Six knockouts leave only two places open
Germany, France, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Georgia almost surely return to the European Water Polo Championships this summer after decisive wins in the first leg of the qualification playoffs. Two more berths are up for grabs, only the return game will determine whether Belarus or Malta, Ukraine or Turkey can travel to Barcelona.
The ‘Old Guard’ holds a strong grip on the European Championships berths: in six duels teams finishing in the lower half of the 2016 edition knocked out the challengers coming from the qualifications.
The Netherlands set a scoring record with 28 goals against Lithuania with an 11-goal rush in the third period – Jesse Koopman scored 7, the best individual effort of the day – and Germany and Romania also finished with 20+ goals while beating Poland and the Czech Republic respectively.
Slovakia thrashed Portugal despite playing away thanks to an 1-8 devastation in the third period while Georgia didn’t leave it late and put the tie against Israel on the right track with a 5-0 opening quarter.
The double clash of France and Switzerland in Limoges brought almost identical scorelines, the host side beat its neighbours 19-1 in the women’s game and 18-1 in the men’s game in a fine promotion of water polo.
Two battles remained wide open as it was somewhat expected. The two bottom ranked teams from Belgrade 2016 met the two best sides of the qualifications and both matches produced great excitements. Malta took a flying start and went 1-4 up in Belarus in the middle of the second period but the hosts equalised by netting three goals in 2:02 minutes before the middle break. The Belorussians rolled on and they led 8-5 – it was a 7-1 rush – with 4:09 to go. However, the Maltese managed to pull two back in the remaining time (8-7) to have higher hopes for the return leg next Saturday.
The other match followed a similar pattern, favourite Turkey jumped to a 0-3 lead in eight minutes in Ukraine and was still 3-5 up at halftime. The hosts fought desperately and in the fourth they could go ahead for the first time but the Turks could save the game into an 8-8 draw at the end.
The second leg is due on 3 March, also for the women. The draw of the European Water Polo Championships will be held in Barcelona on 7 March, the live TV show will live streamed on our website from 12.00.
European Water Polo Championships, Men’s Qualification Play-offs, 1st leg
Netherlands v Lithuania 28-7
Portugal v Slovakia 4-16
Belarus v Malta 8-7
Poland v Germany 2-21
Romania v Czech Republic 20-5
Georgia v Israel 12-1
Ukraine v Turkey 8-8
France v Switzerland 18-1
France v Switzerland 19-1
Return leg: 3 March