back-to-back titles in 1998 and 2001.
Of course, many teams want to climb the throne, win a medal and have realistic chances to do it. One is Italy, which played against Spain in the previous two World Championships finals. It recorded a 10:5 convincing win in Gwangju in 2019 and suffered a penalty shootout loss in Budapest last year. Spain sank Italy in the World Cup final in LA (4:10), which should be a good lesson to “Settbello”.
Last year, Greece attained a bronze medal in Budapest, while Croatia finished 4th, and secured the European crown two months later.
Hungary is a strong contender for the championship title, apart from the semifinalists of the Budapest tournament.
While Serbia and Montenegro may not be at the same level as before, they still have the potential to go high.
Since the first World Championships in Belgrade in 1973, non-European teams have never won a medal. Team USA maybe can break this negative trend. Their good performance and winning a bronze medal in an exhilarating match against Hungary in the World Cup gave them wind in the back.
France hopes to seize an opportunity from the shadows, but it would not be wise to eliminate other teams from the competition before it commences.
Besides medals, Olympic quotas are at stake. The finalists of the Fukuoka tournament will qualify for the Paris Games.
20th World Water Polo Championship (Fukuoka, July 17 – 29), Men, Preview
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 17.
Best results: bronze (2005, 2015, 2022), 4th place (2003, 2017)
Budapest 2022: bronze medal
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 20.
Best result: 4th place (1986, 1991, 2009).
Budapest 2022: 6th place.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 20.
Best result: 4th place (1998).
Budapest 2022: 11th place.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 11.
Best result: 11th place (1998, 2015, 2017).
Budapest 2022: 14th place
*As a part of the USSR (until 1991), Kazakhstan won two gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
The bronze medalist in Budapest, Greece, was drawn into a group with three non-European teams.
The Greeks came to Fukuoka without Angelos Vlachopoulos, but, as Ioannis Fountoulis told Total Waterpolo, that should be an additional motive for each player to give some extra. Greece has been constantly at the world’s top in the last five years. It failed to reach the semifinals of the World Cup. However, the Greeks saw what they were doing wrong. Bad performance in the attack and only four scored goals in the quarterfinals against Hungary is something that should be improved.
Team USA and Australia, the two teams that have been regular participants in the World Championships since 1973, are still waiting for their first medal. Team USA played very well in the World Cup Final Eight in Los Angeles. The bronze-medal match was marked by the repeated 04:26 minutes, so the fact that the USA was an equal opponent to Hungary stayed in the shadow. The Americans showed their potential earlier this year, beating Hungary 15:9 in Division 1 of the World Cup in Zagreb.
Australia, which is still without Aaron Younger, who hasn’t played for the “Sharks” since the Tokyo Olympics, didn’t shine in Division 1 of the World Cup. The “Aussies” had very good seasons in 2018 (silver in the World Cup) and in 2019 (bronze in the World League and 6th place at the World Championships). However, the Covid-era lockdowns, which caused absences from the competitions, still impact Australian water polo.
20 Four teams have hever missed the World Championships and will play for the 20th time at the WCH: Hungary, Italy, USA and Australia.
Kazakhstan’s main test for the Worlds was the World Cup Division 2 tournament in Berlin, with two big losses against Romania (5:19) and Germany (1:12). However, it has been over two months since then, and Kazakhstan has had ample time to improve its play and raise the shape on a higher level.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 20.
Best results: gold (1978, 1994, 2011, 2019), silver (1986, 2003, 2022), bronze (1975), 4th place (1973,2001, 2013, 2015)
Budapest 2022: silver medal.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 5.
Best result: 8th place (1986).
Budapest 2022: didn’t play,
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 18.
Best result: 8th place (2009).
Budapest 2022: 16th place (had to withdraw because of Covid cases at the team).
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 10.
Best result: 10th place (1982).
Budapest 2022: didn’t play.
Group B is the only one in the men’s tournament with a strong favorite for the top spot. It’s of course, Italy, the team that reached the semifinals in all major competitions in 2022 and 2023, winning the gold medal in the 2022 World League, silver in Budapest, and this year’s World Cup.
4 Italy is the only nation with four gold medals at the World Men’s Championships
There are many aces on Alessandro Campagna’s team. Some crowned the clubs’ season by winning the Champions League trophy with Pro Recco. Italy’s first goal is directly to qualify for the quarterfinals, and after that – a medal and an Olympic visa.
