The men's tournament of the 2015 World Water Polo Championships in Kazan will be kicked off on Monday by Croatia and Canada. The group (A) that both teams are members of for the preliminary phase of the tournament is marked by four teams who recently have met at least one of the opponents in Kazan. Croatia and Canada however did not. But several players on the current rosters were there in Barcelona two years ago when the Croatians defeated Canada 13-8 in the prelims, then group B, match-up. A 3-0 first-quarter start by the eventual bronze medal winners had them in the driver's seat already after 8 minutes into the game. Now two years later both sides are back on the world's premier stage in the race for another world title.
Several notes can be attached to group A, such as:
Brazil head coach Ratko Rudic will once again meet the team that he led to the 2012 Olympic Games gold medal in 2012, his native Croatia. Rudic and Brazil caused an upset at the recent 2015 World League Super Final in Bergamo, Italy by beating Croatia 17-10 in the group stage. Croatia went on to reach the final while Brazil won the bronze medal beating USA on an epic penalty shootout.
Another member of the group in Bergamo was China, also in group A in Kazan. The Croatians overpowered the Paolo Malara coached side 4-14 while Brazil recorded a solid 15-7 victory.
Brazil and Canada will meet once more after nearly two weeks ago, the Brazilians defeated Canada 9-11 in the group play of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
A top-spot finish in the group at the 2015 World Championships is interesting. The group winners will be qualified for the quarterfinals directly with the 2nd and 3rd seeds to play a crossover round in order to join them. Croatia can be considered the heavy favourite in this group. The team received a blow this week as FINA announced to have suspended their starting centre-forward Niksa Dobud for 4 years due to a missed out-of-competition doping test following a World League game at Montenegro late March. Dobud was already provisionally suspended from mid-April onwards but now sees his 2016 Olympic dream in serious jeopardy with only appeal at CAS in Lausanne, Switzerland as his final option to change that. Despite Luka Loncar and Fran Paskvalin doing their thing at the position in the current team, Dubod will surely be missed during the Kazan championships and thereafter if his suspension becomes indefinite. Still the balanced roster of the Ivica Tucak coached side is absolute world-class and capable of going for gold for a possible first time since the memorable 2007 title in Melbourne.
If Croatia manages to hold back Brazil the race for 2nd place could become an interesting one. As the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams out of group A will play group B's 3rd and 2nd seed, the outsiders in group A know they will be up for a tough task as group B consists of Italy, Greece, USA and hosts Russia. Pan Ams bronze medal winners Canada, after missing out on qualification for the 2016 Olympics by falling to the USA in the semifinals just 9-8, seek revenge and success and could very well use a win over Brazil to claim a possible 2nd place in group boosting the confidence ahead of the crossover round, in which USA could very well turn out to be the opponent. But the Canadians have more to think off in the group. They'll face China again. The team that was responsible for their absence at the Word League Super Final as the Chinese caused an upset at the Intercontinental Qualification tournament by knocking off Canada 10-11 in the quarterfinals for direct Super Final qualification.
Who to watch:
Sandro Sukno (Croatia) - One of three new members of European club champion Pro Recco from Italy for next season, Sukno will once again be showcasing his talents in Italy. The Croatian, joint top scorer of the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona (20 goals, together with Montenegrin Aleksandar Ivovic), is one of the greatest talents of today's game, was an absolute standout for his team at the World League Super Final and will be looking to carry the Croatians in Kazan.
Photo: Marcel ter Bals.
Felipe Perrone (Brazil) - At 29 years in the prime of his career. Led his team, Spanish champions, Barceloneta to a bronze medal at the Champions League Final Six in May, before being awarded as Most Valuable Player of that three-day tournament in Barcelona. Perrone continued his good form coming into the international season as his quick offensive movement and sharp shooting carried Brazil to a World League Super Final bronze medal and Pan American Games final berth including top scoring honours netting 19 shots total.
Photo: Marcel ter Bals.
Guilherme Gomes (Brazil) - Just 19 years of age and definitely a rising star of the Brazilian team. Finished as 3rd scorer at the Pan American Games behind Perrone and Adria Delgade scoring 11 goals but showcased his outside presence also at the World League Super Final where he emerged as offensive threat backing up usual suspects on offence Perrone, Delgado and centre-forward Josip Vrlic.
