The first round of the 2018 European Championships Men’s Qualifying Tournament was held in Prague on March 17-19. Switzerland, Austria, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic participated at this all-play-all tournament after which only two best teams go on to the next round where they will face the squads that failed to qualify for the final stage of the 2016 European Championships held in Belgrade.
Switzerland emerged as the first classified team defeating Austria on Sunday, 9-8. In spite of scoring four goals in the first quarter, they had a just one-goal advantage at halftime (5-4). Damjanov netted the only goal for Switzerland and Austria managed to overcome the deficit thanks to Perisutti and Makray. The result was tied before the last eight minutes of the game (6-6). Perisutti and Makray also scored a goal each in the last quarter, but that was not enough for a draw, let alone the victory.
Switzerland water polo players won both of their previous games too and are the only team that recorded three victories in the first round of the Qualifying Tournament.
The first day of the Tournament ended with their narrow victory over the Czech Republic, 7-8. Switzerland netted three unanswered goals during the first eight minutes, but the hosting squad answered scoring that same number of goals in the second period. Bjelajac scored the only goal for Switzerland in the second quarter and brought his team a one-goal lead that they managed to keep until the end of the game.
On Saturday, Switzerland water polo players easily rolled past Bulgaria team, 12-7. They left their rival scoreless in the first quarter and kept increasing their advantage to go on a break with 4-1. Bulgaria was unable to make a comeback in the second half and suffered the second loss in Prague.
The Czech Republic rolled past Bulgaria on Sunday 10-6 to end as the runner-up, but they played two quite tough matches before that.
After a loss to Switzerland by one goal on Friday, Czech Republic overpowered Austria on Saturday, 11-10, to record first of their two victories in Prague. The Czech Republic was falling behind by one at halftime, after overcoming Austria’s three-goal lead. They got back in the third period scoring three goals for an important lead, but Austria’s Makray netted an equalizer before the crucial quarter. Nezhyba made the hosting water polo team lead again, but the scoreboard was showing a draw once again after Lukas found the net for Austria. Rezek’s successful penalty shot in the middle of the last period was crucial for the hosts’ win and advancement to the next round.
Austria water polo players had their hopes high after an unblemished opener against Bulgaria (7-16). However, they lost in the close contests to the Czech Republic and Switzerland. The weakest was Bulgaria men’s national water polo team that failed to record any victory in Prague.
The second round is also an all-play-all tournament and will be played in Poland and Portugal on October 6-8. The first classified Switzerland will travel to Poland and clash with Belarus, Israel, and Poland. The runner-up Czech Republic will face Lithuania, Ukraine, and Portugal in Lisbon. Based on the second round results, the opponents in the playoff (scheduled for February 2018) will be decided. They will play against the teams that ended in positions 9-16 in Belgrade 2016.
2018 European Championships Men’s Qualifying Tournament
Prague (Czech Republic)
Friday, March 17:
Bulgaria – Austria 7-16 (2-4, 1-5, 3-4, 1-3)
Czech Republic – Switzerland 7-8 (0-3, 3-1, 2-2, 2-2)
Saturday, March 18:
Switzerland – Bulgaria 12-7 (2-0, 2-1, 5-4, 3-2)
Czech Republic – Austria 11-10 (2-4, 4-3, 3-2, 2-1)
Sunday, March 19:
Switzerland – Austria 9-8 (4-2, 1-2, 1-2, 3-2)
Czech Republic – Bulgaria 10-6 (4-3, 3-1, 2-1, 1-1)