France, which returns to the World Championships after six years, poses the biggest danger to the Italians. The hosts of the upcoming Olympics aim to repeat their biggest success at the Worlds, which dates back to 1986 (8th place), but the ambitions are higher. The French were in 7th place at the Europeans last year. But, this year, they suffered five losses in as many matches in the World Cup.
The Italians and the French will face off already on the opening day. That will be the fifth encounter between these teams in the last 12 months. Italy won the previous four games. This year, France entered the match against Italy in this year’s World Cup excellently, leading 5:2 after the first quarter, but Italy won by three goals (11:7).
Unlike France, Canada is an almost regular participant in the World Championships (it missed only two tournaments – in 1973 and 2019), but it reached the quarterfinals only once (8th place in 2009). Last year, Canada finished in last place. It had to leave the tournament after the first game (a loss to Spain) due to a number of Covid cases at the team. The Canadians qualified for the 2023 Worlds, winning 1st place at a very balanced Pan American Championships, and arrived in Fukuoka aiming to run away from the bottom of the rankings.
Late in 2022, China returned to the stage after a long break. Due to strict anti-Covid measures, the Chinese didn’t compete, and there were no preparations for almost three years. An experienced Montenegrin, Petar Porobic, returned to the bench. Since the last autumn China has proved that it belongs to the Asian top. In November, the Chinese won silver at the Asian Championships and qualified for the Worlds for the first time since 2015. They won 1st place in the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup. However, their performance in duels against Europeans wasn’t promising this year, with losses of 11:16 to Germany and 9:18 to Romania in the World Cup Division 2. It remains to be seen if they have improved their shape in the last two months.
ROAD TO MEDALS, MEN
After the group stage, the 4th-placed teams will go in the 13th-16th place classification. The group winners will qualify for the semifinals, while the others will try to reach the Top 8 through crossover round.
Crossover round (July 23) – Match 1: 2A – 3B, Match 2: 3A – 2B, Match 3: 2C – 3D, Match 4: 3C – 2D
Quarterfinals (July 25) – QF1: 1A – winner Match 3, QF2: 1B – winner match 4, QF3: 1C – winner match 1, QF4: 1D – winner match 2
Semifinals: (July 27): winners QF1 – QF2, winners QF3 – QF4.
Final Day (July 29)
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 14
Best results: gold (2007, 2017), silver (2015), bronze (2009, 2011, 2013, 2019), 4th place (1994, 2005, 2022).
Budapest 2022: 4th place
As a part of Yugoslavia (until 1991), Croatia won two gold and two bronze medals
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 20
Best results: gold (1973, 2003, 2013), silver (1975, 1978, 1982, 1998, 2005, 2007, 2017), bronze (1991), 4th place (2011, 2019)
Budapest 2022: 7th place
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 10
Best result: 9th place (2022)
Budapest 2022: 9th place
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 2
Best result: 16th place (2015)
Budapest 2022: didn’t play.
Group C maybe isn’t the most balanced in the tournament, but the two teams that are targeting the top spot are almost on the same starting line. Croatia and Hungary have the same goals – to win a medal and qualify for the Paris Games.
Croatia has played in all semifinals of the World Championships since 2005. Seventh place in the home field last year was a big disappointment for Hungary. A few months later, they bounced back, reached the final of the European Championships and lost to Croatia (10:9).
11 Hungary is a record-holder of the World Championships in the number of medals. It reached the podium 11 times (Serbia has 12 medals, counting those won as a part of Yugoslavia)
But, since Split, both teams have changed. Denes Varga returned to the Hungarian team, as well as Marton Vamos (who played in the World Cup Division 1 when Hungary beat Croatia 13:10). On the other side, Croatia is without injured Loren Fatovic. But, regardless of the current rosters, a spectacle is guaranteed in the clash of these two teams (July 19) if they show their best. There are many excellent players on both teams.
9 Croatia played in all semifinals in the previous nine editions of the World Championships
In the past decade, Japan has proven to be a tough opponent for many favorites, although they have struggled to secure wins against European teams. Their matches against Croatia and Hungary are not expected to yield points. However, their chance to advance to the crossover round hinges on their game against Argentina, the only South American team in the tournament.
Argentina finished 3rd in the Pan American Championships and received an invitation to fill Brazil’s vacancy. Argentina has a few players who have gained experience in Europe, like Ramiro Veich, who won the LEN Euro Cup with Sabadell. While Argentina may be an unknown entity to its rivals, it is unlikely that it will surprise Hungary and Croatia.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 19
Best results: gold (1998, 2001, 2022), sliver (1991, 1994, 2009, 2019), bronze (2007).
