Round 2 Preview – Rio 2016 Men’s Water Polo

Round 1 delivered some spectacular water polo as expected and this next round will once again be beautiful display of the game of water polo in all its toughness, skill, tactics and mental aptitude! Wherever you’re watching in the world it will be worth staying up late or sneaking out of work to catch a peak of these guys in action:

Serbia v Greece (Serbia win +2)

Serbia started off nervously against a youthful Hungarian team but their experience and confidence paid off with a last second goal to two-time to even up by FINA World Player of the year (and Water Polo by the Sea 2015 Champion!) Filip Filipovic. With the first game out of the way and points on the board, Serbia will come out firing in this game and we can expect an even stronger team performance with a greater emphasis on tight defence.

Greece was almost on the receiving end of one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history (a big claim but it most certainly would have been justified). Japan gave them a true run for their money with an amazing performance in goals by the bearded Katsuyuki Tanamura and a very unorthodox team defence of pressing in the lanes and forcing the Greeks to risk with inside drives at the expense of counter attacks. Up by 3 in the final quarter, the Japanese just couldn’t hold on.

Greece however will feel much more comfortable with the win under their belt and a more orthodox opponent in Serbia. They’ll throw everything at the Serbians with nothing to lose and I’d expect a strong showing. Serbia should be too strong though.

Hungary v Australia (Australia +1 > Happily bias!)

The Aussies seem to love to put themselves into difficult situations and the loss against Brazil certainly put them in a tough spot in the race to the quarter finals. They recently went down via a last second penalty to the Hungarians in front of a vocal home crowd 16-15 and some would argue were the better team on the day. The Aussies will be much more accustomed to the playing style of the Hungarians and with inside knowledge from three of their players who are stars in the Hungarian League (Aaron Younger, Aidan Roach and Joel Swift) they’ll give the Hungarians a very good run for their money.

The Hungarians will take confidence from the draw v Serbia however they are a young team without the maturity and consistency that the Olympics requires. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Aussies take an early lead and the Hungarians lose their composure to hand victory to the Sharks. Watch out for the Varga brothers and their sneaky outside shots and the might and power of a number of their players.

Italy v France (Italy +3)

Italy were on the receiving end of a brutal attack by the Spanish – Matteo Aicardi the star centre-forward received a broken nose in the first minutes of play while Alessandro Velotto’s received a strong shiner which closed one of his eyes . Normally it is the Italians who are renowned for their ‘toughness’ in the water but this time the Spanish flexed their youthful muscle. The Spanish led throughout the entire game only for the Italians to snatch victory at the right moment.

The Italians will take a lot of confidence from that win and are too skillful for the French side. They certainly won’t put the brakes on however and will ensure a good result even with Aicardi still out of the water (expected back with a protective face mask v Montenegro next round). Botegas will have mixed emotions for Italy against his old team mates from France.

USA v Spain (Spain +1)

This will be a huge game with a Quarter-Final berth on the line. Both teams need this win to almost ensure a road to the finals and the loss will make it very hard to recover.

USA put on a very solid effort against Croatia with some wonderful goals but a couple of lapses in defence. Some missed opportunities in attack punished the young American side but against Spain they’ll certainly give it everything and play with confidence. With the likes of Udovicic as coach, their fitness will match the Spanish (who have been enjoying a very high workload under coach Hernandez). I believe the maturity and greater experience of the Spanish side however will give them the edge in this game. Guillermo Molinar will bounce back after missing a crucial penalty v Italy and score the goals when needed. Albert Espanyol and Marc Minguell will also stand out together with Blai Mallarach on the left wing.

Croatia v Montenegro (Montenegro +1)

This will be a battle of giants with no holds barred. Croatia’s performance wasn’t a stand-out against USA and I’m tipping the younger cousin of Montenegro to have the edge. Montenegro led a comfortable and clinical victory against France and will be ready to battle. Their experience will absolutely shine through with much of this team having played together for a very long time. Every individual can achieve amazing feats so I’d expect a true showcase of water polo skills and unbelievable goals. Young coach Vladimir Gojkovic (who retired in 2012 and has played with a majority of the team) together with Petar Porobic has proved a successful combination – the players respect this duo and the results have shown.

Croatia are very similar in terms of style of play, player experience and intensity however have a lot to prove after a big loss to Serbia in the 2015 World Championships (albeit taking away the Silver) and then again in the recent Euro Champs where they finished 7th to Montenegro’s 2nd. They l ooked nervous against USA and I think they’ll again feel it against Montenegro. Xavi Garcia’s (ex-Spain) inclusion for Croatia will certainly help however not having played for Croatia prior to this tournament it won’t be so easy for him to feel at home.

Brazil v Japan (Brazil +2)

This will be a very entertaining game indeed. The potential for a quarter-final spot for Brazil and the chance for Japan to win a game in Rio and keep their dream alive for a quarter final spot will make for an exciting and fast-paced game. Both teams play an unorthodox style of water polo and we saw the potential of these two team with a calculated victory against Australia by Brazil and a ‘what could have been’ by Japan v Greece.

Felipe Perrone, Adrian Delgado and Slobodan Soro in goals performed brilliantly for Brazil and will do so again v Japan. Perrone’s experience and influence on the team as a leader will shine through again and his inside drives will tear apart the risky Japanese defence. No dount the home crowd will help them across the line too.

While Japan won the last encounter in the World League Super Final 12-10 I’m sure coach Ratko Rudic would have had the team under load who no doubt swam 4km’s before that result. Expect Brazil once again to play a very wide attack to open up driving opportunities with Coach Rudic having studied the Japan v Greece game and many other games of Japan over the last two years to skilfully thwart their hard pressing and counter attack style with an emphasis on controlled possession.

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