Justin Boyd (Canada) - After a relatively quiet performance on the offensive end at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, that featured just 3 goals, Boyd more and more has developed into one of the premier offensive threats of the Canadian team. He led the bronze medal winners in Toronto scoring 16 goals during the Pan Ams including game-high 5 goals against Venezuela and Mexico.
Photo: Diane Bekhazi.
Petar Muslim (Croatia) - Slowly developing into Croatia's regular 2nd scorer, Muslim already displayed his qualities on the international stage during the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai before a shoulder injury kept bothering him for quite some time. More recently however a healthy Muslim is of great value to his team Primorje from Rijeka, Croatia and to the national team where his furious outside shot but also capabilities of playing the more physical positions earn him a leading spot in the Croatian team.
2015 FINA World Championships Kazan (RUS)
Group A Croatia, Brazil, Canada, China
Group B Greece, USA, Italy, Russia
Group C South Africa, Hungary, Argentina, Kazakhstan
Group D Serbia, Japan, Montenegro, Australia
Monday, 27 July (men)
09.30: Croatia vs. Canada 10.50: Brazil vs. China 12.10: Greece vs. Italy 13.30: South Africa vs. Argentina
17.30: Hungary vs. Kazakhstan 18.50: USA vs. Russia 20.10: Serbia vs. Montenegro 21.30: Japan vs. Australia
Wednesday, 29 July (men)
09.30: Greece vs. USA 10.50: Kazakhstan vs. Argentina 12.10: South Africa vs. Hungary 13.30: Australia vs. Montenegro
17.30: Serbia vs. Japan 18.50: Russia vs. Italy 20.10: China vs. Canada 21.30: Croatia vs. Brazil
Friday, 31 July (men)
09.30: South Africa vs. Kazakhstan 10.50: Hungary vs. Argentina 12.10: Serbia vs. Australia 13.30: Japan vs. Montenegro
17.30: Croatia vs. China 18.50: Greece vs. Russia 20.10: Brazil vs. Canada 21.30: USA vs. Italy
Sunday, 2 August (men)
10.50: A4 vs. B4 - M25 12.10: 4C vs. 4D - M26 13.30: 2A vs. 3B - M27
17.30: 3A vs. 2B - M28 18.50: 2C vs. 3D - M29 20.10: 3C vs. 2D - M30
Tuesday, 4 August (men)
09.30: L M25 vs. L M26 - M31 (15th/16th place classification) 10.50: W M25 vs. W M26 - M32 (13th/14th place classification) 12.10: L M27 vs. L M29 - M33 13.30: L M28 vs. L M30 - M34
17.30: 1A vs. W M29 - M35 18.50: 1B vs. W M30 - M36 20.10: 1C vs. W M27 - M37 21.30: 1D vs. W M28 - M38
Semifinal round Thursday, 6 August (men)
10.50: L M33 vs. L M34 - M39 (11th/12th place classification) 12.10: W M33 vs. W M34 - M40 (9th/10th place classification)
15.30: L M35 vs. L M36 - M41 17.00: L M37 vs. L M38 - M42 20.15: W M35 vs. W M36 - M43 21.45: W M37 vs. W M38 - M44
Saturday, 8 August (men)
14.00: L M41 vs. L M42 - M45 (7th/8th place classification) 15.30: W M41 vs. W M42 - M46 (5th/6th place classification)
20.30: L M43 vs. L M44 - M47 (3rd/4th place classification) 22.00: W M43 vs. W M44 - M48 (1st/2nd place classification)
The world of top water polo is a relatively small one. And so it can happen that after the 2014 European Championships in Budapest you will meet again, only now on the world's stage. Such is the case in group A where Greece, Italy and Russia meet once more after being drawn in group A for the Budapest 2014 championships. Results? Greece (12-6) and Italy (13-6) each beat Russia before being tied 9-9 in their head-to-head match in the final round of group play. Now one year later they find themselves one more year developed and matured, but also joined by recent 2015 Pan American Games gold medal winners USA. A young team but in great form and already sure of qualification for the 2016 Olympics. And, as one may expect, it will not be a quiet opening for Italy and Greece in their run for the top spot in the group as they will face off against each other already on day 1 of the men's tournament, on Monday in game 3 of the day in Kazan. And for Greece that is followed by meeting USA in the early morning of Wednesday.
