Twelve teams will battle for the remaining three Olympic berths from Sunday until the end of the next week. Tomorrow, the men’s Olympic Qualification Tournament (February 14 – 21) begins in Rotterdam (Netherlands), Europe’s largest seaport.
The teams are split into two groups of six.
Group A: Greece, Montenegro, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, Turkey.
Group B: Croatia, Germany, Russia, Romania, Netherlands, France.
The tournament will be held at the Zwemcentrum, which was opened three years ago.
The first four teams from each of the groups will go to the knockout round – the quarterfinals. The first three ranked sides will qualify for the Olympic Games.
The medal winners in Rotterdam will join the already qualified teams: Serbia (2019 World League winner), Italy, Spain (finalists of the 2019 World Championships), USA (2019 Pan American Games winner), Hungary (2020 European champion), Kazakhstan (2018 Asian Games winner), Australia (Oceania qualifier), South Africa (Africa qualifier) and host Japan.
Each of the 12 teams has its Olympic dreams, but all participants and water polo lovers are aware that three teams stand out as favorites in a race for the remaining three tickets – Croatia, Montenegro, and Greece.
Croatia, the 2012 Olympic champion and the runner-up in Rio in 2016, was very close to earning an Olympic berth at the previous three qualifying competitions. Croatia won silver in the 2019 World League, bronze at the 2019 World Championships, and finished 4th at the 2020 European Championships. The Croats don’t want to miss the last chance to take a ticket for Tokyo. Since its independence, Croatia hasn’t missed the Olympic Games and has won three medals (gold in 2012, silver medals in 1996 and 2016).
The Croats didn’t open the year in the way they wanted. They finished 7th at the European qualification tournament for the World League in Debrecen (losses to Montenegro in a penalty shootout -14:15 and Hungary 11:13, and a 17:5 win over France). Their last preparations matches were games with the USA in Zagreb last week (a 21:22 loss after a penalty shootout and a 14:10 victory). All in all, it would be a big surprise if Croatia doesn’t earn an Olympic berth.
Many Croatian and Montenegrin players won Olympic medals playing for the national team of Yugoslavia. One of them is Montenegro’s coach Vladimir Gojkovic (silver in Athens in 2004). Montenegro has been keeping the continuity of the Olympic appearances since the country’s independence, like Croatia. But the Montenegrins haven’t won a medal, although they reached the semifinals three times. They are coming to Rotterdam encouraged by a good result in the World League Qualifications. The Montenegrins won 2nd place in Debrecen after wins over Croatia and world champion Italy (14:10), and a loss to the Greeks (7:12) in the final match. Their last test before the qualifications was an International tournament in Podgorica, where they finished 2nd , behind the USA and ahead of Serbia.
The Greeks entered the year as best as they can – winning 1st place in the World League Qualifications in Debrecen, and that result was quite surprising. Greece cruised to a win over France (12:3), then they defeated two favorites – the 2019 World Championships silver medalist Spain (12:11) and Montenegro (12:7). They are in good shape, despite the fact that the Greek League has been suspended since November, and many of the members of the national team haven’t played many matches since the start of the season.
Greece has been a regular participant in the Olympic Games since 1980. But they advanced to the semifinals just once and finished 4th. It was in 2004 when Greece was the host in Athens.
Olympic Games (6 appearances) – best result: 2012 (gold medal), last app: 2016 (silver medal)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: silver in the World League, bronze at the World Championships; 2020: 4th place at the European Championships; 2021: 7th place in the European qualifications for the World League.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Marko Bijac (Pro Recco), Toni Popadic (Jug Adriatic Osiguranje); Field players: Josip Vrlic (Mladost), Luka Loncar (Jug AO), Andro Buslje (Mladost), Marko Macan (Waspo 98 Hannover), Rino Buric (Jadran S), Lovre Milos (Mladost), Maro Jokovic (Brescia), Xavi Garcia (Jug AO), Luka Bukic (Mladost), Loren Fatovic (Jug AO), Ante Vukicevic (Marseille), Reserve: Franko Lazic (Mladost). Head coach: Ivica Tucak.
