Preview: Brazil vs. Croatia, Serbia vs. Spain

One of Spain's major offensive weapons: Gonzalo Echenique. Photo:

We continue our extensive preview of the 2016 Rio Olympics men’s quarterfinals. In this second part we take a closer look to the third and fourth match scheduled, Brazil facing off against Croatia and Serbia taking on Spain.

Brazil vs. Croatia

In the third quarterfinal reigning Olympic champions Croatia take on hosts Brazil who are the biggest surprise of the tournament thus far. Key person in that feature certainly is Ratko Rudic, the most decorated coach in the history of the Olympic Games in water polo. Rudic as coach has under his belt 4 Olympic gold medals with 3 different countries (Yugoslavia 1984, 1988, Italy 1992 and Croatia 2012), while as a player has silver from Moscow 1980, and missed out on gold 1986 Mexico City due to injury although he was selected for the team. Also, he won a bronze medal as coach with Italy in 1996 in Atlanta. With that said it is clear that Brazil made a good move bringing in Rudic to form and coach the team. As a result, Brazil made a surprising winning streak in the first 3 games beating Australia 8-7, Japan 16-8, and Serbia 6-5 which was enough to reach second place in the group despite two losses against Greece, 4-9, and Hungary 6-10.

Having that in mind, it is reasonable to expect another difficult match, even it would be a logical thing to say that the Croatians are the heavy favourites. But Brazil, strengthened with centre forward Josip Vrlic (born Croatian), goalkeeper Slobodan Soro (former Serbia) and one of the best player in the world at the moment and captain Felipe Perrone, can be a formidable adversary. Also, if the game comes to a tight finish the home crowed can inspire Brazil, and give them that extra edge that is sometimes needed to make the difference between winners and losers. From the performance so far Brazil relied heavily on Vrlic, Soro and Perrone who were up to the task. Perrone led the team, and was vital in attack as top scorer with 9 goals, followed by Vrlic with 8, while Soro was their biggest defensive stronghold recording 58 saves out 97 shots for nearly 60% successful saves. Bernardo Gomes and Adrian Baches (to water polo public better known with last name Delgado) contributed 6 goals apiece thus far. It would be a mistake to go further with statistics when it comes to Brazil, as the Rudic coached side main strength is discipline and good tactic, and that is what can be expected from them on Tuesday night.

Croatia’s offensive leader: Sandro Sukno.

On the other hand Croatia is defending its Olympic crown, and with 5 players from that London team, and solid performances in the group Croatians are favouring their chances. Coach Ivica Tucak was alongside Rudic when the gold was taken 4 years ago, and from that perspective he is the right man to lead away the European powerhouse from any trap Rudic may set for them. The Croatians looked very good at the start of the tournament beating USA on opening day 7-5 and Montenegro 8-7 in the second round. And just when things started to look very promising came a heavy defeat from Spain 4-9. If the Italians were more ambitious in the 4th round Croatia could slip to a position to struggle for a quarterfinal berth, but star player Sandro Sukno demolished the Italians with 5 goals for the 10-7 victory and secured a spot in the knock out stage. The last game of the group phase was another loss, this time to France 8-9, but that result should not be taken in consideration having in mind all results from progressing teams in group B on Day 5. Besides Sukno the Croatian strength lies in two outstanding goalkeepers. Experienced veteran Josip Pavic and the extremely talented Marko Bijac.

Tucak gave both the same playing time, and they prove to be a decisive element in the Croatian defence. Problem can be in attack though, where Sukno (12 goals so far) on the left side and Maro Jokovic (5 goals) on the right are responsible for creating chances and taking shots, but are followed only by young Luka Bukic and Andjelo Setka to some extent while Antonio Petkovic, and newcomer Xavi Garcia (fomer Spain international) are having an unexpectedly silent tournament. From all teams in the quarterfinals only Montenegro scored less goals (36) then Croatia 37.

But all of that can be easily forgotten as the Croatians undoubtedly have the quality and experience to beat Brazil, but will that be the case remains to be seen on Tuesday night in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. Winner of the contest will face the victor of the Hungary-Montenegro match in the semifinals.

By: Srdjan Tomic.

Serbia vs. Spain

In the final match on quarterfinal day it will be a cracker between Serbia and Spain. A match-up that on paper will not be very unexpected as a quarterfinal but looking at the routes of either side through the group stage, went more than unpredictable. Spain finished first in group B while the Serbs went through a rough prelims phase where draws with Hungary and Greece were followed by a unexpected defeat to Brazil and finally tough wins over Australia and Japan to secure their spot in the quarters as the former heavy favourites for gold. That experience has changed the perspective on this meeting dramatically. Where Spain are playing a confident game with convincing results so far Serbia looked to be in the midst of a battle with themselves although their well-known defence did lived up to the expectations in the last decisive pair of matches. Still however the attack caused trouble. The shooting by Serbia, who in the past years were seemingly unstoppable thanks to their balanced attack and individual power, has been off so far in Rio with only Filip Filipovic exploding for 6 goals on 6-for-7 shooting in the 12-8 win over Japan on Sunday. His individual heroics will be again of great importance for the Dejan Savic coached side when facing the disciplined and self-confident Spaniards. Both teams met in the memorable 2009 world championships final in Rome where a long penalty shootout eventually saw Milan Aleksic scoring the winner giving Serbia the world championship.

Can Andrija Prlainovic and Serbia break free in the quarterfinals?

On Tuesday it will be a question of Serbian offence vs. the Spanish defence that is working so well this tournament thus far. Mostly a mental case it remains to be seen how ‘clean’ the experienced Serbian side can come into this do-or-die match. Forget about the problematic group stage and believe in their quality which had them dominated international competition the past years. If the Spaniards will have a plan to shut down Serbia top scorer Filipovic, others will have to step. In the past that wasn’t a problem, but so far in Rio that didn’t happen.
Spain on the contrary will believe more than ever that they can get past Serbia and play for the medals. Their win in group B did not come unexpected nor undeserved. The Gabriel Hernandez coached side is looking good with newcomer Gonzalo Echenique having the hot hand in attack while Guillermo Molina is back to his usual allround game of strong defending and shooting as sharp in his typical style. That combined with the lethal shooting of Albert Español on the left side, and a supporting cast that understands one another you’ll see a strong group that has shown great potential so far. The outside majority still thinks Serbia should be considered favourites in this one, on paper, but the reality is different and has the Serbs far from being regarded the main candidates for the win.

The pressure on that team ahead of the Olympics was immense. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the let-down versus Brazil and tough acting in the final two games. The defence is showing promising signs and will surely cause Spain quiet the trouble to deal with. The question will be the ability of the experienced core group of shooters like Filipovic, Andrija Prlainovic, centre forwards Slobodan Nikic and Dusko Pijetlovic but also Dusan Mandic who’s having a quiet tournament thus far with only 3 goals. If the team can clear their heads and step up we’re in for a cracker of a quarterfinal given the quality that Spain has showed. Knowing the Serbs almost like to have it very difficult and coming from behind, this could be one of those occasions.
However Spain should be regarded favourites for this game based on the tournament thus far and it will depend on the showing of Serbia to determine what game this could turn out to be. Nevertheless this is one of the bigger match-ups in the Rio 2016 quarterfinals.

Quarter Final Round – Tuesday, 16 August 2016

11.00: Hungary vs. Montenegro – men
12.20: Serbia vs. Spain – men
15.10: Brazil vs. Croatia – men
16.30: Greece vs. Italy – men

Time mentioned is local time (UTC/GMT – 3 hours)

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