Rotterdam Beckons as Final Hope For 2020 Tokyo Men’s Water Polo Aspirants

27-03-2018: Waterpolo: Vrouwen Nederland v Rusland: Rotterdam (L-R) New swimming pool Sportcentrum Rotterdam during FINA Women's waterpolo World League Match between team Netherlands and Russia in pool Sportcentrum Rotterdam FINA Women's Waterpolo World League - Season 2017 / 2018 Foto / Photo: Gertjan Kooij
In March the Zwemcentrum Rotterdam will host the last possible shot at a men's Olympic water polo berth. Photo Courtesy: Beeldboot/Gertjan Kooij

There’s one more shot to qualify for teams on the outside looking in of the 2020 Tokyo men’s water polo tournament. It will take place at the Zwemcentrum Rotterdam in the Netherlands second-largest city and one of the European Union’s economic centers.

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With possibly four spots available, as many as 12 teams will travel to Rotterdam for the 2020 Men’s Water Polo Olympic Games Qualification Tournament, which will take place from March 22-29. Currently ten teams are confirmed: Argentina, Brasil, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Montenegro, Russia, Georgia and host Holland.

There are two spots for teams that do not qualify for at the Asian Qualification Tournament, which will be held from February 12-16 in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. China, Iran and South Korea will join host and favorite Kazakhstan at this competition, where one team will book an Olympic berth.

It is virtually certain that Croatia will qualify in Rotterdam; the failure of Head Coach Ivica Tucak’s squad to advance to the finals at the 18th FINA World Water Polo Championships last summer in Gwangju, South Korea and at the 34th LEN European Championships. In both tournaments—the most important international competition after the Olympics—the Croatians would have clinched a Tokyo berth just by advancing to both finals.

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But, one-goal losses to Spain in the semifinals of both FINA Worlds and the European Championships denied Tucak an opportunity to focus on preparation for Tokyo, rather than fighting to book a berth. If—really when—the Croatians qualify, it will be the Eastern European country’s seventh-straight trip to the Olympics. They won gold as recently as 2012; in 2016 they were silver medalists after losing to arch-rival Serbia 11-7.

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The Greeks and Montenegrins are also favored to advance; both advanced to the knockout round in the 2016 Games in Rio. This begs the question of why teams like Georgia and Germany will participate. It also leads to speculation why Argentina, Brasil and Canada—who lost out to the American men at the 2019 Pan American Games—would invest in the training and travel costs for a competition that they are all decided underdogs.

Lima, Saturday August 10, 2019 - The USA team celebrates the gold medal during the Men´s Water Polo Awards Ceremony at the Complejo Deportivo Villa Maria del Triunfo at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. Copyright Enrique Cuneo / Lima 2019 Mandatory credits: Lima 2019 ** NO SALES ** NO ARCHIVES **

American men victorious at 2019 Pan Ams. Photo Courtesy: Enrique Cuneo

South Africa, as the only representative from Africa, is guaranteed a spot. But it’s virtually certain the South Africans—which has not sent a men’s water polo team to the Olympics since the 1960 Games in Rome—will not go, leaving an opening for one of the next tier of teams to join the Tokyo draw.

Whoever does claim the remaining spots in Rotterdam will join defending Olympic champion Serbia, host country Japan, Australia, Hungary, Italy, Spain, the United States and the qualifier from Asia for the men’s tournament. It will take place at the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center from July 26 to August 9, when the men’s final will take place.

When they all do finally assemble, teams might find that issues persist with the venue. An investigation by the Asahi Shimbun turned up asbestos concerns at the Tatsumi Swimming Center. Tokyo government officials have vowed to fix the problem before competition begins.

The women’s qualification tournament will be held in Trieste, Italy from March 8 – 15.

For more information on the men’s tournament, click here for more information from FINA.

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