Olympic Games (3 apps.) – best result: 2008, 2012, 2016 (4th place), last app: 2016 (4th place).
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: 10th place at the World Championships, 5th place in the European qualifications for the World League; 2020: bronze at the European Championship; 2021: 2nd place in the European qualifications for the World League.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Dejan Lazovic (Marseille), Slaven Kandic (Pays d’Aix), Field players: Drasko Brguljan (Vasas), Uros Cuckovic (Marseille) Marko Petkovic, Vasilije Radovic (all Jadran HN) Vlado Popadic (Pays d’Aix), Miroslav Perkovic (Primorac), Stefan Vidovic (Ortigia), Aleksa Ukropina (KVK Radnicki), Aleksandar Ivovic (Pro Recco), Vladan Spaic (Marseille), Dusan Matkovic (Primorac), Reserves: Petar Tesanovic (Jadran HN), Aljosa Macic (Primorac). Head coach: Vladimir Gojkovic.
Olympic Games (15 apps.) – best result: 2004 (4th place), last app: 2016 (6th place)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: 7th place at the World Championships, 7th place in the European qualifications for the World League; 2020: 7th place at the European Championship; 2021: 1st place in the European qualifications for the World League.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Emmanouil Zerdevas (Olympiacos), Costas Galanidis (Apollon Smyrnis), Field players: Konstantinos Genidounias Dimitris Skoumpakis, Marios Kapotsis, Georgios Dervisis, Stylianos Argyropoulos – Kanakakis, Konstantinos Mourikis, Konstantinos Kakaris (all Olympiacos), Ioannis Fountoulis (Ferencvaros), Alexandros Papanastasiou (Jug), Christodoulos Kolomvos (Enka), Angelos Vlachopoulos (Brescia) Konstantinos Gkiouvetsis, Stathis Kalogeropoulos (all Vouliagmeni). Head coach: Theodoros Vlachos.
Besides three favorites and home team the Netherlands, six teams will represent Europe in Rotterdam: Russia, Germany, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, and France. According to the competition system, only the four best non-already qualified teams from the European championship (Montenegro, Croatia, Greece, Russia) and host the Netherlands earned the right to participate in the Olympic Qualifications. But, no teams from Asia, Africa, and Oceania applied to participate in the Rotterdam tournament. Argentina withdrew after the draw, and the teams ranked 9th-13th in Budapest were invited to play in Rotterdam.
It isn’t easy to predict what these teams are capable of at the moment. Of course, some of them can make surprises, while their mutual matches can be very interesting and exciting. Most of the six teams are at a similar level.
Russia and Germany are the strongest teams in this circle. They will battle for 2nd place in Group B, behind Croatia. If they reach 2nd place (or even surprise the favorite and got on the top), the spot in the semifinals will be very close.
The Germans’ problem is a lack of matches since their national championship hasn’t started yet. All members of the national team play for German clubs.
France, which played at the 2016 Olympic Games, and the Netherlands have experienced teams, but both sides disappointed their fans at the last year’s European Championship. The French made progress later since they reached the quarterfinals of the World League Qualifications. But, they suffered three big losses in Debrecen. The French Federation has invested a lot in water polo in the last few years. Many foreign players joined the French clubs, and there is no doubt that the national team will make significant progress until the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Romania rejuvenated its squad. A 39-year-old Cosmin Radu is still on the roster, and Romania is a team that other rivals shouldn’t underestimate.
Georgia, with a new head coach Dejan Stanojevic, and Turkey also hope that they can surprise. These two teams have never played at the Olympic Games.
