After missing the previous World Championships in Kazan, the Spanish men’s national water polo team will come to Budapest with a new head coach and with some new long-term plans this July. Kazan was a sad historical moment for the team because the Iberians had never missed a World Championships before. Spain collected six World medals so far – gold in 1998 and 2001. Now, they are facing a generational change in order to stand for the next year’s domestic European Championships with the best team as possible.
Although Albert Espanol was the top-scorer of the European Championships in Budapest in 2014, the Spanish team finished the tournament only on the seventh place. Prepared by head coach Gabi Hernandez Spaniards played a tie against Croatia during the group-stage and caused unpleasant moments for Serbia and the home team, Hungary, too. However, the international field is very balanced, strong teams can also fall out. Two years ago, Spain was that team.
Nevertheless, the Spanish team managed to qualify for the Olympic Games last year (finishing 5th at the 2016 European Championships in Belgrade, then earning the Rio berth at the qualification tournament in Trieste). Once at the Games, they won Group B in Rio de Janeiro ahead of Croatia, Italy, Montenegro and The United States! In a way, this was their bad luck because they had to play against Serbia (4th placed team of Group A) in the quarter-final. They failed to surprise against the later Olympic champions, then they were also defeated by Greece, so Spain finally finished on the 7th place in Rio de Janeiro by defeating home team Brazil.
Never underestimate the Spaniards! – often heard in relation to men’s water polo, the Spanish team is always capable of surprising opponents. For example, in 2009 they were so close to win the World Championships in Rome: after marching to the final, they were finally defeated by Serbia after extra time. Goal-keepers Inaki Aguilar and Daniel Lopez and fielders Guillermo Molina, Marc Minguell, Albert Espanol and Blai Mallarach were on the roster back in Rome in 2009 and also in Rio jus last year, they have represented routine and experience over the last couple of years on the team.
The 90’s were dominated in Spanish water polo by Jesús Rollán and Manuel Estiarte, winning Olympic gold (in 1996, Atlanta) and silver medal (in 1992, Barcelona) and two World Championships titles (1998, Perth; 2001, Fukuoka).
Spaniards have been waiting for a new gold era for a long time now, and probably the newly appointed head coach knows the recipe. David Martin was assistant to both his brother Jesús in CN Barceloneta and of former head coach Rafa Aguilar in the national team. He was served as head coach of the Spanish junior men’s water polo team. As a player, Martin won the World silver medal at the Rome and the bronze medal at the Melbourne World Championships with Spain.
‘We still don’t know what kind of training plan will be composed by the new head coach, I think everything will be presented at the end of February or at the beginning of March. Our squad will be a renewed one, we heard that a strong rejuvenation is expected’ – said Barceloneta player Alberto Munarriz, member of the national team.
‘The World Championships in Hungary will serve for our future. In the next year, we host the European Championships in Barcelona and we really want to achieve a good result there, in front of home crowds. I think I can say on behalf of all the teams that we love to play on the legendary Margaret Island. At home in Spain it is all about football but, here in Hungary a water polo game almost has the same atmosphere as a Spanish football match. Last time I was here in 2014 and I remember that fantastic feeling, and I am waiting for the same during this summer’ – added Munarriz.
‘The coach can count on us’ – said Jesús Martin, trainer of CN Barceloneta, the new head coach’s brother, referring to the fact that this club gives the most players to the national team.
‘The Spanish Federation wants a generational change, therefore these changes have started on the bench at first. Of course, we need the experienced players also, but we must rejuvenate. If we should pay the price at the World Championships, we still have to do it. The point is to have a competitive team for the European Championships for 2018 in front of home crowds. No matter which group we end up in following the draw, every game will serve our preparations for the future’ – explained Jesús Martin.
The Spanish men’s national has not entered the current World League tournament, so the 17th FINA World Championships will be their first grate challenge in the post-Olympic season. Perhaps their youthful dynamism will serve as a great surprise in Budapest this July.
Spain at the FINA World Championships (the best results):
World Champions (1998, 2001)
silver medal (1991, 1994, 2009)
bronze medal (2007)
5th place (1986, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2013)