Budapest 2022: gold.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 9
Best results: gold (2009, 2015), silver (2011), bronze (2017), 4th place (2007).
Budapest 2022: 5th place
As a part of Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro (until 2005), Serbia won three gold,one silver and four bronze medals.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 8
Best result: silver (2013)
Budapest 2022: 8th place
As a part of Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro (until 2005), Montenegro won three gold, one silver and four bronze medals.
World Championships appearances (including 2023): 12
Best results: 12th place (2015, 2019, 2022)
Budapest 2022: 12th place.
Group D is the only group with three European teams, each with a noteworthy history.
However, their current situations vary significantly.
Spain, officially the best team in the world, has won eight medals in major competitions over the past five years. We mentioned Felipe Perrone, who connects Fukuoka 2001 and Fukuoka 2023. He continues to play exceptionally despite being 37 years old. Most of the other players are either in their prime or very young. Granados, Aguirre, Munarriz, and Sanahuja, are just a few of those who have grown as players while learning from Perrone. With a bright future ahead, Spain’s ambitions remain unchanged as they aim for the top and have the ability to win a medal.
36 Winning the gold at the 2022 World Championships, Felipe Perrone became the oldest water polo player to become a world champion. On the day of the final he was 36 years and 126 days old. The previous record holder was also a Spanish water polo ace – Manuel Estiarte, who won the gold in Perth in 1998. He clinched the title 84 days after his 36th birthday.
However, Spain will have two demanding tasks in the quarterfinals. The first one is on Monday. The derby of the first day is a clash between Spain and Serbia.
Serbia has faced challenges since the Tokyo Olympics and the retirement of six aces. This season has shown that the Serbs can compete against top teams such as Spain (which they beat in Division 1 after a penalty shootout) and lose to underdogs. Nevertheless, Serbia is a formidable opponent which always aspires to medals. Although Dusan Mandic won’t play, Nikola Jaksic has returned to the team.
2 Two teams won back-to-back medals at the men’s tournaments at the World Championships: Yugoslavia (1986 and 1991) and Spain (1998 and 2001)
Montenegro is experiencing similar generational transition issues as Serbia. The team is a little bit younger than Serbia’s. The Montenegrins’ primary objective is to reach the quarterfinals. However, it would not be surprising if they advanced to the semifinals for the second time in their history, following their silver medal in 2013.
It will be a surprise and a shock if South Africa manages to defeat one of the three European powerhouses in Group D. Nonetheless, they can use these matches as an opportunity to learn and improve.
All medal winners
1973 (Belgrade): 1. Hungary, 2. USSR, 3. Yugoslavia
1975 (Cali): 1. USSR, 2. Hungary, 3. Italy
1978 (West Berlin): 1. Italy, 2. Hungary, 3. Yugoslavia
1982 (Guayaquil): 1. USSR, 2. Hungary, 3. FR Germany
1986 (Madrid): 1. Yugoslavia, 2. Italy, 3. USSR
1991 (Perth): 1. Yugoslavia, 2. Spain, 3. Hungary
1994 (Rome): 1. Italy, 2. Spain, 3. Russia
1998 (Perth): 1. Spain, 2. Hungary, 3. Yugoslavia
2001 (Fukuoka): 1. Spain, 2. Yugoslavia, 3. Russia
2003 (Barcelona): 1. Hungary, 2. Italy, 3. Serbia and Montenegro
2005 (Montreal): 1. Serbia and Montenegro, 2. Hungary, 3. Greece
2007 (Melbourne): 1. Croatia, 2. Hungary, 3. Spain
2009 (Rome): 1. Serbia, 2. Spain, 3. Croatia
2011 (Shanghai): 1. Italy, 2. Serbia, 3. Croatia
2013 (Barcelona): 1. Hungary, 2. Montenegro, 3. Croatia
2015 (Kazan): 1. Serbia, 2. Croatia, 3. Greece
2017 (Budapest): 1. Croatia, 2. Hungary, 3. Serbia
2019 (Gwangju): 1. Italy, 2. Spain, 3. Croatia
2022 (Budapest): 1. Spain, 2. Italy, 3. Greece
For more news and the schedule about the upcoming Worlds, visit Total Waterpolo’s 2023 World Championships page.