Olympic Games (13 apps, including USSR) – best result: 1972 and 1980 (gold medal),last app: 2004 (bronze)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: 8th place in the European qualifications for the World League, didn’t qualify for the World Championships; 2020: 8th place at the European championships, eliminated in the preliminary stage of the World League qualifications.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Evgeniy Kostrov (Sintez), Viktor Ivanov (COP Moskomsporta); Field players: Sergey Lisunov (Sintez), Nikita Dereviankin (Sintez), Nikita Krug (KVK Radnicki), Ivan Suchkov (Sintez), Konstantin Kiselev (Spartak Volgograd), Ivan Stepanov (Spartak), Daniil Pronin (Sintez), Daniil Merkulov (Jug AO), Artem Ashaev (Spartak), Ivan Nagaev (Waspo 98 Hannover), Dimitrii Kholod (Spandau 04), Roman Shepelev (Sintez), Konstantin Kharkov (HAVK Mladost). Head coach: Sergey Evstigneev.
Olympic Games (17 apps, including West Germany and United team of Germany) – best result: 1928 (gold medal), last app: 2008 (10th place)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: 8th place at the World Championships, eliminated in the preliminary stage of the World League qualifications; 2020: 9th place at the European Championships, didn’t play in the World League
Roster – Goalkeepers: Moritz Schenkel (Waspo Hannover), Florian Thom (OSC Potsdam), Field players: Julian Real, Fynn Schutze (both Waspo 98 Hannover), Mateo Cuk, Lucas Gielen, Maurice Jungling, Marin Restovic, Marko Stamm, Denis Strelezkij (all Spandau 04), Hannes Schulz (OSC Potsdam), Timo van der Bosch (SV Ludwigsburg 08), Zoran Bozic (SSV Esslingen). Reserves: Aleks Sekulic (Spandau 04), Mark Gansen (ASC Duisburg). Head coach: Hagen Stamm.
Olympic Games (9 apps) –best result: 1976 (4th place), last app: 2012 (10th place)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: didn’t qualify for the World Championships, the preliminary round of the World League; 2020: 11th place at the European Championship, didn’t play in the World League.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Marius Tic (Steaua), Serban Abrudan (Crisul Oradea); Field players: Victor Antipa (Steaua), David Bota (Dinamo Bucharest), Ferenc Czenk (Oradea), Vlad Dragomirescu (Steaua),Tudor Fulea (Steaua), Vlad Georgescu (Oradea), Robert Gergelyfi (ASC Duisburg), Alexandru Ghiban, Andrei Prioteasa (both Steaua), Cosmin Radu (Mladost), Bogdan Remes (Oradea), Levente Vancsik (Steaua), Albert-Alexandru Vatrai (Oradea). Head coach: Athanasios Kechagias.
Olympic Games: –
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: didn’t qualify for the World Championships, didn’t play in the World League; 2020: 10th place at the European Championship, eliminated in the preliminary stage of the World League qualifications, but qualified for F8 as a host.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Irakli Razmadze, Nikoloz Shubladze; Field players: Sandro Adeishvili, Besarion Akhvlediani, Fabio Baraldi, Andria Bitadze, Valiko Dadvani, Marko Elez, Revaz Imnaishvili, Khvicha Jakhaia, Marko Jelaca, Beka Kavtaradze, Giorgi Magrakvelidze, Nika Shushiashvili, Boris Vapenski. Head coach Dejan Stanojevic.
Olympic Games: –
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: didn’t qualify for the World Championships, didn’t play in the World League; 2020: 12th place at the European Championship, didn’t play in the World League.
Roster – Goalkeepers:Atilla Sezer, Huseyin Kagan Kil; Field players: Hasan Emre Mogultay, Kaan Ozden Yildiz, Kaan Oguzcan, Tugay Ergin, Berk Alkan, Berke Can Yalcin, Eray Turan, Atamer Albayrak, Gokmen Mehmet Dilek, Emre Gurdenli, Mehmet Yutmaz. Reserves: Selcuk Can Caner, Omer Faruk Ipek.Head coach:Mehmet Alp Olcaytu
Olympic Games (11 apps) – best result: 1924 (gold medal), last app: 2016 (11th place).
