Russia has to beat the United States and Japan, its Group D rivals at the upcoming World Championship in Budapest, if it means to be a medal contender and stay on course toward reaching the ultimate goal of claiming the Olympic podium in 2020, Team Russia head coach Vladimir Karabutov told Waterpology.com Friday.
Reached by telephone to comment on Friday’s draw that put his team in the same group with Croatia, USA. and Japan, Karabutov added he was confident his squad could do what no Russian team has done since the Worlds in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2001 – come back home with a medal. Sixteen years ago, Russia defeated Italy for the bronze as part of an impressive medal run that also included the Olympic silver from Sydney in 2000, the bronze from the Athens Olympics four years later, and 2002 World League and World Cup golds.
“Back in 2012 Croatia won the Olympics, and we will put up a fight when we play them, but we have to win the games against the US and Japanese teams. If we fail to do that at this stage, it will be very difficult to achieve further growth of water polo in Russia, and win an Olympic medal in 2020“, Karabutov said.
The top three teams from each group advance, with the winners earning a bye in the playoff round and clinching directly a quarterfinal berth. The heavy favorites in Group C are Serbia, Spain and Greece, and one of them is likely to play Russia for a spot in the quarters if Karabutov’s men fail to win Group D.
“It happens so that our two groups feature the two strongest teams in today’s water polo – Serbia and Croatia. They are very tough to play, but I think that we’re able to beat everyone else“, said Karabutov.
The previous world championship in Kazan, Russia, brought a huge disappointment to the host nation. Led by then head coach Erkin Shagayev, the home team lost all three games in pool play and placed 14th overall, with a 1-4 total record and a single win against China in a penalty shootout. The four losses included defeats at the hands of Russia’s future rivals in Budapest – the United States beat Shagayev’s squad in pool play, and Japan defeated the hosts in the 13th place decider.
Karabutov, who had already held the Team Russia head coaching job during a three-year spell in 2010-2013, succeeded Shagayev earlier this month, and insisted his team would compete for the medals in Budapest.
“If my team makes it to the quarterfinals, we should win that game. This squad needs a coach who will set the highest goals, instill confidence in his players. If I set smaller goals, we will be going nowhere“, added Karabutov.
On March 14, Russia will play Italy in Palermo in a decisive, must-win game to clinch the World League Super Final, which will be held June 20-25. Asked whether the team he takes to Sicily is likely to be the same group of players who travel to Budapest this summer, Karabutov replied that his scouting is an ongoing process he plans to fine-tune as the club season draws to a close.
According to Karabutov, in his other capacity as head coach of Russia’s perennial club champions, Spartak Volgograd, he has an opportunity to watch Russia’s finest players at work each week.
“I analyze their abilities and seek the players who are able to win medals. I am convinced that we will find 13 men in Russia who are capable of doing that”, he explains.
Regarding potential lineup reshuffles, Karabutov added that he would build the team around a group of middle generation players and veterans capable of leading the team to the podium.
“These four or five players who believe we can win and can lead this team to medals will form the backbone of our squad in Budapest. Names? I’d say (Sergei) Lisunov, (Artyom) Odintsov, (Nikolai) Lazarev, (Ivan) Nagayev and (Alexei) Bugaichuk all fit the role of team leaders. I may also add another goalkeeper to the team, but I don’t want to name him now”, concluded Karabutov.