Gwangju 2019 preview (part I): Dejan Savic prepares a team for 2024 Olympic Games
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Gwangju 2019 preview (part III): Hungary and Spain in a hunt for 1st place in Group C and for medals
July 12, 2019
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Gwangju 2019 preview (part II): Croatia wants to replay Budapest golden story

World champion for men Croatia was drawn in Group B of the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, with three non-European teams Australia, the USA, and Kazakhstan.

GROUP B

Croatia

Results in FINA’s competitions since 2017 World Championships
2017 World Championships: gold.
2018 World League: 5th place
2018 World Cup: 5th place
2019 World League: silver.
(European competitions – 2018 European Championship: bronze, 2018 Europa Cup: gold, 2018 Europa Cup: silver)

Two years ago, Croatia clinched the gold at the 17th World Championships in Budapest by defeating host Hungary (8:6). The MVP of the match was Sando Sukno. Nobody could expect that the final in Budapest was Sukno’s last big game in career. Sukno, who won the Total player award in 2017, stopped to play water polo three months after the final in Budapest, due to the heart problems. He tried to return into the pool after the heart surgery in the USA, but he didn’t recover as he hoped, and he announced his retirement in May.

Sukno will be in Gwangju as a member of the coaching staff of the Croatian national team.

Ivica Tucak, the head coach, hasn’t made a lot of changes in his team in the past two years. Ten World champions from Budapest will play in South Korea. Comparing to the team that won gold in 2017, new names are an experienced center-forward Josip Vrlic, center-back Hrvoje Benic, and attacker Lovre Milos.
Twelve Croatian players competed in the 2018/19 Champions League, while Ante Vukicevic won the Euro Cup with Marseille. There are a lot of water polo superstars in the team: Maro Jokovic, Andro Buslje, Loren Fatovic, Marko Bijac, Xavi Garcia…

As usual, Croatia is among the favorites for the gold medal. The Croats, who lost in two final games in 2019 (Europa Cup and World League), are stand out favorites for the 1st place in the group with three non-European teams, but they won’t have so easy task, especially against Australia.

Croatia’s captain Andro Buslje said that his team must have high ambitions. Find out more in our interview:

Andro Buslje: “Medals are reserved for the top nations”

Roster
Goalkeepers: Marko Bijac (Pro Recco), Ivan Marcelic (Mladost). Field players: Luka Loncar (Jug CO), Josip Vrlić (Mladost), Andro Buslje (Pro Recco), Marko Macan (Jug CO), Hrvoje Benic (Jug CO), Maro Jokovic (Olympiacos), Xavi Garcia (Jug CO), Lovre Milos (Mladost), Ante Vukicevic (Marseille), Loren Fatovic (Jug CO), Andjelo Setka (Jadran Split). Head coach: Ivica Tucak.

Australia

Rankings in FINA’s competitions since 2017 World Championships
2017 World Championships: 7th place
2018 World League: 6th place
2018 World Cup: silver
2019 World League: bronze

Australia has been the most successful non-European team in FINA’s competition in the last few years.

This year, the “Aussie Sharks” won bronze in the World League, last season they clinched silver in the World Cup.

The Australian team has never missed the World Championships, but it reached the semifinals just once (4th place in Perth 1998).

The team is growing from year to year. Joe Kayes (Pro Recco) and Aaron Younger, who won the 2019 Champions League, as a member of Ferencvaros, play the leading roles in the squad. Besides them, members of European clubs are Nathan Power (Jadran, Croatia), George Ford (Mataro, Spain), Anthony Hrysanthos (Vouliagmeni, Greece),Tim Putt (Primorje, Croatia).

This team might surprise favorites and reach the semifinals, for the second time in the history of Australian water polo. Nathan Power believes that his “Sharks” are ready to achieve a good result:

Nathan Power: “We have great confidence in ourselves!”

Roster
Goalkeepers: Joel Dennerley (UNSW/Wests), Anthony Hrysanthos (Vouliagmeni /Sydney University). Field players: Richard Campbell (UNSW/Wests) , Blake Edwards (Drummoyne), Lachlan Edwards (Drummoyne), Andrew Ford (UNSW/Wests), George Ford (Mataro/UWA) , Rhys Howden (QLD Thunder), Joe Kayes (Pro Recco) , Nathan Power (UNSW/Wests/Jadran Split), Tim Putt (Primorje) , Aidan Roach (Drummoyne), Aaron Younger (Fremantle/Ferencvaros). Head coach: Elvis Fatovic.

