All for gold
Title-holder and Olympic champion Serbia, the reigning world champion Croatia and even host Spain are aiming at the title in the men’s tournament, according to the coaches and players who talked to the press in Barcelona before the start on Sunday. The Croats’ spirits are boosted by their football team’s success, another baby arrived to the Filipovic’s family (something usual when the Serbs play in Barcelona) while the Spaniards will rely on the backing of their supporters.
After two days of women’s action, the men also launch their rockets from Monday in Barcelona at the European Water Polo Championships. Before the start, representatives of the top two sides and the host team talked on their expectations.
“We are in a beautiful pool, many thanks for the organisers to create such a great venue” title-holder Serbia’s head coach Dejan Savic said. “After the Rio Olympics, we started a new chapter. Basically the roaster is the same but we have a couple of new players. Our target is gold, as always, but we have a lot of great opponents.”
The world champion and Europa Cup winner Croats have a hard task: their mind is with their World Cup finalist football team, but on Monday afternoon they have to play with the Netherlands. “We are really proud of our football team, what they’ve done is the biggest thing ever happened to our country” head coach Ivica Tucak said. “Of course, we are all excited and support them, we’ll watch the final but soon after it concludes we have to gather in the evening, switch our minds and start to focus on our first match.”
Host Spain had some fine results in the season, claimed silver in the Europa Cup and bronze in the World League Super Final. “It’s great to play here in the legendary pool, in front of our fans and we are ready for the big event” head coach David Martin claimed. “I think our schedule is fine, we can move forward and improve step-by-step against Malta and France before playing the important match with Montenegro. However, in the prelims wins or losses don’t count that much, here all teams are eying the knockout phase, there you have to do your best. And we want do just that, to bring our best to the pools for the eight-finals, hopefully the quarters and if we can reach the semis, anything can happen. We might even have a chance for the title.”
The players are also ready to go for the gold. “The key guys are mostly the same in our team so we are as strong as ever” Serbia’s captain Filip Filipovic said. “Our goal is to retain our title in Tokyo and we are in the process to achieve that. Wherever we play, we are going for the title and this time it’s not going to be different.” Filipovic added that five years ago, during the World Championships here in Barcelona, his first child was born – and something similar happened this time as he became an uncle on Saturday. “Playing in Barcelona at big events means good news in our family” the grand champion said with a broad smile.
“We have had several problems ever since we won the World Championships in Budapest, mostly health issues for players but we hope we can overcome these and maintain our winning series” Croatia’s Maro Jokovic said. “The football team’s success has lifted our spirits too and I think we are ready for the next challenge.”
Playing at home might influence differently a team but the Spaniards hope they took the positives only. “It’s pressure on one hand, for sure but we can also enjoy the support of our fans and that can give us a huge boost” Marc Minguell said. “In the past years we have been building a new team and this year’s results showed that we are on the right way. I think we will show this once more.”
Two years ago Serbia clinched its third title in succession after beating Montenegro in the final, all in all they won 6 of the last 8 editions at the Europeans (2001, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2014, 2016). The Serbs had a unparalleled winning streak from the 2014 Europeans to the 2017 World League Super Finals, when they clinched all 9 titles on offer, including the most desired one at the Rio Olympics.
Their march was halted by Croatia last summer, the Croats beat them in the semis and went on claiming the world title in Budapest. Soon they added the Europa Cup this April (beat Spain in the final in Rijeka), after they beat the Serbs in the prelims once again. The Serbs went down against Montenegro in the World League prelims thus they missed the Super Final for the first time in six years – there the title landed in Montenegro which beat Hungary in Budapest in the gold medal match.