The old guard is ready to march on
It’s another exciting weekend for the water polo fans with the first leg of the men’s play-offs is commencing. Just as in the women’s qualifications, the pretenders coming from the first phase of the qualifications challenge the 9-16th ranked sides of the previous edition of the European Championships. The higher a team finished in the second round of the qualifying process, the lower ranked team from Belgrade was drawn against. This has set up a series of thrilling duels.
For this Saturday, the fiercest battles are forecasted for Kharkiv where Ukraine takes on Turkey, in Minsk where Belarus clashes with Malta and perhaps in Tbilisi where Georgia faces Israel. These three encounters can produce some thrilling moments, though Malta and Georgia are still favoured to retain their respective berths for Barcelona 2018, they showed some fine moments in the Europa Cup prelims last weekend.
As for the other matches, it’s hard to see members of the ‘old guard’ bowing out. Almost all of them had great preparations in the Europa Cup while playing with the top sides of the continent. The Netherlands, Romania and Germany all showed some strength while France even managed to make the cut for the Super Final. These sides, also Slovakia, are overwhelming favourites to return to the big stage this July, in most cases a decisive win already in the first leg is very much in the cards.
A great show is due in France as the respective draws paired the French with neighbouring Switzerland both in the men’s and women’s play-offs so this weekend will see back-to-back matches in Limoges (to be repeated next week in Uster).
European Water Polo Championships, Men’s Qualification Play-offs, 1st leg
14.30 Netherlands v Lithuania
15.00 Portugal v Slovakia
17.00 Belarus v Malta
18.00 Poland v Germany
18.00 Romania v Czech Republic
18.30 Georgia v Israel
20.00 Ukraine v Turkey
20.30 France v Switzerland
18.00 France v Switzerland
Return leg: 3 March