Split 2022 – Men’s Event – Preview

SPLIT 2022 – Introduction – Men’s Event:

35th LEN European Water Polo Championship – Split 2022 – Total Waterpolo

The traditional powerhouses have maintained their dominance for many years.

Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Italy, Spain and Greece have rarely let any other nations get close to the podium. At the majors (Olympics, Worlds, Europeans) the USA were the last team outside the ‘traditional elite’ to make semi-finals, doing so at Beijing 2008 and Rome 2009. At the Europeans Romania were fourth back in 2006.

Ever since, the medal rounds are the exclusive playing ground of the ‘Magnificent Seven’.

However, history was made at the World Championships earlier this year where three Mediterranean sides posed with the medals on the podium, Spain beat Italy in the final, Greece grabbed the bronze.

This could mark the start of a new era at the Europeans too.

Hungary won the title at home in 2020 to push its record number of wins to 13, the teams of the former Yugoslavia came first nine times in a row. Seven of those triumphs were courtesy of the Serbs (2001-03-06, then 2012-14-16-18), and between their two streaks Montenegro (2008) and Croatia (2010) were the victors. The Hungarians won back-to-back titles in 1997-1999, so we have to go back to 1995 to see a winner from the South, Italy.

Spain and Greece have never been European champions – though the Spaniards have come close and lost the last two finals in penalty-shootouts (to Serbia and to Hungary). Spain, finally winning a shootout in Budapest to become world champion, arrives to Split without losing a single game in the regular time at the last two European Championships.

The other ‘club members’ are riding rollercoasters. Serbia retained its Olympic title in Tokyo, however, booking its Olympic spot early on (in the 2019 World League Super Final), they fielded younger teams at the 2019 Worlds, then still tested some new faces in Budapest 2020 and that was enough to halt their incredible run of consecutive semi-finals at majors between 2000 and 2019.

Spain arrives to Split without losing a single game in the regular time at the last two European Championships – LEN Total Waterpolo

Since Tokyo, many key players said goodbye to the national team, so they missed the cut again in Budapest (finished 5th), and comes with an even younger team (partly because of injuries) to Split.

At the same time, Croatia was missing from the Olympic top-flight, but in Budapest had an 8th straight semi-final appearance, a World Championship record (though after seven podiums they had to settle for the 4th place this time). Now playing at home, they have all the chances in the world to grab a medal once more (the last time they hosted the meet in 2010, they snatched the title in Zagreb).

Hungary and Montenegro are in a transition period – both sides need to fare without several seasoned veterans who were protagonists in the past, perhaps it was not just an accident that these two had to play for the 7th place in Budapest.

Now they are the only two sides among the top guns for whom making the quarters is a must as they are yet to book their respective spots at the 2023 World Championships. (The two highest ranked teams will qualify, besides Spain, Italy, Greece, Croatia and Serbia, which already secured their participation in Fukuoka, where Olympic berths will already be at stake.)

With Russia being away, perhaps France has the strongest chance to join the top eight and they may cause some stir if they face the ‘transition’ teams at any stage of the competition.

SPLIT 2022 – GROUPS IN FOCUS:

Group A

The favourite in is definitely Italy, ahead of Montenegro. The 2022 World runner-up only finished sixth in 2020, but is back in the medal fight. After they claimed silver at the Worlds in Budapest almost two months ago and winning their first-ever World League tile in late July, they are now aiming for their fourth European title; the last, however, dates back to 1995 in Vienna. Montenegro celebrated its best-ever result in Malaga 2008, surprisingly winning the European title right upon their debut. After another silver medal in 2016, the water polo players of the small Balkan state with a population of less than 650,000 inhabitants finished 3rd in Budapest two years ago and took the 8th place at the Worlds last month. Slovakia and Georgia are the outsiders of this group but might also prove to be a stumbling block for the other teams. Georgia will celebrate its fifth participation at Europeans, in 2020 they finished in the tenth place.

Group B

Host Croatia will have a rematch right away for their bitter loss to Greece in the bronze medal game at the World Championships. The Greeks achieved something they never experienced: won medals back-to-back majors, silver at the Olympics, bronze at the Worlds, now they are looking for a first-ever European podium. Whereas Malta is the total outsider, France might well be considered as an ambitious team who could always be good for a surprise.

