In the predictions of the outcome of the men’s water polo tournament at the 20th World Championships in Fukuoka, one team is emerging as the strongest favorite.
Of course, it’s Spain, the current champion, which dominated in the first competition of the season, the World Cup, and impressively secured its eighth medal in the last five years.
Spain was dominant in the World Cup. The result of the final was quite surprising. Many expected another close match between Spain and Italy, but the game turned into a one-sided contest. Spain left no chance to Italy, beating the “Settebello “10:4.
One of those who deserved the most credit for Spain’s dominant performance in the final and the entire tournament is Unai Aguirre.
A few years ago, few water polo lovers outside Spain heard of him. Today, the entire water polo world knows who Unai Aguirre is.
The 20-year-old goalkeeper debuted for Spain at a major competition two seasons ago as the second goalkeeper at the Tokyo Olympics. He didn’t play a lot at the Olympic tournament. The coaches were permitted to enter 12 players per match, so most of the teams played with one goalkeeper in all games (Spain was among them).
Following Dani Lopez’s retirement after the 2021 Games, Aguirre became Spain’s first-pick goalkeeper. In the same year, he moved to Barceloneta. In his first season at the Spanish best club, he shared the minutes with Lopez, who said goodbye to water polo last year.
Now, he is Barceloneta’s and Spain’s first goalkeeper and the pillar of the defense of both teams. Many consider him the best water polo goalkeeper in the world at the moment.
Aguirre was instrumental in Spain’s successes in 2022 and 2023, being voted the best goalkeeper at the last year’s World Championships and the 2023 World Cup.
Looking back at the final in Los Angeles, Aguirre, in an interview with Total Waterpolo, says:
“We were in a good moment of the preparation. As the result says, the key to a convincing win was the defensive commitment of all players and efficiency in the attack. All in the team played an outstanding defense and helped me a lot. Last year, we played four close matches with Italy, two at the World Championships, one in the World League, and one in the European Championships. But each game is different. This time, we won convincingly. The final in Los Angeles went like that. It seemed it was easy. However, we know Italy’s abilities and how difficult it was.”
New confidence before Fukuoka
The World Cup was, at the same time, a battle for the trophy and the preparations for the World Championships.
“The tournament in Los Angeles helped us a lot to see what we were able for. But, in this sense, I think it was the same for all the teams. However, the gold medal naturally helped us to gain confidence before the Fukuoka tournament.”
You have to be able to beat anyone if you want to become champion
Spain didn’t have luck in the draw for the World Championships, with reigning Olympic champion Serbia, Montenegro, and South Africa. Serbia and Montenegro aren’t at the same level as before, but nobody underestimates these two teams. However, the world champion is the favorite for the top spot.
“Yes, the group is difficult. We know Serbia and Montenegro. Spain played against them this season. We respect all the rivals, but in the end if you want to be champion, you have to beat any opponent. ”
Spain wants to become a champion. However, many arrive in Fukuoka with the same or similar ambitions and goals.
“We are among the favourites, but there is a group of teams that can win: Italy, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro… and you can’t get out of mind the others, like the USA.
There are always a lot of high hurdles on the way to the medal. Last year, Spain beat Italy, South Africa, Canada (the game was annulled following Canada’s disqualification due to many Covid cases at the team), Montenegro, Croatia, and Italy again in the final, that time after a penalty shootout.
“I honestly think that the journey towards the medals in Fukuoka will be similar as it was in Budapest. There is a lot of equality in the qualities of the teams, and the difficulty will be maximum.”, Aguirre underlines.
For more news and the schedule about the upcoming Worlds, visit Total Waterpolo’s 2023 World Championships page.
Click here for more Exclusive Interviews