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: didn’t qualify for the World Championships, the preliminary round of the European qualifications for the World League; 2020: 13th place at the European Championship; 2021: 8th place in the World League Qualifications.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Remi Garsau (Nice), Clement Dubois (Tourcoing); Field players: David Babic (Strasbourg), Alexandre Bouet (Douai), Charles Canonne (Tourcoing), David Caumette (Noisy-le-Sec), Ugo Crousillat (Marseille), Enzo Khasz (Pays d’Aix), Hugo Lepoint (Douai), Romain Marion-Vernoux (Marseille), Mehdi Marzouki (Noisy-le-Sec), Nicolas Missy (Starsbourg), Pierre-Frederic Vanpeperstraete (Marseille), Thomas Vernoux (Marseille), Steven Vitrant (Douai). Head coach: Nenad Vukanic.
Olympic Games (17 apps) – best result: 1948 and 1976 (bronze medal), last app: 2000 (11th place)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: didn’t qualify for the World Championships, the preliminary round of the European qualifications for the World League; 2020: 15th place at the European Championship, eliminated in the preliminary stage of the World League qualifications.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Eelco Wagenaar (Polar Bears), Milan de Koff (SVH); Field players: Jesse Nispeling (SVH), Jorn Muller (Het Ravijn), Pascal Janssen (ZV De Zaan), Robin Lindhout (AZC Alphen), Bilal Gbadamassi (Schuurman BZC), Thomas Lucas (ZV De Zaan), Kjeld Veenhuis (Widex GZC Donk), Guus van Ijperen (Widex GZC Donk), Jesse Koopman (ZPC Amersfoort), Jorn Winkelhorst (Waspo Hannover), Guus Wolswinkel (Polar Bears). Reserves: Benjamin Hessels (UZSC), Tom de Weerd (Polar Bears). Head coach: Harry van der Meer.
Only two non-European teams arrived in Rotterdam, Brazil, and Canada. Both teams haven’t played official matches since August 2019 and the 18th Pan American Games.
Canada and Brazil have taken the preparations for Rotterdam very seriously. The Canadians arrived in Europe in mid-January. They trained alongside Pro Recco for three weeks. The key person for this partnership is Giuseppe Porzio, one of the most successful coaches in Pro Recco’s history. Porzio has been coaching Canada since 2015.
The Brazilians also planned to come to Europe a few weeks before the tournament. They agreed on joint training with Germany, but the travel restrictions, caused by the pandemic, ruined that plan. The Brazilian citizens weren’t allowed to enter Germany. So, the team arrived in the Netherlands directly from Rio de Janeiro.
The two national teams haven’t had official matches for a long time, but the biggest stars of both teams are in good shape since they play in Europe. Canada’s center-forward Nicolas Constantin Bicari has been Ferencvaros player for a while. Brazil’s goalkeeper Slobodan Soro plays in the Serie A1 (Lazio), and striker Gustavo Guiamares in Spain (Mataro)
Brazil and Canada can reach the quarterfinals. The non-European teams will face each other tomorrow in the first round, and that match is one of the crucial games for both sides.
Olympic Games (4 apps) -best result: 1976 (9th place), last app: 2008 (11th)
Major competitions in the last two years– 2019: didn’t qualify for the World Championships, 8th place in the World League, silver medal at the Pan American Games.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Milan Radenovic, Sam Reiher; Field players: Gaelan Patterson, Bogdan Djerkovic, Nicolas Constantin-Bicari, Mark Spooner, George Torakis, Jeremie Cote, Sean Spooner, Aleksa Gardijan, Aria Soleimanipak, Max Schapowal, Mark D’Souza. Reserves: Bor Tanasijevic, Stefan Dabic. Head coach: Giuseppe Porzio.