Group C

Spain enjoyed a brilliant run since the home Europeans in Barcelona 2018. They reached four finals in the last five majors, at the last two Europeans and the last two Worlds and after losing three, they finally won the last one in Budapest (in between they reached the semis at the Olympics but after losing the semis to the Serbs despite looked a clear winner, they went down against the Hungarians in the bronze medal match).

Though legendary goalkeeper Dani Pinedo said “adios” to the national side, but the rest of the team is ready to carry on their momentum. At the prelims they had the best draw, not facing any of the ‘elite club’ members, though Romania, Germany and the Netherlands are more than teams one may lebel also-rans.

At the same time, the run of these three sides for the two qualifying spots promise sheer excitements. Germany arrives with their new head coach, Montenegrin Petar Porobic, succeeding the legendary Hagen Stamm. Stamm was member of the Germans’ last golden generation, clinching the title in Bonn 1989 – their rival, the Netherlands were also kings of Europe once, but it dates back to 1950 when they won in Vienna. Romania, as mentioned above, was the last surprise semi-finalists in 2006 – something similar would be the story of the year this time.

Group D

In Group D, Hungary, record-holder for the most Olympic and European titles in history, will clash with one of the most successful teams of the last years, Serbia. The Olympic champion of Rio and Tokyo couldn’t write history at the last edition to extend their European winning streak after four consecutive titles (Eindhoven 2012, Budapest 2014, Belgrade 2016 and Barcelona 2018). It was Hungary which ended the Serbs’ run to save its ancient record of five straight wins (1926-27-31-34-38) and claim their 13th European title after a 21-year-long break since 1999. However, Hungary arrives to Split with a new head coach as they opted for a change after the home failure at the Worlds (7th place). It was the first time since 1989 that they made this step during an Olympic cycle and not only at the end of it. Tamas Marcz, who led the team to European triumph and Olympic podium in Tokyo, was replaced by fellow 2000 Olympic champion Zsolt Varga who will guide a bunch of young guns – against another bunch of youngsters in the grand battle against Serbia, as Dejan Savic will have only four Olympic gold medallists from Tokyo in his line-up. Before the showdown, both will have easier tests against newcomer Israel, and Slovenia, which failed in the qualifications but was picked this spring to fill in Russia’s spot.

SPLIT 2022 – TEAMS IN FOCUS:

Water Polo Champions – MEN:

World Champion 2015                      Serbia

European Champion 2016                 Serbia

Olympic Champion 2016                   Serbia

World League Winner 2016               Serbia

World League Winner 2017               Serbia

World Champion 2017                       Croatia

World League Winner 2018               Montenegro

European Champion 2018                  Serbia

World Cup 2018                                 Hungary

World Champion 2019                       Italy

World League 2019                            Serbia

European Champions 2020               Hungary

Olympic Champion 2021                   Serbia

World Champion 2022                      Spain

World League 2022                           Italy

Favourites 2022:

Croatia

  • After becoming an independent country, the Croats won their first medal in 1999 at the Europeans, a silver (before that their ranks were: 5., 4., 4.). This was followed by some ups and downs: 2001: 4., 2003: 2., 2006: 7., 2008: 4., before making the top at home in 2010, when they won the European title in Zagreb. But next came the worst ever performance in Eindhoven 2012, when they came 9th. Then they were 5th in Budapest and 7th in Belgrade. After making the semis 7 times in 9 editions, they couldn’t advance to the top four in three straight occasions. This bad run was halted in 2018 when they made the semis and beat Italy for the bronze, then in Budapest they were back to the semis again but after single-goal losses to Spain and Montenegro they finished 4th.
Croatia are aiming to power through Group B – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • The Croats played back-to-back Olympic finals in the previous two editions, captured gold in London 2012, came second in Rio 2016. They also had a silver on their debut in Atlanta 1996, followed by three modest showings (7th, 10th, 6th) and in Tokyo they were beaten in the quarters again (by Hungary) and came 5th.
  • In the Worlds they have an amazing run: after five medal-less performances between 1994 and 2005, they claimed medals in 7 successive editions, including titles from 2007 and 2017, four bronze medals in 2009-11-13 and 2019, and a silver from 2015. This July they made the semis for a record 9th straight time, but their medal run came to an end as they finished 4th.
  • They have one World League crown from 2012, had three silvers and three bronzes. In the World Cup they earned one silver and a bronze as their best efforts.
  • So far at the European Championships, they played 103 games with 61 wins, 10 draws and 32 losses. Goal difference: 1042-796.

