On The Record with Ivica Tucak, Coach for Croatia’s National Men’s Water Polo Team

Ivica Tukac observing the action Thursday at the FINA World Cup 2018 in Berlin. Photo Courtesy: Deutscher Schwimm-Verband e.V. / sportphoto.shop

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

BERLIN, Germany. Ivica Tucak has been connected to water polo his entire life. First, he played professionally for eight different teams over two decades (1985-2005). Tucak then made a successful transition to coaching, starting as head coach wth Solaris Sibenik, the club where he began his playing career, and then for seven years as an assistant to Ratko Rudic when the legendary coach was in charge of the Croatian National Team.

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When Rudic stepped down after leading his countrymen to gold in the 2012 London Olympics, Tukac assumed the responsibility to coach one of the world’s most prestigious national teams. His tenure has produced almost fantastic results for Croatia including silver at the 2015 FINA World Championships and again at the 2016 Rio Olympics. But in European water polo, every team is measured against the dominant Serbian teams that the past five years have won every major tournament.

Except one; the 2017 FINA World Water Polo Championships in Budapest, where Croatia stunned the favored Serbs by 12-11 in a semifinal match, a result that led them to gold. The outpouring of emotion from that match still resonates, though the two teams have played since, a 9-7 Serb victory in the 2018 European Championship semifinals.

Swimming World spoke with Coach Tucak immediately after his team had tied Serbia 10-10 in group play at the FINA World Water Polo Cup 2018. With the result, the Croatians finished behind their rivals in Group B play and will face Australia in quarterfinal action at the FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup 2018.

– You just had an engaging match against Serbia—as always! When your two teams face each other, it feels a bit like brothers fighting for bragging rights in the backyard—even though you both are the world’s best.

It’s always the match against Serbia is a special match. In my opinion those are the two biggest teams at this moment in the water polo world.

Today we had everything in our head, but the final of the game we had not concentration for the game. But it’s nothing; this is the end of the first preliminary round. Now we must wait for the other team who is in the quarterfinal; this is the game who’s important for us. And then the semifinal and then the final, I hope!

– All the teams here are playing with new rules. How has this experiment affected your preparation and play at this tournament?

The rules for me is something new. For me water polo is very, very good. Very good but for me the problem is 11 players [new rule to restrict rosters to 11 players; will be enforced in the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo]. It’s a big change because players must have more time to relax, more time to recuperate.

20 seconds after the shot, possibility for the change [on the fly], it’s okay.

– Teams are now in the midst of an Olympic cycle and this match is part of that preparation. How does the new rules about roster size impact your thinking about who will represent Croatia in 2020?

23-07-2017: Waterpolo: Servie v Kroatie: Boedapest (L-R) during the waterpolomatch between men Serbia and Croatia at the 17th FINA World Championships 2017 in Budapest, Hungary Photo / Foto: Gertjan Kooij

Striking a triumphant pose at 2017 FINA Worlds. Photo Courtesy: Beeldboot.nl\Gertjan Kooij

It will be terrible in the Olympic Games. 11 players in my opinion—water polo is my life—Coach of the Croatian National Team, 11 players is [too] small. You cannot make preparation for the game because you must have two players more [so they’re] more relaxed, more concentration.

– There’s a crop of new players you’re developing for this next Olympic cycle, including Loren Fatovic, whose father, Elvis played with you.

I think, I hope he will be one of the best players in the world. He’s young, he understands water polo, he can read situations. He will be one of the best players; this is my opinion.

We have three or four players here very, very intelligent. No. 9 [Lovre] Milos, No. 5 [Andrija] Basic, No. 7 [Ante] Vukicevic—[Marko] Bijac, the goalkeeper. These are the players who must play with the Croatian National Team for two Olympics at least.

– You spent seven years working with Coach Rudic and the Croatian National Team. He’s now got a new job with Pro Recco.

I worked together with Ratko. Ratko is one of the biggest coaches in the world. You stay with Ratko you must acquire something new.

Recco is one special team. The best players in the world play for Recco. I hope for Ratko and Pro Recco all the best because Recco is one big team.

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Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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