2020 European Water Polo Championship Men’s Quarterfinals Offer Pathway to Final, 2020 Olympics

quarterfinal-sandro-sukno-cro-vicenzo-renzuto-iodice-ita-2017-world-champs
Where are they now? Croatia is looking to win a major tournament for 1st time since Sandro Sukno (#9) retired in 2018. Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Gold at the European Water Polo Championship is always treasured, but in this Olympic year, there’s an added prize: a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Games is available to the tournament winner.

2020_european_champ_logoIt’s an added incentive, bit only for some. Spain, Italy and Serbia have already qualified, so it’s up to the other European powers to fight their way to the top at the 34th LEN European Championship.

On Sunday at Budapest’s Duna Aréna, teams booked their quarterfinal match-ups on Wednesday, making the path to a final appearance clear but also treacherous; win and get in. Lose and you’re out—and travel to Rotterdam in March for the 2020 World  Qualification Tournament. This incentivizes Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro and Russia—contenders for Tokyo—to push for a Euro final and perhaps end up with an Olympic berth as well.

Montenegro (3-1) has the first—and perhaps most difficult—hurdle on Wednesday. They play Italy (3-0; Group D winner), which sailed unopposed to gold last summer  at the 18th FINA World Championships  and has remained unscathed through group play in Budapest. With the luxury of an off-day, courtesy of winning their group, the pressure on the Italians is different; they play for gold but know that a Tokyo berth is already in their pocket.

Spain (3-0-1), was a runner-up to Italy at the FINA World Championships in Gwungju, South Korea. Now, they will match up with a Serbian side (3-0; Group B winner) prepping to defend the Olympic title they won in 2016 at the Rio Games. Led by Dusan Mandic’s nine goals in three games, all the top Serbs are in Budapest—meaning that the Spaniards, led by 14 goals apiece from Alvaro Granados and Alberto Munarriz, will be hard pressed to beat the defending European Champions.

[Serbian Men Open 2020 European Water Polo Championship with Win Over Russia]

Hungary (3-0; Group C winner) and Russia (2-2) are in the next quarterfinal match-up. On Monday, the Russians barely slipped past Georgia 14-13 to advance; this does not argue well for a squad that again looks to be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Olympics. Russia, led by Konstantin Kharokov’s 13 scores, has missed out on the last three Games.

With the home team on their feet the entire time, it seems implausible that Hungary and  Gergo Zalanki (10 goals) would stumble on Wednesday—especially with either Italy or Montenegro as possible semifinal opponents. This means they wouldn’t have to face Serbia until the finals.

Genidounias_fina_jan20

Greece’s Konstantinos Genidounias. Photo Courtesy: FINA

Greece dominated Romania on Monday, with Konstantinos Genidounias torching goalie Florian Tic for six goals on seven attempts as the Greeks (3-1) won 14-7. Facing the Croatians (3-0 Group D winner) on Wednesday will be a whole different ballgame. Luka Bukic, Andro Buslje, Loren Fatovic, Luka Loncar and with the ageless Javier Garcia are poised for one more run to an Olympic gold—and winning a Tokyo berth in Budapest is now the most efficient means to get there.

The problem for Croatia is they’ll have to get past Serbia to make the final; the last time that happened was in 2017 when Sandro Sukno led his countrymen to an epic semifinal win on the way to gold in the 17th FINA World Championships.

Sukno retired with a heart condition two years ago—and the Croatians have not won a major tournament since. Now would be an excellent moment for Head Coach Ivica Tukac’s team to step up again and get Olympic qualification over with—and not have to wait until March in Rotterdam for one final shot at Tokyo.

Pairings for 9th, 11th, 13th and 15th place now set

Slovakia (1-3) and France (1-3) won their matches on Monday to advance to a 13th place match-up on Wednesday. The Slovaks kept Malta (0-4) winless by virtue of an 8-4 win. The French (1-3) slipped by the Netherlands (1-3) 9-8 as Mehdi Marzouki scored four times—giving him eight goals in the tournament.

Malta, led by Steven Camilleri’s seven scores, will look to escape last in Budapest against a Dutch squad that finished 10th in 2018.

Georgia, Germany, Romania and Turkey—losers on Monday—will battle it out Wednesday for places 9th through 12th, with Turkey facing Georgia and Germany tipping off against Romania. The Turks, who finished 15th in Barcelona two years ago, have already leaped over their most recent results and are poised for their best finish ever, exceeding a 10th place result in 2010.

For live streaming and all scoring sheets, visit the 2020 Budapest website here.