Group B is the example of one of the tougher groups during these 2015 World Championships. Hosts Russia are up for a daunting task as being up-and-coming finding themselves in a group of teams that are actually knocking on the door of the absolute world's top water polo or in some cases, perhaps already being there. So the race for first place in this group could turn out to be an interesting one. On paper Italy, actually playing without a left-hander since Valentino Gallo was not selected by head coach Alessandro Campagna, can be considered favourites but it will surely be close in this group. USA and Italy actually met for a 3-game series in the US around New Year with the hosts winning 11-10 and 9-7 after the series opener was tied 10-10. But it is Greece who can be expected a lot from also. The Greek side finally hopes to get past their array of quarterfinal berths in the big tournaments. Last year in Budapest eventual champions Serbia stood in the way, 13-9, while at the previous World Championships edition in Barcelona, also later champions Hungary proved superior: 3-9. But with the core of the group being held together the Greek slowly but surely approach the world's best. In a strong 8-nation tournament in Nis, Serbia ahead of the Kazan 2015 championships, they proved to be on the right path by edging hosts Serbia on penalties in the semifinals only to fall to Montenegro for the tournament win. And what about USA? The young team who had a busy preparation or build-up to this tournament is coming to Kazan in great shape and with confidence sky high. The move of acquiring Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic, followed by an extremely busy programme of as many as international matches as possible, only to add proven veterans as Tony Azevedo, Jesse Smith and goalkeeper Merill Moses to the squad definitely seems to pay off. The Americans fell to Brazil in a long shootout for the bronze medal at the World League Super Final in Bergamo but were up to the task just weeks later in Toronto, Canada where they won a 6th straight Pan American Games but more importantly, secured themselves of a 2016 Olympic Games berth by edging arch rivals Canada in the tournament semifinals 9-8. Now their gruelling summer draws to a close with another tough task in the form of a strong group B in Kazan. It will be interesting to see how the team will match-up against these European powerhouses.
Russia meanwhile are the outsiders but still the home team in the Water Polo Arena for 2 weeks. The team also had a busy preparation and recently participated in multiple tournament or friendly series. It led to a win in the 4-nation Kazan test tournament, Tatarstan Cup, after drawn with Spain 8-8 in the final. European champions Serbia proved too strong twice in two friendly games in Serbia and in the annual international tournament in Portugalete, Spain the hosts took the tournament win topping Russia 8-7 in their head-to-head meeting. The 8-nation tournament in Nis, Serbia last week was finished in 7th place knocking off China 15-8 in the classification match but included match-ups with Serbia, Romania and Germany to complete a busy preparation. Now in the final days, after some good rest, the team is hopefully ready for the tough task that awaits them. The competition set-up means if you can gain only one win and avoid last place in the group, you're still in the race for the medals. With the home crowd behind them, perhaps the talented but learning crew can soar to new heights and show the world where Russian men's water polo is standing now in return back to the days of the glorious past.Who to watch:
Ioannis Fountoulis (GRE) - Proven shooter. Even given that talent continues to lead the Greek team in scoring from the left wing. Netted 16 goals at the 2014 European Championships in Budapest but also the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, each time leading his team.
Photo: Johan Opperman.
Matteo Aicardi (ITA) - Centre-forward but 'new-style'. Strong, yet quick and one of the better players of the Italian team during the disappointing World League Super Final at home in Bergamo. Now in the prime of his career and with a world championship under his belt, we might as well see Aicardi (29) having saved his best for this, and next year.
Luca Cupido (USA) - Born Italian and on the verge of their national team before making the move to the USA last season quickly developing into one of their go-to-guys in attack. Cupido scored 16 goals finishing 2nd in the team behind Bret Bonanni's 18 during the recent Pan American Games, including the proven winning goal (9-6) in the 2016 Olympics-clinching semifinal vs. Canada, and in the previous series of friendly matches stood out as fierce shooter scoring the winner in friendly wins over Serbia twice.
Konstantin Stepanyuk (RUS) - One of the older players of the team and reliable shooter. Finished 2nd in the goal scorers list of the 2014 Europeans in Budapest after scoring 20 during the tournament and netted 4 in the team's 15-8 win over China to finish the recent 8-nation tournament in Nis, Serbia in 7th place.
