Every two years the water polo world comes together for 15 days of pure water polo mayhem. Apart from the Olympics there is no tougher or more prestigious event than the FINA World Championship, and this years edition promises to be just as full of drama and emotion as any other.
Let me look into an old Crystal Ball that the water polo planet witch has lent me.
The World championships after any Olympics are always a gun fight and an interesting chess game. In 2005 at Montreal the Serbian and Montenegro team showed the world that they were determined to extract revenge on the Hungarians after losing the gold medal game to them in Athens 04. Could the US team upset the odds and upstage Hungary in the championship game on Aug 2nd?
Hungary will probably advance directly to the quarterfinals, whilst I expect Canada to finish 2nd, Germany 3rd and South Africa 4th. Both Canada and Germany could cause some trouble for the Hungarians, but the real clash will happen when they play each other.
Although Hungary did not take part in the FINA World League, choosing to focus on their own training program instead, they have a number of stars returning from Beijing and will be the team to beat.
The Canadian team surprised everybody by qualifying for Beijing and are getting stronger each year under head coach Dragan Jovonich. They are a well rounded team, who train together almost year round at their Calgary training center.
Back in Melbourne in 2007 the German team broke US hearts by knocking Team USA out of advancing into the quarterfinals, and could once again prove a thorn to any unsuspecting team. German head coach Hagen Stamm, has an experienced squad again, who spent most of their preparation training and scrimmaging with the strong Hungarian team this summer.
South Africa recently returned from the international wilderness by participating in the FINA World League Super Finals, their first international competition since the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne. Head Coach Vladimir Trninic brings with him an experienced roster of players, many of whom will be taking part in their 3rd or 4th world championship. South Africa will probably be outmatched in the opening rounds and then become competitive in the 13th – 16th bracket.
Probably the toughest group in Rome, with the big clash between Montenegro and Croatia on July 22nd probably equal to any game in the tournament. I’m hedging my bets on Montenegro scraping through ahead of Croatia in 1st place, with Croatia in 2nd, China 3rd, and Brazil taking 4th.
The reigning European and FINA World League Champions are a well-rounded team, and very well coached by Petar Porobic. Under the captaincy of Nikola Janovic, the Montenegrins are one of the favorites to medal, but will have to get past rival Balkan team Croatia.
The reigning world champions Croatia can always be considered a medal favorite. The current team has a lethal mix of experienced and young players under the expect tutelage of Ratko Rudic, and will be competitive with any team. Having recently lost to Montenegro in the final of the FINA World League, this team will be well motivated to repeat the success of Melbourne.
The Chinese team progressed very quickly up to the Beijing Olympics, and are still one of the top teams in the world. With probably the biggest team in the tournament, they can match up physically with any team, but often fall short in the finer finesse of the game.
Unfortunately I do not know much about the Brazilians, but in this highly competitive group they will probably finish last and fight for 13th to 16th place.
Another very competitive group, with not much between the top 3 teams. Serbia has enough experience and talent to probably finish 1st, with Spain finishing 2nd, Australia 3rd and Kazakhstan in 4th. There is a lot at stake on the outcome of the Spain-Australia game. 2nd place in the group probably puts them in a 2nd round match up with China, whereas 3rd place probably puts them in a match up with either Croatia or Montenegro.
Without key goal-scorer Aleksandar Sapic and the human wall Denis Sefik who both retired after Beijing, the Serbian team under head coach Dejan Udovicic are in a rebuilding phase and looking to blood in a number of exciting young players in their build up for London 2012. Serbia should advance easily to the 2nd round, although they could have some trouble with both Australia and Spain.
The Spanish are always a competitive team and could pose serious trouble for both Serbia and Australia.
Australia, like Italy and Serbia, are in a rebuilding phase under new head coach John Fox. Many senior players retired after Beijing, including the lethal 25yr old sharpshooter Pietro Figlioli who has become an Italian citizen. The Australians are always a gritty team with lots of speed who will compete to the very end. The key game for them will be when they meet Spain on 22nd July.
Kazakhstan are an unknown to me, and have been absent from the international arena for a while, and will likely not cause any problems for Serbia, Spain or Australia. However they have a strong history in water polo and will most probably have some surprise players who could cause trouble for any team who does not take them seriously.
This is a very interesting group filled with 2 troublesome teams who could both cause trouble for the Americans. Team USA are expected to advance directly to the quarterfinals in 1st place, but Italy could benefit from hometown advantage and give them some trouble. I expect Italy to finish 2nd, Romania 3rd, and Macedonia 4th, but a lot will depend on how the Americans respond to the passionate and partisan Italian crowds, and what the Romanians have in their arsenal.
After successfully winning silver in Beijing, Team USA will be looking to prove that they are always a medal contender in any tournament. Their summer preparations included 3 competitive matches with the young Serbian team, and successfully winning the bronze medal at the recent FINA World League. Head Coach Terry Schroeder will have his team in excellent physical and mental shape.
The Italians are in a similar position to Serbia, having lost a number of very influential players and are in a rebuilding phase. Head Coach Alesandro Campagna returns to the reins after guiding the Greek men’s team over the past 4 years. With a wealth of young talent, this team is still finding its feet in the international arena, but could pose serious problems for any team who discounts them. The hometown environment should also work in their favor considerably.
