The last steps towards Barcelona
The last phase of the European Water Polo Championships qualifications begins this weekend with the 1st leg of the women’s playoffs. Twelve teams can dream of making the big stage but only six will play in Barcelona this July.
In the new format, the playoffs feature clashes of pretenders coming from the first round of qualifications and teams having made the cut for the previous edition of the European Water Polo Championships but finished the lower half in Belgrade. Duels played on home-and-away basis will decide whether the new sides emerging from the qualifications can join the field or the ‘old’ teams keep their berths.
The fiercest battles are foreseen where the best ones of the first round face the bottom-ranked sides from Belgrade 2016. Slovakia and the Czech Republic came 1-2 in last October on equal points, undefeated, both have a chance to catch their respective rivals. The Slovaks meet Turkey and have a strong chance to go through, just as the Czechs against Croatia. Slovakia would make a historical first appearance at the women’s Europeans while the Czechs target a return for the first time after 1997.
Israel also eyes a premiere, but catching the Portuguese is a big challenge. The remaining three match-ups promise less excitement. Serbia had some fine moments at home in January 2016 and got even stronger since, the team is outstanding favourite against Ukraine and the same applies to the Germans when they play with Romania.
Neighbouring France and Switzerland will have a double showdown as both their men and women teams were drawn against each other so the women’s first leg encounter will be held a week later, in the same programme with the men’s clash (a week later back-to-back matches will be staged in Switzerland too). The French look much stronger in both pairings, still, these four games are going to be a great promotion of water polo in Limoges and Uster.
European Water Polo Championships
Women’s Qualification, Playoffs, 1st leg
18.00 Czech Republic v Croatia
18.30 Israel v Portugal
19.00 Serbia v Ukraine
19.30 Slovakia v Turkey
20.30 Germany v Romania
18.00 France v Switzerland
Second leg: 3 March