Eyebrows were raised Sunday after both Italy and Croatia lost their final group stage matches. Anticipating, or rather avoiding certain match-ups, so was said. Always play to win, shouldn’t you?
But what is exactly wrong with looking down the bracket knowing you play a two-week tournament when in fact it could prove to be the difference in getting an (Olympic) medal or not? The stakes are high. This is what you trained for the past four years. Just walking away with any medal could be – and probably is – the goal of any team. Then, knowing the competition system, teams will look further. Anticipate their road through the tournament and weighing their options, in order to get as far as possible. Blame them for doing that? Playing the lights out in the prelims and then getting knocked out in the quarterfinals is a road no one would opt for in advance. Especially when there might be more favourable match-ups elsewhere in the bracket.
It’s all about the competition set-up. Simply leave no room for it. In volleyball, like in water polo, the group winners face the other group number four-ranked sides. The remaining teams though, who finished second and third respectively, and vice versa, will get into a draw where you can meet any other side in the quarterfinals, even the one out of your own group again. Here’s an idea for water polo. Part of the problem will be obviated. Actually the largest part of it.