One has won everything as a captain, the other reaffirmed his status of the world’s men’s most decorated player. Both announced their international retirement following the 2016 Rio Olympic gold medal win. Zivko Gocic and Slobodan Nikic, involved with the team since 2002, have seen it all and more importantly, won it all. Captain Gocic received trophies for two European Championships, two World Leagues, one World Championship and an Olympic gold medal in his hands the past two years. International careers that followed the same path in the same time now come to a closing others could only dream of. A ‘champion’ watermark to be written through both careers could be the least to describe the extent of their success.
Nikic (33) proved far from done despite being one of the veterans on the experienced Serbian team. The centre-forward marked his final by a great back-hand goal, his 10th of the tournament, finishing 3rd best scorer of the gold medal winning squad. Claiming the Olympic gold definitely got the meaning ‘finally’ for Nikic who was already there when the 2003 European Championship was won with the team of Serbia & Montenegro beating Croatia in an overtime final. In 2004 he closely experienced the dramatic loss to Hungary in the 2004 Olympic final but the following year became world champion in Montreal beating Hungary in the gold medal match in Montreal.
What followed? World Championships (2009, 2015), World Leagues (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015), the 2010 World Cup, European Championships gold (2012, 2014, 2016), Mediterranean Games (2009), European Championships silver (2008), bronze (2010) and an Olympic Games bronze (2012).
With adding the 2015 World Championships gold to his trophy cabinet, Nikic became the first player with 7 gold medals from major competitions (Olympic Games, world and continental Championships). Now Nikic bids farewell with an Olympic title completing the most successful international career ever.
Who better to celebrate it with than Zivko Gocic. The captain, who turned 34 on Monday, was right there with Nikic on all occasions, apart from the 2008 Olympics (bronze) which Nikic missed out on, and the final two years as captain. Leading the squad, coached by Dejan Savic, Gocic and his team-mates proved unbeatable. From 2014 onwards all international competition was won. Their final Olympic quest got off to a rough start but the players found themselves when it counted the most and got their form back from the quarterfinals on. Gocic, traditionally not one of the leading scorers, highlighted the gold medal final by scoring once with a beautiful lob shot from the right side cross cage that caught Croatia goalkeeper Marko Bijac by surprise. Not only the goalie, the whole Olympic Aquatics Stadium had not seen that one coming and expressed a long-lasting moment of ‘ooooh’ as the ball slowly went into the far corner with pin-point accuracy.
Gocic and Nikic were part of the most successful Serbian water polo squad in the nation’s history. All-time Serbia top scorer Aleksandar Sapic made no mistake following the final and stated: ‘this is the best Serbian water polo team of all time’. An if someone has the right to say so, it’s former team-mate of Gocic and Nikic, Aleksandar Sapic.
Both by the way will continue playing for their respective clubs, in Hungary to be exact, where Gocic continues his stint with Hungarian champion Szolnok while Nikic left Galatasaray and has signed with OSC in Budapest for this coming season.