Water Polo Rio 2016 Round 5 Preview & Commentary
The fourth round certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of action in the pool with high stakes and high intensity. Places were firmly on the line in the race to the quarter finals with the most notable being the clash between World Champions Serbia and underdogs the Aussie Sharks. Everyone would have like to have seen the Aussie Sharks cause the great upset to relegate the Serbs outside of the medals and finally move towards the medal dais.
The two teams traded goals throughout the entire encounter and it was the might, power and experience of Filip Filipovic which broke the backs of the Aussies as he took the Serbs ahead by 2 with less than 2 minutes from full time. He was heavily supported with some devastating shots by Prlainovic through defensive blocking lapses. The Aussies had their chances and gave it everything and certainly left everything in the pool. One interesting fact was the grand bulk of all of the Aussies’ goals coming from players with the most European club experience; this was also evident in the other games. No doubt this will be analysed post Games as the Aussies have performed consistently strong water polo over the past 4 years however have fallen agonisingly short in crucial clashes.
USA’s hopes were also dashed with a comprehensive victory by Montenegro. The US gave an absolutely brilliant show against Montenegro and must be commended as the final score line wasn’t a true indication of how close they came, faltering only in the last minutes where MNE went up by 2 with 3:30 remaining on the clock. Tony Azevado should also be commended on a 5th Olympic Games and leading a very young side to some credible performances.
Australia v Greece (Heart: AUS+2, Head: DRAW)
Greece is guaranteed a spot in the finals thanks to draws v Serbia and Hungary and wins over Japan and Brazil. To guarantee their top spot of the group they’ll need a victory to keep either Brazil or Hungary from taking their place. While I would love to say the Aussies will win this one, it is extremely hard to back up with an unlikely combination the only way to get them through to the quarter finals. Hungary would need to lose to Brazil by 2 or more or Japan needs to beat Serbia. Brazil however with their home crowd and superior tactics have pulled apart the giants Serbia so it’s not out of the question although as per below I don’t think they can achieve this against Hungary. But then there are the Greeks who are the in form team of Group A and they are no easy feat.
The Aussies won’t go down without a fight and there is plenty of history against Greece. In 2004 in front of a home crowd and the Greek Prime Minister himself, Australia was on the wrong side of a double exclusion in the final seconds which put the Greeks through to the eventual fourth place. In 2008 the Aussies disposed of the Greeks in the first round match only to falter in the classification game but in 2012 the Aussies played the perfect game in their final round game v Greece winning 13-8 to move to the quarter finals. In their most recent encounter, the Greeks claimed victory in a heart-stopping penalty shoot-out at the Kazan World Championships (2015) to move to the semis and claim the bronze. To see thae final minutes of that game and the shoot-out click HERE.
Serbia v Japan (SRB +7)
I have to say I have enjoyed watching the Japanese play at these Olympics and especially the bearded Katsuyuki Tanamura in goals who has played extremely well. They earned their spot with an historic win over China at the Asian Qualification championships and have been worthy opponents against Greece and Australia while Brazil and Serbia pulled apart their risky defence and were too strong in attack. Serbia will be too strong and I’m confident we’ll see a scoring fest by the Serbs who individually will want to etch their names on the scorers list.
Brazil v Hungary (Heart BRA+2, Head: HUN +2)
Who knows what the outcome will be? Every prediction has been thrown out as the Brazilians continue to surprise on the upside. The intensity of this game will be dictated by the outcome of the Australia v Greece game however I’m still tipping the Hungarians to be too strong against the home side. In any case, every cross-over game will be difficult with all of the teams in Group B impressing and extremely close. No doubt everyone will want to avoid crossing with the Croatians who seem a little ahead of the other teams and are defending champions.
The Hungarians boast some of the biggest names in world water polo mixed with some incredibly talented youth. Their team are collectively worth well in excess of 1 million Euros in the cashed up league of Hungary who promotes water polo through tax deductible status while the Brazilians have been looked after in their domestic league to date combined with European club stints from some of their stronger players. Felipe Perrone has lived up to his reputation as the world’s best player while Soro in goal has shown that age is no barrier with an unbelievable tournament thus far at the age of 37, ironically considered too old by the Serbians who he beat this week (note Croatian Gold Medalist Goalkeeper Frano Vican was 36 in London, with other great goalkeepers such as Fracesco Attolico 37 in Sydney (ITA) and Alexsander Sostar (YUG) 36 in Sydney winning Bronze).
The final round is mathematical for Group B with the quarter final spots pretty much assured, just the final rankings outstanding. Croatia, Spain and Italy all share 6 points while Montenegro has 4.
USA v Italy (ITA +2)
Italy shouldn’t have a huge problem disposing of USA however the US have nothing to lose and pride to gain so could make it difficult for the Italians but it would be a big surprise and wouldn’t change the outcome of the quarter final spots. The US haven’t performed how they would have liked here however Udovicic has brought together a 2020 team with the bulk of them expected to return in Tokyo and will no doubt be a force to reckon with then.
Spain v Montenegro (DRAW or ESP+1)
This will be a final hard-fought battle. Both teams are assured spots but it is only the cross-over positions which are on the line. Although I favour the might and power of Montenegro, the discipline and form of the Spaniards have me tipping them here slightly.
Croatia v France (CRO +4)
No issues here for Croatia. France has played admirably here but have been outclassed by much tougher opponents and will continue to be on the receiving end of a strong onslaught by bigger and stronger opponents in this clash.