Greece

  • Greece has yet to win a big tournament, let alone a medal at the Europeans. Their quest started in 1970 with a 10th place finish, then after a spell in Group B (second division), they returned to the elite in 1985 (8th). Became regular participants since 1989 (11th). At home they had a breakthrough performance in 1991 (6th) and repeated that in 1993. They reached the semis twice, in 1999 and six years ago in Belgrade but finished 4th on both occasions. This was followed by 5th place in Barcelona – despite scored the most goals during the fortnight, 85. Beforehand they came 6th in 2006, 2012, 2014, 7th in 1997, 2001 and 2020, 8th in 2003, 9th in 1995, 2010, 11th in 2008.
  • Their best-ever result came at the Olympics in Tokyo when they marched all the way to the final, beat Hungary in the semis (also in the prelims), only to succumb to Serbia but they were the happiest silver-medallist in history. Before that, their best effort was a 4th place from the home Games in 2004, and they were 6th in 1996 and in Rio 2016.
Greece best-ever result came at the Olympics in Tokyo when they marched all the way to the final – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • While they had never stood on the podium at the Europeans, they had three bronze medals from the World Championships. They made the podium for the first time in Montreal 2005, then ten years later in Kazan, and this July they did it again, finished 3rd in Budapest. They made the semis in Budapest 2017 too, but that time they came 4th after losing to Serbia in their last match (they also came 4th in 2003 – interestingly, they lost the semis three times against Hungary, in 2003, 2005 and 2017).
  • Got a silver from the 1997 World Cup and two bronzes from the World League (2004, 2006). Their recent ranks: Olympics, 2008: 7th, 2012: 9th, 2016: 6th, 2022: 2nd. World Champs: 2013: 6th, 2015: 3rd, 2017: 4th, 2019: 7th, 2022: 3rd (missed the cut for 2009 and 2011).
  • All-time stats for the Greeks at the Europeans: 130 matches, 53 is to earn its 50th win in history in Budapest.

Hungary

  • 9-time Olympic champion (1932, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1976, 2000, 2004 and 2008); 1928, 1948 and 1972 Olympic silver medallist; 1960, 1968, 1980 and 2020 Olympic bronze medallist 
  • 1973, 2003 and 2013 World champion; 1975, 1978, 1982, 1998; 2005, 2007 and 2017 World silver medallist;
Will Hungary return to winning ways? – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • 1991 World bronze medallist, 2019 World 4th , 2022 World 7th 
  • 13-time European champion (1926, 1927, 1931, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1974, 1977, 1997, 1999, 2020); 
  • 1970, 1983, 1993, 1995, 2006 and 2014 European silver medallist; 1981, 2001, 2003, 2008, 2012 and 2016 European bronze medallist, 2018 European 8th 
  • 2003 and 2004 World League winner; 2005, 2007, 2013, 2014 and 2018 World League runner-up; 2002 World League 3rd 
  • 1979, 1995, 1999 + 2018 World Cup champion; 1993, 2002, 2006 + 2014 WC runner-up; 1989 + 1997 WC 3rd 

