Tomorrow a new chapter in the history of World Aquatics’ water polo competitions for junior and youth ages begins.
The 22nd World Men’s U20 Championships will start in Otopeni near Bucharest. The Championships is a milestone in the history of major water polo tournaments because a new formula will be introduced. All age-group competitions in the World Aquatics calendar will be played in this format. LEN adopted a similar system for its competitions for national teams.
Nineteen teams will participate, but they aren’t on the same starting line. The teams are split into two divisions. The best eight teams from the previous championships are in Division 1 and the other qualified teams are in Division 2.
2023 World U20 Championships, Otopeni (June 10 – 17), preview
Group A: Italy, Spain, Croatia, Montenegro.
Group B: Greece, Serbia, USA, Hungary.
Group C: Germany, South Africa, Japan.
Group D: Brazil and Netherlands (Kazakhstan withdrew lately, and because of that, the remaining two teams in this group will play each other twice).
Group E: New Zealand, Romania, Peru.
Group F: Argentina, Australia, Iran.
The top two teams from groups A and B will qualify for the quarterfinals directly. The third and fourth-placed teams will go to the crossover round along with the winners of groups C, D, E, and F. All details about the new competition formula – HERE
Favorites in DIvision 1
It’s almost sure that a new champion will be a team from Division 1. The „European Big Seven“ and the Americans are here. Team USA is the only one among these eight that has never won a medal at the World U20 Championships, but it’s always among the contenders for the semifinals.
Serbia won gold at the previous Worlds for this age group, held in Prague in 2021. Italy won silver, ahead of Montenegro, Hungary, Croatia, Spain, Greece, USA…
However, only some players who participated in the Prague tournament will jump into the pool in Otopeni. The boys who were key players of their teams in Prague are no longer juniors. So, a better prediction parameter is the previous season when the World U18 Championships and the European U19 Championships were held.
According to the results in the post-Covid era, Serbia is the favorite. In the past two years, the Serbs won medals at each European and World junior and youth championships. As mentioned, the Serbs are defending the title clinched in Prague in 2021. Last year, they won the silver at the World U18 Championships in Belgrade, behind Hungary, and the European U19 gold medal in Podgorica.
The teams that represented Serbia at the 2022 championships are very similar to the one that will play in Otopeni, which means that the Serbs will be among the youngest squads in Otopeni. Only two players were born in 2003. Others are younger. Only one of the world champions in Prague – Vasilije Martinovic (the MVP of the 2022 U19 Europeans) will play in Romania. The head coach is new. Uros Stevanovic, who led Serbia to the medals in the past two years, took over the senior team. He was replaced by Milos Korolija, who coached Serbia at the 2021 U17 Championships (gold) and 2022 World U16 Championships (bronze).
ALL ROSTERS of the PARTICIPATING TEAMS – HERE
Despite being one of the youngest teams, Serbia is, of course, among the favorites.
But, it’s difficult to estimate the teams’ current qualities and shapes. There was not a lot of time for the preparations. Several players who will contest in Otopeni finished seasons with their clubs only last weekend at the Champions League Final Eight. The only parameter is a tournament in Belgrade, where Hungary won 1st place ahead of Serbia, the USA, Croatia, Montenegro, and Australia. There were several even contests in the tournament, and none of the teams had a perfect record. So, the games in Belgrade indicate that there will be many exciting clashes and that the competition in Division 1 is very balanced.
Hungary’s head coach is Robert Kovacs, who led the U18 team to the title in Belgrade last year. The Hungarians won medals at each of the last year’s three age-group tournaments. Before the gold in Belgrade, Hungary became the world U16 champion (silver went to the team of Greece, and Serbia won bronze). The team is almost the same as the squad that finished third in the Europeans in Podgorica. Hungary has a more experienced team than Serbia, which may be its advantage.
Spain had a great summer last year, as well as Serbia and Hungary. “La Furia Roja” won bronze at the Worlds U18 and silver at Europeans U19. Almost all of the boys who will represent Spain in Otopeni have played at least one of the 2022 Championships. So, they know each other well, and it’s sure they target a new medal. Spain is coached by former Barceloneta’s head coach Chus Martin.
ALL ROSTERS of the PARTICIPATING TEAMS – HERE
The same nations were on the podiums after the World Youth and European Junior Championships last year. And what about the others?
Greece dominated the age-group competitions between 2017 and 2019, with two golds at the World U20 Championships, one title of the world U18 champion and gold at the U19 Europeans. Some guys who collected medals at these tournaments are now on the senior national team’s roster. But, the new generations didn’t have many successes in the past four years. Otopeni is maybe an excellent chance for Greece to return to the podium.
