Day Six of FINA World Water Polo Championships: Leaders Peel Away from the Pack

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Croatia's Marko Bijac has been outstanding in goal so far in tournament play. Photo Courtesy: Tsutomu Kishimoto/FINA

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With group play at the 18th FINA World Water Polo Championships almost complete, there are some clear winners—and losers—entering Day Six at Nambu University in Gwangju, South Korea.

fina-gwangju-jul19On the men’s side, the most competitive bracket thus far has been Group A, where Greece, Montenegro and Serbia are in a dogfight for the top spot. Serbia (1-0-1)—by almost every measure the world’s best men’s water polo side—had to rally to tie Montenegro, and then blew-out the host South Koreans 22-2 on Wednesday. Not to be outdone, Greece (1-0-1) also blew out their hosts (26-3) and then also tied Montenegro 10-10, the same result as the match between the Serbians and Montenegrins.

This sets up a situation that a win over South Korea—as sure a thing as any in sports—may give Vladimir Gojkovic’s squad (0-0-2) the top spot if they beat their hosts by more than 24 goals (it seems hard to fathom that!) and Greece and Serbia tie. As it is, a win by either the Greeks or the Serbs will vault them to the top and gift them with an automatic berth in the quarterfinals. There’s no reason to doubt Dejan Savic’s squad, but a key feature of the Greek national team is that five members of Theodoros Vlachos’ squad also play for him under the banner of Olympiacos, the top professional club in Greece.

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Spain’s Alvaro Granados Ortega. Photo Courtesy: Tsutomu Kishimoto/FINA

For whomever finishes second, what’s looming is a match against the third-place finisher from Group A—either Australia or the United States. By virtue of wins over both these squads, Croatia (2-0) has sewn up the group and has a winnable match against Kazakhstan; the Americans (1-1) and Aussies (1-1) face each other tomorrow for second, though the options are not favorable for winner or loser. It’s either a dominant Serbian team or good Greek or Montenegrin side.

Group C is the other compelling men’s bracket at this year’s tournament, as Hungary and Spain are by far the two top teams—or, make that Hungary is the best by virtue of a 13-11 win Wednesday against Spain. The Hungarians (2-0) will likely have an easy time of it against the South Africans (0-1-1), who tied New Zealand and lost 23-3 to Spain (1-1). That final group win will earn Tamas Marcz’s squad a bye into the quarterfinals five days from now, while the Spaniards—after a match against New Zealand—will have a favorable cross-over match-up with either Brazil, Germany or Japan of Group D.

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Of those three, Brazil (0-2) is the weakest link, having lost its first two matches—by nine goals to Italy and seven goals to Germany. A match on Thursday to Japan gives Ricardo Azevedo’s team a chance to escape the Group D cellar; if not, they will face either New Zealand or South Africa in the 13-16th place classifications on July 21. Japan (0-1-1) and Germany (1-0-1) opened play with a 9-all tie. The Japanese then battled the Italians before losing by two; on Thursday it will be the German’s turn to take on Italy, which has already earned a bye into the quarterfinals.

[USA Women Prevail over Holland in 3rd Day of FINA World Water Polo Championships]

Finally, there’s the women’s side, which earlier today saw the final day of group play. After a 12-9 win over Holland in Group A play, the United States (3-0), the clear favorite to win a third straight FINA Worlds title, dominated South Africa (0-3) in its final match of group play, winning 26-1. Trailing the vaunted Americans—who now get to rest until the quarterfinals on July 22, are the Dutch (2-1), who have yet to close on Team USA, losing 14 straight times. They are slated for crossover match Saturday against Canada (1-2) from Group B.

[Russia Beats Hungary 17-12 in Group B Play at FINA Worlds]

Italy (3-0) closed out Group D play with a win over China (1-1-1) to advance directly to the quarterfinals; Spain (3-0) beat Cuba (0-3) to win Group C and also earn a bye. The only suspense left on the women’s side is Hungary (2-0) versus Russia (2-0) in Group B—that match will be played later today. The winner earns a bye; the loser plays  Saturday against New Zealand with a chance to book a trip to the quarterfinals.

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South Korean woemn’s team ready for action. Photo Courtesy: Tsutomu Kishimoto/FINA

At the bottom of each bracket—and playing Saturday for 13-16th place—are Cuba versus Japan and South Africa versus South Korea. Among this gang of four, Japan–with a goal differential of -6—is a hard-luck loser. A couple of goal either way and the Japanese might be playing for a quarterfinal spot.

The same cannot be said about the host South Koreans. Their goal differential was an astounding -113. Not only is this by far the worst in tournament history, it’s enough to make some Koreans cry.