Italy

  • Italy has always belonged to the continental powerhouses. They joined the European party in 1938 and they finished outside the top 5 only 7 times in their following 29 appearances. They stood on the podium 11 times (3-2-6): won the title in 1947, 1993, 1995, were runners-up in 2001 and 2010 and bronze medallists in 1954, 1977, 1987, 1989, 1999 and in 2014. On their last 15 appearances since 1987 they missed the semis only 6 times (1997, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2016, 2022). The 2003 performance was the worst ever (9th). They came 4th in 1950, 1958, 1966, 1970, 1991, 2012, 2018, 5th in 1938, 1974, 1985, 2006, 2008, 6th in 1981, 1997, 2016, 2022 and 8th in 1962.
The 2022 World runner-up only finished sixth in 2020, but is back in the medal fight – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • Italy also produced fantastic results on the world stage: were Olympic champions in 1948, 1960 and 1992, clinched the world title in 1978, 1994, 2011 and in Gwangju 2019, and lost the final in a shootout against Spain this July in Budapest. Further medals at the Olympics: silver in 1976 and 2012, bronze in 1952, 1996 and 2016 – Worlds silver in 1986, 2003, 2022, bronze in 1975. Also won the World Cup in 1993 and most recently they grabbed their first-ever World League trophy this July.
  • Since Alessandro Campagna returned from Greece and took over the national team for the second time (during his first spell Italy was runner-up at the Europeans and 4th in Worlds in 2001), the Italians started to roll in 2010. They barely missed the semis of the big tournaments: 2010: ECH: 2., 2011: WL: 2., WCH: 1., 2012 ECH: 4., WL: 3., OG: 2., 2013: WL: 3., WCH: 3., 2014: WL: prel., ECH: 3., 2015: WL: 7., WCH: 4., 2016: ECH: 6., WL: 4., OG: 3. 2017: WL: 2., WCH: 6. 2018: WL: prel. ECH: 4., 2019: WP: prel., WCH: 1., 2020: ECH: 6., OG: 7. 2022: WCH: 2, WL: 1. In 24 events they reached the semis on 18 occasions – though they didn’t survive the quarters at the 2020 Europeans and at the Olympics, but bounced back to clinch silver at the Worlds and gold in the World League this summer.
  • Italy’s stats at the European Championships: 212 matches, 120 wins, 18 draws, 74 losses, goal difference: 1843-1331.

Montenegro

  • Soon after gaining independence, Montenegro won the European title at its very first try in Malaga 2008. Since then, they came 5th (2010), 2nd (2012), 4th (2014), 2nd (2016), 6th (2018) and got the bronze in Budapest 2020, so they made the semis 5 out of 7 at the Europeans, quite an impressive record.
  • Montenegro also enjoyed some fine spells at the world stage, though at the Olympics they have a miserable series of losing three straight semis and bronze medal matches alike, finishing 4th in Beijing, London and Rio – and then dropped to the 8th place in Tokyo.
Montenegro celebrated its best-ever result in Malaga 2008, surprisingly winning the European title right upon their debut – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • At the Worlds they had mixed fortunes: 9th in 2009, 7th in 2011, silver medallists in 2013, 5th in 2015 and 2017, but in Gwangju 2019 they hit an all-time low by finishing only 10th in Gwangju and did just slightly better this July in Budapest where they came 8th.
  • In the World League they won in 2009, had two bronze medals in 2013 and 2014 and earned a second title in Budapest 2018, and a third in 2021 but was 6th in the very last one in Strasbourg a month ago. 
  • Montenegro’s brief history at the Europeans in numbers: 52 games, 35 wins, 5 draws and 12 losses, goal difference: 528-367.