The third group of the 2015 World Championships men's water polo tournament is a striking one. A single highly favourite team ready to claim the group's top spot and qualify for the quarterfinals directly. That team is defending champion Hungary. But while leading group C in Kazan, the more interesting question could even be who will take 2nd and 3rd place which leads to the crossover round for quarterfinal qualification. Teams from Argentina, Kazakhstan and South Africa find themselves in a situation where this very well possible and could be the start of improving on the ranking in the previous edition of the world champs, back in 2013 in Barcelona. For debutant Argentina it means they were actually drawn in a fairly competitive group and after their recent 4th place at the 2015 Pan American Games can be set for a whole new experience.
Hungary's first place is not a hard one to predict. What could turn out to be entertaining is the race for 2nd and 3rd place. Based on the past results the experienced squad of 2014 Asian Games champions Kazakhstan, number 12 of the world champs previous edition, is favourite to take the 2nd spot. Led by former Yugoslavian and Serbian international Branko Pekovic and veteran left-hander Sergey Gubarev, Kazakhstan just lost 9-8 to Germany during Barcelona 2013 group play, while beating Romania 7-4. In the crossover round they took a 2-4 lead over Hungary before being knocked off 16-7. But even in that scenario there's still one spot left for the crossover round to play for by usual competitor at the world championships South Africa and newcomer Argentina. The Argentines however can rely on the experience of professional German Yañez who is the stronghold of his Spanish team Mediterrani, and captain Ivan Carabantes. Yañez however did not finished as the team's top scorer at the recent Pan American Games where Ramiro Veich took a 10th place overall by scoring 11 goals while Yañez finished with 10 and captain Carabantes with 9. They'll face a more experienced South African team although since the 2013 world championships and six players retiring the squad is re-building. In April South Africa won the EU 8-nations cup in Odense, Denmark beating the hosts in the final for a boost of confidence in the long build-up to the 2015 World Championships. But the lack of competitive playing time together, due to both geological and financial reasons, keeps bothering the team. In that department Argentina will have the advantage. But it doesn't mean South Africa will be ready for what could turn out to be the key match in their attempt for a best result at the world championships stage so far. Both teams will meet already on the men's day 1, next Monday.
Who to watch:
Dénes Varga (HUN) - Still the most sensational player on a highly talented Hungarian team. Continues to surprise with his offensive talents and shooting skills. Most Valuable Player and FINA World Player of the Year in 2013 while leading Hungary to the world title. Still just 28 years of age and in the prime of his career, these 2015 World Championships and next year's Olympics could also very well be highlighted by Varga's offensive outbursts.
Photo: Johan Opperman.
Márton Szivós (HUN) - Initially left off the squad for the World League Super Final and the rest of the summer, Hungary head coach was quick to re-call the veteran driver, after a dissapointing 6th place finish in Bergamo. His furocious shot (Szivós has one of the fastest shots in today's game) combined with his speed, even at age 33 (turning 34 in August), will have the watchful eye of the crowd at the man who scored the winning goal for Hungary in the Barcelona 2013 gold medal final.
Photo: Johan Opperman.
Branko Pekovic (KAZ) - European champion with Yugoslavia in 2001 in Budapest and with Serbia in 2006 in Belgrade before claiming the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, Pekovic has some experience under his belt. Now the former Serb international carries the Kazakhstan team to a 2014 Asian Games gold medal, a 6th place finish at last year's World Cup and 12th place at the 2013 Barcelona World Championships.