The Romanian team will be eager to fight back into the top 8 after not qualifying for Beijing. Under the keen eye of head coach Istvan Kovacs and with players like Cosmin Radu this team could cause some problems. Recently they beat Hungary in the Romanian cup.
Another former Yugoslavian team that could be a very competitive team in Rome. I unfortunately do not know anything about this team, but I expect that they will have some very skillful players.
Much like the men’s bracket, the women’s bracket is filled with lots of interesting clashes and varying opportunities for all the underdog teams. Team USA are the reigning world champions and are probably the favorites. But there are no sure bets in this sport and many of the world power houses will be looking to challenge them and become the prom queen.
Hungary are probably the favorites and I expect them to win the group easily based purely on the Italian & Chinese results at World League. The battle for 2nd place could be very interesting, since at World League China beat Italy. But this time round the Italians will be playing at home, and should benefit tremendously from the home town advantage. I expect Italy to finish 2nd, with China in 3rd, and Uzbekistan rounding out the group.
Any Hungarian team is always a tough team to beat, and filled with talent. This years team is no different, although they are blooding a number of youngsters.
Very much like their men’s team, the Italians are rebuilding and have a very young team without much experience. The new head coach has been working hard to adequately prepare them for Rome, although they struggled a lot at the FINA world championships. My gut tells me they will be a lot more competitive at home, but they will struggle against their other traditional rivals.
The Chinese were very competitive both in Beijing and at the recent FINA World League, and I expect them to continue their upward progress. This year they will be looking to make the quarterfinals at least.
Another unknown to me, who have had very limited international exposure. This tournament will probably prove to be a very tough learning experience for them, but they too will probably be very competitive in the 13th – 16th bracket.
On paper this group looks relatively easily for Team USA, but Russia has proven to be a tough team for the Americans. I anticipate Team USA finishing 1st, Russia 2nd, Greece 3rd and Kazakstan 4th.
Team USA has the most experience roster out of all the teams, with 11 returning players from Beijing, and will be looking to medal. New head coach Adam Krikorian will be looking to continue USA¹s dominance on the world arena.
Never underestimate the Russians. Although they were very disappointing in Beijing, and again this year in the World League, they still have a number of world class players who make them unpredictable at the best of times.
The Greek team is also rebuilding, but like the Russians have some extremely gifted athletes who could pose a problem for many teams. Head Coach of Greeceis a well respected tactician and will get a lot out of his players.
Another unknown team to me, who last competed in the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne. This will probably be a tough tournament for Kazakstan, but they will likely prove very competitive in the 13th-16th bracket.
Filled with commonwealth nations, group C has a very interesting edge to it. Both Canada and Australia are world-class teams with world championship ambitions. Canada has the most recent edge having beaten Australia in the FINA world league, but my gut tells me Australia will finish 1st, Canada 2nd, New Zealand 3rd and South Africa 4th.
Head Coach Greg McFadden likes to downplay his team’s chances citing the loss of a number of Olympians. But Australia, like the USA, is a water polo warehouse filled with world class athletes
Head Coach Pat van Oaten has assembled a well-rounded team who are competitive with any team. They recently beat the USA in a FINA World League qualification game, and also made it to the final of the World League. With a solid mix of youth and experience this team could challenge for a medal. Watch out for NCAA stars Monika & Carmen Eggens (both Hawaii), Rosanna Tomiuk, Joelle Bezhazi (USC) and Emily Csikos (Cal)
With the help of new head coach Todd Clapper (and current Arizona St head coach) New Zealand have assembled a team with a lot of talent and some experience in key areas.
Much like their men’s team, the South Africans returned to the international arena earlier this year by participating in the FINA World League. Although clearly outmatched by much stronger and more experienced teams, the South Africans will be competitive in the 13th – 16th bracket.
Another interesting group, with many probably different outcomes is Group D. Based on current form Spain will probably finish 1st, the Netherlands 2nd, Germany 3rd and Brazil 4th. The Netherlands have a number of key players who could make them very competitive and possibly win the group, but at the time of writing they have not participated in any international competition since the Olympics, thus I give Spain the edge now, but don’t be surprised if the Netherlands win this group.
Under the expert tutelage of renowned Jane Giralt Joan (who coached China at Beijing) the Spanish are looking to get to London 2012. They finished a credible 5th in the FINA World League and were competitive with all the top nations. Spain also made it to the final of the 2008 European Championships and have enough talent to be competitive with any team.
After Beijing, the Dutch team lost both their gold medal winning coach Robin van Galen, and Beijing top goalscorer Danielle de Brujn. New head coach Paolo Maldini (formerly from Italy) will look to make a smooth transition from Italy to his new adopted country and keep the Dutch team in the medal round.
The German team is young, but very well rounded and with some vital experience in key areas. They will probably be outclassed by Spanish and the Netherlands, but could pose a problem for any team who underestimates them.
Brazil is another unknown team to me who will probably finish 4th and end up in the 13th – 16th bracket. Look out for former Long Beach St player Marina Cannetti and her sister Cecilia Canetti.