United States of America

Results in FINA’s competitions since 2017 World Championships
2017 World Championships: 13th place
2018 World League: 7th place
2018 World Cup: 6th place
2019 World League: did not participate.

The USA, as well as Australia, played at all previous 17 World Championships, but they didn’t win a medal. They were 4th on three occasions (1986, 1991 and 2009). Two years ago, the USA took a disappointing 13th place in Budapest, which was their worst result in the history of the WCH.

This season, the Americans focused on the World Championships and the Pan American Games (which will be held in August). The USA didn’t take part in the World League. So, it’s hard to predict what they are prepared for.

The most experienced player is captain and four-time Olympian Jesse Smith. Besides Smith, Alex Obert, Ben Hallock, Luca Cupido, and Alex Bowen played at the 2016 Olympic Games

Alex Bowen claims that his team might surprise the opponents:

Alex Bowen: “We can surprise a lot of people this summer!”

The USA team won the gold medal at the preparation tournament in Wenjiang (China). The Americans defeated Montenegro in the final game (8:4). In the group stage, they beat Canada (12:7), China (18:7), while they were defeated by Montenegro (14:15).

Photo: USA Water Polo/Facebook

Roster
Goalkeepers: Alex Wolf (UCLA/Bruin), Drew Holland (Stanford/Olympic Club). Field players: Johnny Hooper (California/LA Premier),Marko Vavic (USC/Trojan),Alex Obert (Pacific/NYAC),Ben Hallock (Stanford/LA Premier), Luca Cupido (California/Olympic Club),Hannes Daube (USC/North Irvine WPC),Matt Farmer (UCLA/Windy City WP), Alex Bowen (Stanford/NYAC), Chancellor Ramirez (UCLA/NYAC), Jesse Smith (Pepperdine/NYAC), Max Irving (UCLA/NYAC). Head coach: Dejan Udovicic.

Kazakhstan

Results in FINA’s competitions since 2017 World Championships
2017 World Championships: 11th place
2018 World League: 8th place
2018 World Cup: did not qualify
2019 World League: 7th place

Kazakhstan is one of the best Asian teams, but, as well as other water polo teams from the largest continent, the Kazakhs have no big chances against the world’s best squads. Two years ago, Kazakhstan was 11th in Budapest.

Roster
Goalkeepers: Pavel Lipilin, Valeriy Shlemov. Field players: Yevgeniy Medvedev, Maxim Zhardan, Roman Pilipenko, Miras Aubakirov, Altay Altayev, Murat Shakenov, Yegor Berbelyuk, Stanislav Shvedov, Mikhail Ruday, Ravil Manafov, Yulian Verdesh. Head coach: Dejan Stanojevic.

Interesting facts

-Croatia won 6 medals at the World Championships: 2 gold (2007, 2017), 1 silver (2015), and 3 bronze medals (2009, 2011, 2013).

-All head coaches of the teams in Group B were born in countries that belonged to former Yugoslavia. Croatia is represented by Ivica Tucak (Croatia) and Elvis Fatovic (Australia). Dejan Udovicic (USA) and Dejan Stanojevic (Kazakhstan) come from Serbia.

-Dejan Stanojevic was Udovicic’s assistant coach in the national team of Serbia for years.

-Andro Buslje is the only player who has won more than 5 medals at the WCH. He was a member of all Croatia’s teams that reached the podiums from 2007 – 2017 (2 gold, 1 silver, and 3 bronze medals). The player with the highest number of gold medals is Slobodan Nikic (Serbia and Serbia & Montenegro) – 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze medals. Five medals have a Croat Maro Jokovic (2,1,2), too. Buslje has a better record than Jokovic because Maro missed the 2009 WCH due illness.

-The match Australia – Croatia will be a “family battle”. Australia is guided by the Croatian coach Elvis Fatovic, while his son Loren is one of the best players of the Croatian team. Elvis also played for the national team of Croatia. Both won the Champions League, playing for Jug Dubrovnik. Elvis clinched the trophy in 2001 and 2006, Loren in 2016.

-Croatia, Australia, and Kazakhstan played in Group B at the World League Super Final in Belgrade in June. Results: Croatia – Kazakhstan 20:4, Australia – Kazakhstan 14:5, Croatia – Australia 11:9.

For more information about the Water Polo World Championship in Gwangju 2019 visit our tournament page or follow our social media channels – FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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