Olympic Games (8 apps) – best result: 1920 (6th place), last app: 2016 (8th place)
Major competitions in the last two years – 2019: 13th place at the World Championships, didn’t play in the World League, bronze medal at the Pan American Games.
Roster – Goalkeepers: Slobodan Soro, Joao Fernandes; Field players: Gabriel Sojo, Marcos Pedroso, Gustavo Coutinho, Roberto Agulha, Bernando Gomes, Rafael Vergara, Guilherme Gomes, Bernardo Reis, Ruda Franco, Gustavo Guimaraes, Luis Ricardo, Ricardo Guimaraes, Eduardo Cinta. Head coach: Andre Avallone.
Olympic Games qualification tournaments in 21st century
2004 (Rio de Janeiro, BRA): 1. Croatia, 2. Germany, 3. Russia, 4. Romania, 5. The Netherlands, 6. Slovakia, 7. Brazil, 8. Canada,9. Poland, 10. Puerto Rico, 11. Argentina (first 3 teams qualified for the Athens Games)
2008 (Oradea, ROM): 1. Germany, 2. Italy, 3. Greece, 4. Canada, 5. Romania, 6. Russia, 7. Slovakia, 8. North Macedonia,9. Brazil, 10. Iran, 11. Mexico, 12. Kazakhstan (first 4 teams qualified for the Beijing Games)
2012 (Edmonton, CAN): 1. Montenegro, 2. Spain, 3. Greece, 4. Romania, 5. Canada, 6. North Macedonia, 7. Turkey, 8. Brazil, 9. Germany, 10. Argentina, 11. Netherlands (first 4 teams qualified for the London Games)
2016 (Trieste, ITA): 1. Hungary, 2. Italy, 3. Spain, 4. France, 5. Netherlands, 6. Canada, 7. Romania, 8. Germany, 9. Russia, 10. Kazakhstan 11. Slovakia, 12. South Africa (first 4 teams qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Games)
(local time – CET)
Day 1 (February 14)
Georgia – Greece (13:00)
Canada – Brazil (14:30)
Turkey – Montenegro (17:30)
Day 2 (February 15)
Greece – Brazil (16:00)
Montenegro – Canada (17.30)
Georgia – Turkey (20:30)
Day 3 (February 16)
Brazil – Montenegro (13:00)
Turkey – Greece (14:30)
Canada – Georgia (16:00)
Day 4 (February 17)
Greece – Montenegro (16:00)
Georgia – Brazil (17:30)
Turkey – Canada (20:30)
Day 5 (February 18)
Montenegro – Georgia (13:00)
Canada – Greece (14:30)
Brazil – Turkey (16:00)
Day 1 (February 14)
Netherlands – Germany (16:00)
Croatia – Romania (19:00)
France – Russia (20:30)
Day 2 (February 15)
Romania – Russia (13:00)
Germany – France (14:30)
Croatia – Netherlands (19:00)
Day 3 (February 16)
Russia – Germany (17:30)
Netherlands – Romania (19:00)
France – Croatia (20:30)
Day 4 (February 17)
Romania – Germany (13:00)
Croatia – Russia (14:30)
Netherlands – France (19:00)
Day 5 (February 18)
France – Romania (17:30)
Russia – Netherlands (19:00)
Croatia – Germany (20:30)
Match QF1: 1A – 4B (14:00)
Match QF2: 2A – 3B (16:00)
March QF3: 3A – 2B (18:00)
Match QF4: 4A – 1B (20:00)
Classification 5 – 8
Losers QF1 – QF3 (14:00)
Losers QF2 – QF4 (16:00)
Classification 1 – 4
Winners QF1 – QF3 (18:00)
Winners QF2 – QF4 (20:00)
Seventh-place game (10:00)
Fifth-place game (12:00)
Third-place game (14:00)
All matches will be broadcast live on FINAtv.