Upsets and Historic Wins Galore on Day Four of FINA World Water Polo Cup 2018

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Berlin is going crazy for the German National Team! Photo Credit: M. Randazzo

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

BERLIN, Germany. FINA Men’s Water Polo World Cup 2018 quarterfinal play last night at the Europa Sports Park was filled with upsets, historic victories and a bit of intrigue—befitting an tournament where proposed rules changes are roiling coaches and fans alike. Despite the rule experiments, the tournament stakes remain significant; four berths in the upcoming 18th FINA World Championships, slated for next July in Gwangju, South Korea, are up for grab.

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Germany grabbed one of those spots last night, which is in fact historic. By beating South Africa 24-5, for the first time in five years the German National Team qualified for the FINA World Championships. Two years ago German Water Polo Chairman Rainer Hoppe engineered a plan to get to this moment, and it worked—so well that now his team can plan for a shot at the 2020 Tokyo Games, rather than postponing their Olympic dreams another four years.

“The main reason is we had a strategic break this year; that means we said: Ok, if we qualify for the world championship we focus on 2020,” Hoppe said yesterday in an interview. “If we don’t qualify, we directly go strategically to 2024.”

Clearly the German focus will now be on the immediate goal of an Olympic berth in 2020.

The game was essentially over four minutes into the first period, when, on their first five possessions the home team sprinted out to a 5-0 lead. Mateo Cuk (4 goals), Ben Reibel (3 goals) Maurice Juengling (5 goals), Marin Restovic (4 goals) and Reibel again beat South African netminder Lwazi Madi.

The Germans extended the South African’s deficit to 12-4 by intermission; by then, flight arrangements to South Korea were in order. According to Happe, the win Friday night was likely worth approximately 1 – 2 million € in financial support, money from the German government that would not be forthcoming if the team didn’t claim one of the World Championship berths up for grab.

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Haggen Stamm. Photo Courtesy: M.Randazzo

This “money game” paid off for Germany and their confident coach, Haggen Stamm—perhaps his country’s most recognizable figure in the sport. His leadership of the experienced squad has borne fruit, including a positive finish—ninth place—last summer at the European Championships in Barcelona. The upside for Stamm—behind the bench in 2008 when his country’s national team last went to the Olympics—is potentially huge.

The risk was also clear; by not qualifying for the 2012 Games in London, both coach and program experienced setbacks that took years to overcome.

“We deserve now to take part in a world championship next year but to do this step is what we had to do and we did it today,” an elated Stamm said immediately following the match.

“Germany at the moment cannot afford to finance a coach, so I’m doing this for little money,” he explained. “My heart and my historic thinking is that these boys deserve to have someone there who can bring Germany back in the world.

“I call it: Duty for Generations,” Stamm added.

Germany isn’t the only Cinderella team remaining in the tournament. After uneven performances earlier this year, the Australian team and their head coach, Elvis Fatovic, have hit their stride. That top-flight center Joe Kayes (3 goals Friday) is in peak form has also been a key to the Aussies’ stellar run of success in Berlin, which now includes a signature win over Croatia in an earlier match Friday. The 9-8 victory—the first time that Fatovic, who played and coached for Croatia for much of his water polo life, has beaten his former team—is a measure of how much progress Australian has made in this tournament. Croatia brought in nine members of the team that claimed the 2017 World Championship and still could not subdue an Aussie roster that is taking shape in the run-up to 2020.

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Elvis Fatovic. Photo Courtesy: Waterpology

The bonus is that Fatovic’s son Loren—a rising star on Croatian Head Coach Ivica Tukac’s roster—hit on only one of his five attempts. Clearly the father got the better of his offspring at an auspicious moment.

In another quarterfinals, Hungary beat the U.S. 10-8 in a game in which the Americans again suffered a bad first quarter. Goals by Gergo Kovacs, Gergo Zalanki, Bence Batori (3 goals) and Zoltan Pohl in the opening five minutes put the American in a 4-0 hole, and—despite a spirited second-half comeback led by Ben Hallock (2 goals) and Johnny Hooper (2 goals), the Yanks could not recover.

Part of a contingent of four college students who flew in specifically to support the U.S. effort here, Hooper’s goal with a minute and a half left in the third period closed the gap to 7-6. After stabilizing the U.S. backline for much of the second and third periods, McQuin Baron gave up two goals in the last two minutes that ballooned the deficit to three. A nifty backhand by Hallock a minute into the fourth cut Hungary’s lead to two, but despite numerous chances, the Americans could get no closer.

Team USA spent much of the match battling Hungarians in the water and referees on the pool deck; four Americans—Alex Bowen, Alex Obert, Alex Roelse and Dylan Woodhead—fouled out. And, with 3:52 in the match, it appeared that Ben Stevenson had drawn his third exclusion, which would have meant the Americans playing the remainder of the match a man down. Luckily, the scoreboard was wrong so Stevenson stayed in the match; it would however have underscored just how the shortened benches are impacting play. The Americans are still seeking a spot in the 2019 World Championships; capturing 5th place will get them in because Hungary has already qualified.

Johnny Hoopers scores another goal during USA Water Polo National League games.

Johnny Hooper. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

In a surprisingly competitive match, the Serbians advanced to the semifinals with a 12-7 decision over winless Japan. Going down early as a result of goals by Keigo Okawa and Sei Adachi, Head Coach Dejan Savic saw his team respond by scoring six of the next seven goals to take a 6-3 lead with two minutes to go before halftime.

The Japanese stayed within striking distance because of Okawa, who scored four times in the match, but they could not overcome Dusan Mandic (4 goals) and Gavril Subotic (3 goals). The Serbs now move on to face Hungary in Saturday’s first semifinal; the evening’s main event will be a rematch between Germany and Australia. For Serbia, a finals appearance will be a ho-hum affair, but if the Germans find their way to the finals in front of their countrymen, it will be a yet another step in the country’s ascent to the upper echelons of European water polo.

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4 years ago

Picture:…

Berlin is going crazy for the Germin National Team! Photo Credit: M. Randazzo

Thats me: Matthias Beckonert from german waterpolo ( http://www.wasserballecke.de )