In the week before the Rio Olympics get underway WaterPology highlights the players to watch in the Men’s Olympic Water Polo Tournament for the next two weeks. Who is expected to rise to stardom or simply carry his team? And who will emerge as a new leader, either on the offensive or defensive end?
Felipe Perrone (Brazil)
Coming off the best season of his career and widely regarded the best player during the past club season in Europe in which he led his team Jug Dubrovnik to the LEN Champions League title while being named Most Valuable Player of the Final Six tournament in Budapest early June. Now Perrone hopes to take his excellent form into the Olympic tournament in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro where hosts Brazil have to show they are a legit competitor in the elite group of teams that is fighting for the medals.
Angelos Vlachopoulos (Greece)
Really came through in Greece’s fabulous run to claiming the bronze medal and qualifying for this Olympic Games at the 2015 World Championships. His heroics on the right side of the pitch sparked the Greek squad in the semifinals which were narrowly lost to Croatia, and the bronze medal match against Italy as Vlachopoulos led his side scoring 3 goals in each of the matches. Major issue however for Vlachopoulos is an elbow injury he picked in the latter preparational stage which still bothers him although he has declared to play.
Krisztián Manhercz (Hungary)
The youngest member of the Hungarian water polo squad (19 years old) but that fact is not to be noticed in the water. One of the biggest talents from Hungary has worked his way into the national team in especially the more recent period following his presence at the 2016 European Championships in Belgrade. He proved more than able to get along with the world’s best on offence but will now get the challenge of holding that same elite away from his own goal, beginning with Serbia’s lefthanders or captain Zivko Gocic on Saturday in the tournament opener.
Maro Jokovic / Xavi Garcia tandem (Croatia)
For the first time since a long time, the Croatian national water polo team will enjoy the luxury of having two lefthanders on the squad, who actually know how to play together. It opens the old discussion of the importance of having lefthanders in the team. Italy had none in Kazan (2015) but has two now, Montenegro is without any but now the defending champions can possibly rely on creating a dangerous tandem on the right side. The question will be how coach Tucak will exploit this new set-up, acting without longtime members Paulo Obradovic and Fran Paskvalin. If Garcia and Jokovic will get a legitimate amount of playing time together, they could create a new dimension for the Croatian water polo team to handle by opponents who haven’t had time facing the Croatians with their new tandem since Garcia only got confirmation of his finished paperwork in the final weeks before departing for Rio, although he had trained with the team longer.
Michaël Bodegas (Italy)
Everyone by now will be over the stunning level of performing by Bodegas since shifting to Italy and, later on, being eligible to play for the national team, getting the call from head Alessandro Campagna. But his potential even reaches further. Campagna has acknowledged that and trained Bodegas in an additional role of centre back, outlining his defensive abilities, as well as letting him play the centre forward position at times; a deadly combination only a few in the game master. His end-to-end heroics will cause great trouble for specific centre forwards when they have to defend the French-born giant on the other end; exactly what Italy will give its unique extra dimension in Rio. Not to mention what could happen when starting centre forward Matteo Aicardi is in the water the same time.
Aleksandar Ivovic (Montenegro)
Aleksandar Ivovic expected to emerge as a true leader of the Montenegrin water polo squad after the retirement of Nikola Janovic. Ivovic already proved to be a fierce scorer in addition to his defensive abilities leading the tournament in scoring at the 2013 Water Polo World Championships – together with Croatian Sandro Sukno – and his team – together with Darko Brguljan – during the more recent 2015 Water Polo World Championships.
Tony Azevedo (USA)
At age 34 and set for his 5th Olympics, Azevedo is playing like in the prime of his career. The captain is leading a young, talented group together with fellow veterans goalie Merill Moses, defender Jesse Smith and centre-forward John Mann but is setting the standard on offence in the quest for that elusive gold medal. His showing during build-up towards the Olympics was impressive. Can he continue his strong play in his birthplace Rio the next two weeks?