Branko Pekovic (white cap, foreground) defending vs. Croatia during last year's FINA World Cup. Photo: Russel McKinnon
The 2012 European Championships final, 2012 Olympic Games bronze medal match or 2013 World Championships quarterfinal. Just a few occasions that comes to mind where Serbia and Montenegro met and produced instant highlights. It's almost as if one can say that match-ups between the two former countrymen never disappoint. And now they will square off already in the preliminary round of the 2015 World Championships in Kazan. Put in the Australian team, and complete the group by 2014 Asian Games runners-up Japan, and you got yourself some matches to look forward to in the group stage next week. In the build-up to the tournament Montenegro got to learn that starters and veterans Nikola Janovic (needs rest but returns in 2016) and Antonio Petrovic (retired from international career) as well as back-up centre-forward Sasa Misic (injury) will miss out on the action in Kazan which should affect the depth of the current worlds runners-up quite a bit. But after a solid preparation that included joint training with Canada and Greece, the confirmation of the team's level and ambition came last week in Nis, Serbia where the Montenegrins managed to win the strong 8-nation tournament which included 2 wins over Greece including in the final. The return of Aleksandar Radovic to the team will help but even more so the other players realising they will have to step up when playing a two-week tournament such as the world championships, should have Montenegro being considered a title contender as much as they were in the previous big championships. For Australia the miss of centre-forward Joe Kayes could be felt. The former New Zealander and member of Hungary's runner-up OSC just this week received confirmation from FINA that he is forced to sit out this world championship the change of sport nationality eligibility rules although Water Polo Australia strongly disagrees and even considers an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Yes, Kayes hasn't been part of the Sharks team in previous championships but did join and worked along during the long preparation towards the Kazan 2015 tournament. And as we're talking about a player who made a name for himself in Hungary by delivering strong performances in the teams of Szeged and recently OSC, the potential miss is substantial. But then again, the Sharks know how to play and have two more years under the guidance of head coach Elvis Fatovic under their belt. Now even more than in 2013, his approach of defence as a priority for this team should have Australia now making a strong case for themselves to not only reach the quarterfinals but get past that hurdle in what would mean tying the best-ever result for the Aussie Sharks (4th in Perth, 1998). Both teams are joined in the group by arguably the highest title-favourite team, Serbia. After their year of international domination in 2014 which included gold medals at the World League Super Final, European Championships and FINA World Cup, and more recently qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games by retaining the World League trophy in Bergamo, Serbia is the team to beat in Kazan. And with still virtually the same roster, that role of favourite is legitimate. Only missing for Serbia is veteran centre-back Nikola Radjen who is provisionally suspended by FINA due anti-doping rules violation and is awaiting verdict. His spot is filled by promising Partizan youngster Nikola Jaksic who in Bergamo already proved to be a worthy replacement, despite his age of 18 years.
The story of this group actually lies more in their neighbouring group C, looking at the competition format. As this group D is one of the tougher ones, the crossover round, on paper, could turn out to be relatively easier for 2nd and 3rd ranked sides. And so the need to finish first and avoid that crossover round is not necessarily great. The only reason now could be that skipping a round is more than welcome in a two-week tournament in terms of possible fatigue at the end of week two. However every competitive spirit will play to win and finish first in this case. Therefore plenty of nice match-ups will await the crowd in group D.
Even with Serbia in the role of favourite, that does not mean they are likely to top the group after three rounds of play. Just last year en route to the Europeans gold medal, the Serbs lost to Hungary and drew level with Croatia only to beat Spain 8-7 in a must-win situation to reach the quarterfinals. So in week 1 in Kazan it could come down to the answer to the basic question: who is ready to play? In that picture, Australia could be included for a same portion as favourites Serbia and Montenegro. The Aussie Sharks in recent years have proven to be able to beat or make life very hard for European top teams on a good day. And since they've been in Europe preparing for quite a while, it could very well mean that the Elvis Fatovic coached side could be making waves in group D during the first week of the world championships. The same goes for Montenegro who will also look at the competition format and know in usual conditions, things won't be decided in the group stage so the matches could even be used to gain rhythm and form to carry into the second week. After their win of the 8-nation tournament in Nis, Serbia the confidence got a needed boost after the earlier news that three players of last year's squad won't be playing this summer. Ranko Perovic' team however showed determination and resilience, confirmed by the nice performance during the 'Nis tournament' and looks ready for another nice result at the world championships after the 2013 edition silver medal.
For Japan though, this draw is tough luck. The 2014 Asian Games silver medal winners are on the rise but find themselves in arguably the worst possible group. But after missing out on qualification for the 2013 world championships, the Japanese are back on the worlds stage by making it to this year's edition. And with several national team members playing professionally in Europe the past season in, among others, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, the squad is looking to boost its level on the way to the 2020 Olympics at home in Tokyo. But for the coming two weeks, the group stage will be daunting task as the squad faces fierce opposition against multiple favourites. In case of finishing last though, an expected match-up with group C's 4th ranked team is one to focus on and could very well mean success for the Japanese who most recently enjoyed common training with Hungary in Budapest, concluded by an official test match which was lost 18-11.
Who to watch:
Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) - In the absence of Nikola Janovic, Antonio Petrovic and Sasa Misic, even more will be expected from Ivovic among others, especially on the offensive end. A proven scorer and also stellar centre-back defender Ivovic is likely to be the foundation upon which the performance of Montenegro in Kazan is build on.
