Welcome to European Water Polo Championships Belgrade 2016!
An extended tournament that now includes 16 men’s and 12 women’s teams. 100 games inside the nation’s main sports and event hall with 11,000 seats available. Unprecedented and a new experience to even the veteran players. The 2016 European Championships promise to be a spectacle. And behind the race for the European title there is the battle for that one Olympic qualification berth while six more are available to the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Trieste, Italy (April 3-10). In short, a lot is at stake in Belgrade the next two weeks.
You can always be informed by checking out, the official Belgrade 2016 European Water Polo Championships website.
Who wins the gold?
Serbia should be easiest answer. But it’s not that easy. Why? Pressure. Yes, the guys were also the red-hot favourites at the 2015 World Championships and simply delivered, but there did not played in front of a full Kombank Arena with home fans. So it will be up to them. If the Dejan Savić coached squad is able to keep its focus, they look simply unstoppable in recent times. If not, room for fellow top teams such as Croatia, despite missing some offensive power in Petar Muslim and Paulo Obradović, Italy and Greece will come in.
Especially a lot can be expected from Italy and Greece. Two teams who have showed steady progression over the course of the recent major international tournaments and will come in fully confident after recent nice results, which for Italy meant winning the 4-nation Volvo Cup in Hungary remaining unbeaten and for Greece dating back to their heroic bronze medal win and Olympic qualification from Kazan 2015. After 3 days of common training with Serbia, the Greek just fell short 12-11 in the concluding unofficial friendly match in Athens this week. All signs that the offensively highly skilled side has the potential of making it at least to the semifinals. For Italy, the stronghold is their defence, as it has been for years already. Despite the return of veteran Christian Presciutti and adding of recently naturalised French-born Michaël Bodegas, the organisation in defence is strong and solid. It held both Hungary (4-5 win) and Spain (14-4) win to just scoring 4 goals during the recent Volvo Cup.
Yes, Spain and Montenegro should be considered, despite being drawn in the same group (A). Both teams have well-known qualities and the potential to upset any title favourite. Montenegro will have to miss centre-forward Filip Klikovac who is ruled out due to a should injury. Montenegro made no secret of their intention coming into Belgrade 2016: get to the semifinals and obtain the 1 available berth for the 2016 Olympic Games. Once more without a left-handed player in their squad.
Spain meanwhile will be eager to return to major international competition following the team’s absence at the 2015 World Championships. Compared to Budapest 2014, where Spain finished 7th, goalkeeper Daniel Lopez has returned but head coach Gabriel Hernandez chose not to call veteran left-hander Xavi Garcia and instead will count on the offensive drift of fellow lefties Blai Mallarach (Olympiacos) and Gonzalo Echenique (Primorje). And with proven scorer Albert Español, tournament top scorer in Budapest with 24 goals, present on the left side, and veteran Guillermo Molina in good form so far this club season for his employer Brescia, Spain’s offence will be one to count on, especially on the perimeter. The teams meeting on day 3 of the championships will already be an important match-up knowing the ambitions.
Who qualifies for the 2016 Olympics?
The highest ranked team except the already qualified sides of Serbia (World League winners), Croatia and Greece (World Championships 2nd and 3rd ranked). If this happens to be the top 3 of the Belgrade 2016 then the number 4 squad will take the only available spot for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Who qualifies for the Olympic Qualification Tournament?
Often asked, but not fully certain, yet. What is sure is that at this point 6 berths for the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Trieste will be available in Belgrade. But that includes tournament hosts Italy who still have the possibility to qualify for the Olympics directly. Why 6 spots available? Europe has the right for 5 places at this tournament (including hosts Italy). There will for sure be a vacancy from the continent of Oceania, due to no more teams available. According to FINA By Law 188.8.131.52.4 the host continent (Europe) will first be given the opportunity to take this additional spot.
It basically means at this point the 6 best-ranked sides except for Serbia, Croatia, Greece and the next highest-ranked squad (who qualifies for Rio 2016) will be able to go to the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Trieste (April 3-10) where another 4 berths for the Olympics are up for grabs.
May the best team win!