A team that made history. But…
The most successful in the nation’s water polo history. Montenegro water polo team won one European championship gold and two silver medals. But also had three missed opportunities of getting an Olympic medal. Time was there in 2008 (Beijing) as reigning European champs, the clock was ticking in 2012 in London and the final chance for a generation emerged in Rio 2016. Montenegro once again fell short with the question arising what is to happen with the experienced but relatively old team. New head coach Vladimir Gojkovic, part of the squad in 2008 and 2012, chose to go with experience ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics. All knew this was their final chance.
A brilliant quarterfinal was won over Hungary (their 2008 semi-finals opponents) on penalties setting up another meeting with Croatia in the semis; just like 4 years earlier in London. Where the Serbs finally managed to get past that semi-final hurdle, the Montenegrins fell again. A steady Croatian side proved too strong on defence in a 12-8 win. One last shot, for the bronze, saw Italy prevailing 12-10. A nice goodbye for long-time Italy goalkeeper Stefano Tempesti, while Montenegro had to settle for 4th place. Again.
Now, what happens with Montenegro Water Polo team?
Afterwards, Gojkovic stated to local media that his choice for the players on the Rio 2016 squad was made with full awareness of the situation, despite having to deal with the absence of Nikola Janovic (retirement) and Nikola Vukcevic (disagreements). Montenegro has a couple of talented younger age groups but the gap to the senior squad, and making real contributions, is too large, so is the belief now. But for the next years, Gojkovic is likely to be forced into building upon them, or at least a couple of them. To coach so far is expecting to will have at least 4 to 5 empty spots to fill in his roster. Defenders Predrag Jokic (4 Olympics, 33) and Antonio Petrovic (nearly 34), as well as goalkeepers Zdravko Radic (37) and Milos Scepanovic (to turn 34), are the oldest members and likely to have played their final Olympic Games. But behind them? A core group of top-notch players such as Mladjan Janovic (32), Drasko Brguljan (to turn 32 in December) and even Vjekoslav Paskovic (31) and Aleksandar Ivovic (30) whose main question will be if they’re capable of getting themselves physically and mentally ready to give it their all the next four years building up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Ivovic stated to Montenegrin news portal Vijesti.me to likely take a break in order to rest but will talk with Gojkovic first. So far he’s not thinking of an international retirement but obviously needs to shift down a gear having played nearly all he could the last seasons, both in Italy for Pro Recco as well as for the national team.
Build a team for the future
Gojkovic is aware and will quickly invite younger players to join the team and work with them to next year’s World Championships in Budapest. The head coach is expecting the results to take a drop in the near future but states that is what it is and has to be accepted in order to build a team for the future, foremost the 2020 Olympics. Again the Montenegrins have shown that some seriously talented younger age groups are coming. The question will be whether Gojkovic can select the right ones and build a new team that can lift the results even further in the build-up to, and during the next Olympic Games. An even interesting as challenging quest. Leading the pack will hopefully be Darko Brguljan (25), Uros Cuckovic (26), Filip Klikovac (27) and even Aleksandar Radovic (29). If both Ivovic and Paskovic decide to go for Tokyo 2020 this will be the core group of a rejuvenated Montenegro side that is to make waves internationally.