By Russell McKinnon
LONG BEACH, June 26. A magician plucks a rabbit out of the bag but the secret of how he does it, remains.
Water polo coaches are known to produce things out of the bag on occasions, as well. However, when it comes to an Olympic Games year, one wonders what secrets remain in the bag.
Will coaches show their complete hand when it comes to laying down the cards on the table? Will the results of the World League matches truly show who are the best nations? Or will coaches be keeping something back for Athens in July?
The World League should throw up some interesting conundrums but one thing is for certain, the match-ups will be as exciting as anything at the Olympic Games.
For the women, qualify for the Olympic Games and you make the World League eight; it is a full dress rehearsal for Athens. This is where we will really see the magicians in action.
Group A will see world champion United States of America compete against world No 3 Russia, No 9 Greece and No 13 Kazakhstan, the Asian qualifier.
Group B has world No 2 Italy, No 4 Canada, No 5 Hungary and No 7 Australia. Missing are world No 6 Netherlands and No 8 Spain.
These draws differ from the Athens Games where Greece, Italy, Australia and Kazakhstan are drawn in Group A and the others in Group B.
The women¹s tournament is to be held at Long Beach, three weeks before the men¹s tournament at the same venue.
The USA team has been solidly preparing for the international season with training in Europe and a hectic internal tour playing 13 matches against the leading collegiate teams, incidentally, winning all 13 and will gain considerable home-town advantage.
Russia will provide the most opposition as shown by the excellent third placing last year in Barcelona. With a group of youngsters instructed in international play in recent years, Russia has the power and ability to step higher up the dais. Throw in the phenomenal scoring ability of Olga Turova and the Russians have the potential to be unbeatable.
Greece has been slowly building with its team and has the possibility to perform well considering playing at home during the Olympics is the ultimate goal for 2004.
Kazakhstan was a worthy opponent in Sydney four years ago but the slip to 13th last year was not indicative of the team¹s potential.
In Group B, former world champion Italy will again be a major contender. It failed at the final hurdle in Barcelona to take a third consecutive gold medal but never underestimate any team coached by master magician Pierluigi Formiconi. He has a knack of plucking the rabbit at the right moment.
Perhaps he will conjure something up for the World League and the Olympics!
Hungary burst through for the 2002 World Cup title but couldn't repeat last year while Canada has been thereabouts since 2001 and could again take a medal. Australia won two European tournaments last year but stumbled in Barcelona. However, national expectations for a repeat of Sydney have the women brimming full of confidence.
4:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 23 – Game One:
Hungary vs Italy
5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 23 – Game Two:
Greece vs Russia
6:45 p.m. Wednesday, June 23 – Opening Ceremonies
7:15 p.m.Wednesday, June 23 – Game Three:
Australia vs Canada
8:45 p.m. Wednesday, June 23 – Game Four:
USA vs Kazakhstan
Note: Games are played with nine-minute quarters and a 10-minute halftime show.
There will be three minutes in between quarters one and two and quarters three and