Croatia changed the head coach a few weeks before the tournament in Otopeni. Igor Hinic replaced Mile Smodlaka, who won’t guide the team due to health reasons. Both were center-forwards of the Croatian national team. Croatia, which was 2nd at the 2017 U20 Worlds, didn’t reach the semifinals at the junior and youth competitions last year. But, this generation of Croatian players beat both Hungary and Serbia at the preparation tournament in Belgrade, so it can go high.
Italy, the runner-up from the 2021 Worlds, lost to Croatia in the 5th-place matches in Belgrade and Podgorica last year. Roberto Brancaccio, who guided Italy in Podgorica, called up a few players who didn’t participate in the last summer’s championships. The team, led by Pro Recco’s new player Francesco Condemi, won’t be satisfied with a new 6th-place finish.
Montenegro won bronze in Prague in 2021. But, the generation that will contest in Podgorica didn’t qualify for the semifinals at the Europeans in its home field in Podgorica. It won 7th place, which was aquite disappointing result. Otopeni is a chance for a make up exam.
Last, but not least, Team USA is the only non-European team in Division 1. The Americans didn’t win a medal at the World U20 Championships. We’ll see if the new team composed of players who have experience playing in the NCAA league will end that medalless series.
Who can surprise favorites?
Only one team in Division 1 has won a medal at the World U20 Championships. Australia did it in 1999 (silver). The “Sharks” finished 6th at the preparation tournament in Belgrade without a single point. Their disadvantage is that they didn’t have the opportunity to play many international matches at the club and national teams level, unlike their European peers.
The Netherlands surprised favorites at the Worlds U18 in Belgrade by winning 4th place. Otopeni is the Dutch’s new chance to prove their progress.
By the way, the Netherlands and Germany didn’t qualify for Otopeni because they finished 8th and 9th at the 2022 Europeans in Podgorica (the top 7 teams qualified). The two European teams were invited to fill vacancies after Canada and Argentina withdrew.
ALL ROSTERS of the PARTICIPATING TEAMS – HERE
World U20 Championships will be played by new rules implemented in the past several months. It’s well-known that the most important change is a new, shorter 2m zone..
Earlier this year, World Aquatics announced that there would be no ties in their competitions. From now on, the point system in all World Championships is the same as in the World League and newly-launched World Cup. If the match ends in a draw, a penalty shootout will determine the winner. The winning team in the penalty shots gains two, and the loser one point. The win after 32 minutes brings three points.
Day 1, (June 10), Schedule
Group A: Spain – Montenegro (13:30), Italy- Croatia (18:30).
Group B: Greece – USA (15:00), Serbia – Hungary (20:00)
Group C: Germany – South Africa (09:00). Japan bye
Group D: Netherlands – Brazil (10:30)
Group E: New Zealand – Romania (17:00). Peru bye
Group F: Iran – Argentina (12:00). Australia bye
All times are local times (CET+1)
1981 (Milan): 1. USSR, 2. Cuba, 3. Hungary
1983 (Barcelona): 1. Spain, 2. Yugoslavia, 3. Cuba
1985 (Istanbul): 1. USSR, 2. Hungary, 3. Yugoslavia
1987 (Sao Paulo):1. Spain,2. Yugoslavia, 3. Italy
1989 (Narbonne): 1. Yugoslavia, 2. USSR, 3. East Germany
1991 (Irvine): 1. Spain 2. Cuba, 3. Hungary
1993 (Cairo): 1. Italy, 2. Spain, 3. Hungary
1995 (Dunkirk): 1. Hungary, 2. Greece, 3. Slovakia
1997 (Havana): 1. Croatia, 2. Hungary, 3. Greece
1999 (Kuwait): 1. Italy, 2. Australia, 3. Yugoslavia
2001 (Istanbul): 1. Greece, 2. Croatia, 3. Hungary
2003 (Naples): 1. Serbia and Montenegro, 2. Hungary, 3. Italy
2005 (Mar del Plata): 1. Serbia and Montenegro, 2. Croatia, 3. Spain
2007 (Long Beach): 1. Hungary, 2. Italy, 3. Croatia
2009 (Sibenik): 1. Croatia, 2. Greece, 3. Serbia
2011 (Volos): 1. Serbia, 2. Spain, 3. Greece
2013 (Szombhathely): 1. Italy, 2. Croatia, 3. Serbia
2015 (Almaty): 1. Serbia, 2. Italy, 3. Hungary
2017 (Belgrade): 1. Greece, 2. Croatia, 3. Serbia
2019 (Kuwait):1. Greece, 2. Serbia, 3. Italy
2021 (Prague): 1.Serbia, 2. Italy, 3.Montenegro