Already a hit, thousands enjoy top level water polo
Hungary, Serbia and Italy finished atop in the respective groups in the Europa Cup while world champion Croatia came third at home, a minor surprise in the prelims. LEN’s new premium water polo competition for national teams proved to be an instant success as a series of brilliant games entertained thousands of fans in the three venues.
No major casualties in the men’s preliminaries of the Europa Cup, LEN’s new showcase offering €80,000 in prize money (for men and women combined). All big teams made the Super Final though there were some excitements and upsets en route.
In Group A Hungary finished atop at home with four wins though their march wasn’t smooth as they had to come from behind against Romania (0-3) and Spain (1-3). Still, their reshaped team – playing without an Olympic champion player for the first time since the autumn of 2000 – could turn both encounters.
A bit surprisingly France came second in Kecskemet despite losing to Romania but later they upset Spain and that secured their qualification. The Spaniards had to play a knockout match with Romania on the last day to clinch the third qualifying spot but the hosts of this summer’s European Water Polo Championships did a clean job and ousted the Romanians who paid the price for drawing against bottom ranked Georgia earlier.
A three-way tie occurred in Group B, interestingly each game of the three top ranked sides produced a two-goal margin thus the number of goals scored determined the final ranking. Based on that, Serbia emerged as the group winner, they beat the Greeks but lost the big Saturday night match to Croatia. The hosts, bouncing back from a stunning defeat on the opening day against Greece, had a 5-0 rush after being 2-4 down and defeated the Serbs once more after the World Championship semi-final. Still, the Croats had to settle for the third place at home.
Host Italy enjoyed a fine cruise in Palermo, with three multiple-goal victories the Settebello won Group C with ease. The young team of Montenegro had to fight hard against the Russians to clinch the second berth but they could score twice after 7-7 late in the fourth period and qualified for the finals.
The prelims of the new premium competition for national teams already made an impact, LEN’s initiative served as a fine occasion for the top sides to play high-level matches in front of capacity crowds in all three venues while shaping their teams while the lower-ranked ones had a fine opportunity to prepare for next week’s crucial European Championship qualifiers.
In the Super Final, to be held on 5-8 April, LEN offers €20,000 for the winner, €15,000 for the runner-up and €5,000 for the bronze medallist.
Men’s Europa Cup, Preliminaries
Group A (Kecskemet, HUN)
- Hungary 12, 2. France 6, 3. Spain 6, 4. Romania 4, 5. Georgia 1
Group B (Split, CRO)
- Serbia 9, 2. Greece 9, 3. Croatia 9, 4. Netherlands 3, 5. Malta 0
Three-way tie: Serbia 3 points (19-19), Greece 3 (16-16), Croatia 3 (13-13)
Group C (Palermo, ITA)
- Italy 9, 2. Montenegro 6, 3. Russia 1, 4. Germany 1
Groups for the Super Final
The Super Final will be held on 5-8 April (venue to be announced soon).
After the round robin, group winners will play for the trophy, second seeded teams will play for the bronze medal.