Photo: Johan Opperman.
Dusko Pijetlovic (SRB) - Centre-forward that is more and more becoming the highlight of the reigning two-time European champion Serbian team. His qualities at the centre-forward position are not disputed. His presence on the post-position in man-up is even more dangerous lately and enables Pijetlovic to be in the top ranks of the teams goal scorers classification, with the recent World League Super Final as one of the examples.
Photo: Marcel ter Bals.
Aaron Younger (AUS) - The biggest talent of the Aussie Sharks team. Just 23 years of age, Younger comes off a strong but gruelling season playing for Jug Dubrovnik in Croatia. The strong defender, in the absence of centre-forward Niksa Dobud from mid-April onwards, more and more got to work on his offensive skills as he was one of the team-mates to fill in Dobud's spot ocassionally. He did so more than often during the Champions League Final Six tournament in Barcelona late May and showed there that he currently is as allround as he will get.
Just a few days left before the 2015 World Championships water polo tournament will be kicked off in the Water Polo Arena in Kazan with the opening day for the women. The 16 teams are set for what promises to be another interesting battle for the gold medal as the top segment of world women's water polo is well-known for being diverse. Title contenders for the gold medal are litterally from around the globe with Spain being the defending champion. Recent results however clearly point at the reinging champion and recent World League winner United States to claim the gold in Kazan. But there's more. A lot more. Runners-up from Barcelona 2013, Australia, hosts Russia, the Netherlands and Hungary can also very well be considered to be among the group of teams expected to fight for the highest podium. Outsiders? Also well represented. The teams from China, 2011 world champion Greece and 2012 European champion Italy can beat any top squad on a given day. Prediction:
Team USA is the team to beat. The Americans, who recently claimed a 9th World League trophy beating Australia 8-7 in the final in Shanghai, have something to make up for as they finished a dissapointing 5th at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona after falling to later champions Spain 9-6 in the quarterfinals. Their recent play however has the reigning champions back in the role as favourites for the world title in Kazan. But considering the 'depth' of international women's world top water polo, a gold medal for the USA is far from decided. One of the main contenders is Australia. The Aussie Stingers finished runners-up at the 2013 Worlds, the 2014 FINA World Cup and this year's World League Interncontinental Qualification Tournament and Super Final, apart from Barcelona 2013 each time losing to the USA. It proves they are as close as it gets to getting to the highest podium in what would be a first world championship for Australia since the 1986 inaugural edition, in Madrid, Spain.
But the defending champions come from Europe. Spain deservedly went on to take the gold in front of the home crowd in 2013 beating Australia in the final 6-8. The results in the build-up to Kazan however do not feature the convincing results. In this year's World League group play Spain lost matches to the Netherlands and Greece but did earned a berth to the Super Final in Shanghai. However quickly after the final round of the group stage, Spain announced to withdraw from participation in the Super Final stating it would not fit their preparation for Kazan 2015. Instead Spain went their way in completing a balanced programme towards the world championships. Regardless the team should be mentioned among the title favourites. Spain's roster is filled with experience and the core of the team is playing together for quite a while. And leading group A with Canada as expected main rival, the Spanish side could be expected to finish first and ensure a quarterfinals berth straight away. For Australia that competition during the prelims in Kazan will surely look different with 2011 world champions Greece and revitalised Netherlands squad in their group B. The Stingers actually fell to the Dutch during the 7-nation tournament ahead of the Super Final in Kunshan, China although both teams were testing different line-ups and players. The Netherlands meanwhile have built confidence during their long but successful preparation. It included wins of their self-hosted Dutch Trophy and Italian 4-nation Syracusa tournament as well as claiming the bronze medal at the World League Super Final, their best World League result. And so after their disappointing 7th place at the 2013 World Championships, the Arno Havenga coached side is ready to reach its goal in Kazan which is making it to the semifinals. A more than decent follow-up of the 2014 Europeans silver medal from Budapest last year.