Serbia

  • Serbia’s amazing run of 9 consecutive podium finishes came to an end in Budapest when they lost to Spain in the quarters (with penalties) and had to settle for the 5th place. Before Budapest 2020, they won 7 of the previous 9 editions (2001, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018), stood on the podium 10 times in the 11 editions they took part since their return in 1997, only missing the medal in 1999 and then in 2020 (their tally stood 7-2-1).
  • Yugoslavia first entered the Europeans in 1934, finishing 5th. After skipping the 1938 and 1947 editions they became a constant medal winner: silver in 1954, 1958, 1962, 1977, bronze in 1950, 1966, 1970, 1974. Ironically, at home in Split this run was halted (4th place in 1981, the same in 1983), then came three more silvers (1985, 1987, 1989). It took 14 participations before they earned their first win in 1991. Yugoslavia was Olympic champion in 1968, 1984 and 1988, world champion in 1986 and 1991.
  • The Serbs could return (still under the name of Yugoslavia) to the world stage in 1996. A European silver in 1997 was the highlight before the big run has started in 2000. Since the Sydney Games they reached at least the semi-finals all but four times in the last 22 years (only missing the SF at the 2013, 2019 and 2022 Worlds and at the 2020 Europeans). They clinched 25 gold medals en route: the Olympic titles (2016, 2021), 3 world titles (2005, 2009, 2015), 7 European titles (2001, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018), 12 World League titles (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019), 3 World Cup titles (2006, 2010, 2014).
The Olympic champion of Rio and Tokyo couldn’t write history at the last edition to extend their European winning streak after four consecutive titles – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • At the majors (Worlds, Europeans, World League Super Finals, World Cup) the Serbs had an unbeaten run of 38 matches (34 wins, 4 ties) between the prelim’s third round of the 2014 European Championships and the prelim’s third round of the 2016 Olympic Games, when Brazil stunned them 6-5.
  • They won 9 straight big competitions: 2014 World League, 2014 Europeans, 2014 World Cup, 2015 World League, 2015 World Championships, 2016 Europeans, 2016 World League, 2016 Olympics, 2017 World League.
  • Their golden streak came to an end at the 2017 Worlds when Croatia beat them in the semis, and they had to settle for the bronze medal. In the last four years they won 3 events out of 8 – came first at the 2018 Europeans and in the 2019 World League and then again in the Olympics, but missed the 2018 WL Super Final, finished 3rd at the 2018 World Cup and 5th at the 2019 Worlds, then again at the 2020 Europeans, the 2022 Worlds and the 2022 World League.
  • The Serbs’ stats (incl. YUG) at the Europeans: 155 matches, 114 wins, 18 draws and 23 losses. Goal difference: 1311-798.

Spain

  • Spain arrives to Split as the reigning world champion but also with a special record at the Europeans: they remained unbeaten in the regular time in the last two editions in Barcelona and Budapest but finished runner-up on both occasions, losing the finals in penalty-shootouts to Serbia and to Hungary (in Budapest 2020, they beat the Serbs with penalties in the quarters, the Croats by a single goal in the semis before losing to the hosts with the penalties again).
  • At the Europeans they are regular participants since 1954, missing only the 1962 edition (they had an early try in 1934 as well). Spain’s best showings at the Europeans are three silver medals from 1991, 2018 and 2022 and three bronzes from 1983, 1993 and 2006. Apart from the medal-winning performance in Belgrade 2006, they missed the top flight between 1995 and 2016. They lost five Qfs in a row, and had to settle for the 7th place in 2008, 2012 and 2014, 8th in 2010 and 5th in 2016.
Spain arrives to Split as the reigning world champion – LEN Total Waterpolo
  • The men’s heydays date back to the 90s when the team – after two silver medals at the Worlds in 1991 and 1994 and one from the 1992 Olympics – won the Olympic title in 1996 and back-to-back world titles in 1998 and 2001 (played in 4 straight world champ finals). Now something similar unfolds: they played four finals in the last five majors, 2018 Europeans, 2019 Worlds, 2020 Europeans, 2022 Worlds, losing the first three finals and finally claiming the world title in Budapest (in a shootout against Italy) – at the Olympics they reached the semis but ended up 4th in Tokyo.
  • All in all, at the Worlds, Spain was coming back after a smaller shock as they couldn’t qualify for the 2015 World Championships: they missed the big event for the first time in their history. Beforehand, besides their four straight finals between 1994 and 2001, they had two more medals, a bronze in 2007 and a silver in 2009, 5th place finishes in 2003 and 2005 and in 2011 and 2013 (at both Worlds held in Barcelona in 2003 and 2013). Their 9th place in Budapest in 2017 was the lowest ranking since 1978 – only to bounce back and earn another silver last summer in Gwangju and coming first in Budapest two months ago.
  • They have 5 bronze medals from the World Cups, three silvers from the World League – had a bronze this July in Strasbourg. 
  • Spain’s all-time results at the Europeans: 195 matches, 93 wins, 19 draws and 83 losses. Goal-difference: 1603-1406.