The Olympic Games water polo tournament reached the knockout stage after an exciting, sometimes surprising, and certainly one of the most interesting group stages in the history of the Games. As a result of 5 rounds of battles Hungary came out as winner of group A, and is the only unbeaten team so far, while Spain topped group B. Before we take a look back at the results and consequences of the games in the group stage, first let us take a look at the quarter-final duels.
Hungary vs. Montenegro
First up is Hungary – Montenegro. The Hungarians performed very well in group A, and are, as mentioned, the only team in the tournament without a defeat. However, Tibor Benedek’s team finished tied three times, against Serbia 13-13, Australia (9-9) and Greece: 8-8, and in fact only have beaten Brazil 10-6 from the teams that progressed to the quarterfinals from their group. They are up against Montenegro, traditionally a strong team, and have proven to be a tough competitor, with two victories, two defeats and one draw. The Montenegrins lost to Croatia 7-8, and Italy 5-6, beating easily France in the opener 7-4, and USA in a crucial match 8-5 in 4th round before finishing the group with a 9-9 draw against Spain on day 5.
What is obvious in this duel, not new in the big competitions, is that Hungary is the team with an exceptional attack, scoring by far the most goals in the group stage, 57 while Montenegro has the strongest defence allowing only 32 goals.
Hungary is threatening from all positions, notably the centre forwards have performed exceptionally well, with Gabor Kiss and Balasz Harai scoring 7 goals each, making them a dangerous tandem on 2 metre line. Captain Denes Varga along with left-hander Marton Vamos are the best scorers so far with 8 goals apiece, and youngster Krisztian Manhercz added 7 as well. Altogether a very well balanced attack with all players able to score in decisive moments.
On the other side it looks like Montenegro has all that is necessary to stop them, as the European vice champions have formidable centre backs in their line-up with Aleksandar Ivovic, Antonio Petrovic and Uros Cuckovic. Even more important is goalkeeper Milos Scepanovic, who is so far the best goalie of the tournament. Scepanovic noted 35 saves from 58 shots for just a bit over 60% of successful saves. Yet, the Vladimir Gojkovic coached side has problems in attack, as their key players are struggling to score, Ivovic scored only struck twice so far, while naturally born shooter Mladjan Janovic has only 5 goals in the group stage. Aleksandar Radovic, always important on offence, also contributed ‘just’ 5, which leaves Darko Brguljan as the only shooter in form with 10 goals.
Yet statistics do not have to mean anything in the big matches such as these important quarterfinals. In their previous duel, 8 months ago, Montenegro was victorious beating Hungary 8-5 in the European championships semi-final. On the other hand Hungary is the most experienced and decorated side on the Olympic Games, and that can also be a thing that can work in their favour. The two sides met in the Beijing 2008 semi-final, when Hungary won 11-9 and went on to claim the gold.
Greece vs. Italy
The second quarterfinal is Greece versus Italy in another unpredictable clash. The Italians started their campaign strongly beating Spain 9-8 in a very tense duel, and continued with a good performance on day 2 topping France 11-8, and Montenegro in the next round, 6-5. Until that moment the Italians showed that they are ready for every kind of duel, winning as favourites and controlling the game against France, but also in two tighter duels which were resolved in the last minutes. But, from that moment on the Italians put the foot off the gas, and lost the two following games. It might be result of the tactic, or they simply could not perform at the same level, but it’s highly likely that they will be back to their usual self in the game against Greece.
Pietro Figlioli seems to be the most important player in the Sandro Campagna coached side as his performance has much influenced the team. Next to Figlioli the Italians have a lot of solutions on the outside positions, an first among them is Francesco di Fulvio who played the most minutes in the team. Experienced Christian Presciutti is also a vital part of the squad, and exactly in that order the goals are coming, Figlioli 9, di Fulvio 8, and Preciutti 7 so far in the tournament. On the center position Matteo Aicardi and Michaël Bodegas are strong and in good form, putting a lot of pressure on the opponent’s defence. It could be interesting also that di Fulvio is now the leading sprinter in the Italian team and the tournament winning 14 first attacks out of 14 swim offs, thus taking the place of Figlioli who was in the past almost unbeatable in the sprint.
Coming in to a duel with their well-known rivals, the Greek have proven in the group stage that they are a team on the rise, especially since the last World Championships in Kazan the past summer where they claimed bronze. They also performed good in Belgrade at the 2016 European Championships in January this year making it to semis, but missing out on a medal. On their first match in Kazan 2015. The Theodoros Vlachos coached side defeated Italy 11-10, and since then have become strong competitors thanks to excellent man-up play, agile defending and overall confidence. The backbone of the team is built at famous club Olympiacos, also under coaching guidance of Vlachos, with the addition of experienced Christos Afroudakis who is leading the team in the pool. So far the Greek have exactly 50 % success on extra man, and are defending in man down even better conceding only 11 goals in 27 situations. Quick movement of the ball, two strong centre-forwards, and sharp shooting by Ioannis Fountoulis and Angleos Vlachopoulos are their main strengths as well as good team defending. If there was not the heavy defeat against Australia, 7-12, in the last group match, the Greek could be the team with the highest confidence coming into the quarter-finals.
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)