Group C features not only Team USA but also 2012 European champions Italy, Brazil and Japan. Especially Italy will be looking to take a swing towards the likely US-top spot in the group. The Italians made it to the quarterfinals of the World League Super Final in Shanghai before being eliminated for the medals by the Netherlands who won 8-7. And again did so during a 4-nation friendly tournament in Sicily (Syracusa) recently where the Dutch claimed the overall victory. During the Super Final a following loss to Russia and big win over Brazil had the Italian women finishing this year's World League in 7th place. For Brazil and Japan it could come down to battling for 3rd place which will keep them in the race for the quarterfinals as then a crossover round will follow. But looking at the tight and highly competitive group D, a possible first-place finish could avoid a crossover-round clash with either Hungary, Russia or China. That means there's something to play for in group C.
As mentioned in group D three teams, on paper, will be fighting to finish first in the group stage. Hungary meets familiar foe Russia while usual Super Final hosts China joins them, to be completed by the young but up-and-coming France squad. Russia and Hungary already met this year during the World League prelims in which the Russians won the clash at home 13-11 on penalties while Hungary struck back three rounds later beating the Russians 13-12. As Russia finished 2nd and Spain withdrew, the Russian ladies even made it to the Super Final... where China was drawn in their group. Russia finished pointless as home team China topped the Russians 9-7 in the final group game. China went on to make it to the semifinals after topping Canada 6-5 in the quarterfinals before Australia proved too strong: 3-5. But this group is expected to be a close one delivering some interesting match-ups, with a tough prediction to make on who is to claim the top spot out of these four teams.
Who to watch:
Rita Keszthelyi (HUN)
Photo: Marcel ter Bals.
Ashleigh Southern (AUS)
Photo: Johan Opperman.
Kami Craig (USA)
Alexandra Asimaki (GRE)
Ekaterina Prokofyeva (RUS)
Photo: Johan Opperman.
Maica Garcia (ESP)
Lieke Klaassen (NED)
Photo: Johan Opperman. 2015 FINA World Championships Kazan (RUS)
Women Group A Canada, Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Spain Group B Australia, South Africa, Greece, Netherlands Group C Brazil, Japan, USA, Italy Group D Hungary, Russia, China, France
Schedule Sunday, 26 July (women)
09.30: Canada vs. New Zealand 10.50: Kazakhstan vs. Spain 12.10: Australia vs. Greece 13.30: South Africa vs. Netherlands
17.30: Brazil vs. USA 18.50: Russia vs. France 20.10: Japan vs. Italy 21.30: Hungary vs. China Tuesday, 28 July (women)
09.30: Netherlands vs. Greece 10.50: Australia vs. South Africa 12.10: Italy vs. USA 13.30: Brazil vs. Japan
17.30: France vs. China 18.50: Hungary vs. Russia 20.10: Spain vs. New Zealand 21.30: Canada vs. Kazakhstan
Thursday, 30 July (women)
09.30: Brazil vs. Italy 10.50: Japan vs. USA 12.10: Hungary vs. France 13.30: Canada vs. Spain
17.30: Kazakhstan vs. New Zealand 18.50: Russia vs. China 20.10: Australia vs. Netherlands 21.30: South Africa vs. Greece Saturday, 1 August (women)
10.50: A4 vs. B4 - W25 12.10: 4C vs. 4D - W26 13.30: 2A vs. 3B - W27
17.30: 3A vs. 2B - W28 18.50: 2C vs. 3D - W29 20.10: 3C vs. 2D - W30
Monday, 3 August (women)
09.30: L W25 vs. L W26 - W31 (15th/16th place classification) 10.50: W W25 vs. W W26 - W32 (13th/14th place classification) 12.10: L W27 vs. L W29 - W33 13.30: L W28 vs. L W30 - W34
17.30: 1A vs. W W29 - W35 18.50: 1B vs. W W30 - W36 20.10: 1C vs. W W27 - W37 21.30: 1D vs. W W28 - W38
Wednesday, 5 August (women)
10.50: L W33 vs. L W34 - W39 (11th/12th place classification) 12.10: W W33 vs. W W34 - W40 (9th/10th place classification)
15.30: L W35 vs. L W36 - W41 17.00: L W37 vs. L W38 - W42 20.15: W W35 vs. W W36 - W43 21.45: W W37 vs. W W38 - W44
Friday, 7 August (women)
14.00: L W41 vs. L W42 - W45 (7th/8th place classification) 15.30: W W41 vs. W W42 - W46 (5th/6th place classification)
20.30: L W43 vs. L W44 - W47 (3rd/4th place classification) 22.00: W W43 vs. W W44 - W48 (1st/2nd place classification)