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Water polo: Croatian team preparing for their 6th world championships medal in line

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Taking a look at the overall medal table of world championships we may conclude that in the recent past the Croatian national team has been the most prolific one. Since 2007 they have won world championship medals each year, however, only one of the 5 medals was gold. Now they will enter the championships in Hajós Alfréd Swimming Complex with a relatively fresh squad to try and exceed their achievements in Kazan. They will definitely need to do their best during the 17th FINA World Championships.

If men’s water polo tournament draws or scenarios were decided according to the teams’ wishes, we very much doubt it whether any teams would eagerly choose to play the Croatian team. Water polo in Croatia has long traditions hence their team makes a powerful, difficult opponent and it is always a challenge to beat them.

In the group matches of the 17th FINA WCH the standards are set high for the US, Japan and Russia as they are going to play Croatia in group D.

The team of Ivica Tucak will have to enter the pool in Budapest knowing that it will take extensive effort to exceed their performance at the previous world championships.  The team could make it to the finals in Kazan and the only team to put victory beyond Croatia’s reach was Serbia.  After beating Canada, Brazil and China the the quarterfinal ended with a statement victory for the Croatian team over Montenegro scoring 10-4.

The semi-final was rather demanding for Croatia, after a close game in the end they could top Greece on penalties. Serbia had no mercy in the final and apparently the Croatian team gave up the battle.

Nevertheless, this silver medal marks the second best achievement of the Croatian team at world championships since 1994 after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. They became world champions in Melbourne in 2007, they won a silver medal in Kazan and bronze medals in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

The Croatian team won medals at the previous 5 world championships (what is more they actually played for the bronze in 2005, also but were beaten by Greece). The Croatian is the only national team with such achievements.

„Our squad is quite young completed by some older players with extensive experience. After the Olympics it was decided that Josip Pavic and Damir Buric will not play in the national team anymore. About 20 players are participating in the preparations for the world championships and the best 13 will be selected from among them. I believe the team can be a realistic medal chance at the WCH. The World League provides us with a great opportunity to prepare, our point is to be in a good shape because the level of competing teams is almost homogeneous” – summarised Sandro Sukno, captain of the team, plying for Pro Recco, a few weeks ago.

The Croatian team continues to advance in the World League, however in their last match they were defeated by the Greeks 10 to 8. Still they will definitely play in the Super Final in Moscow this June.

The level of Croatian water polo is demonstrated by the fact that Jug Dubrovnik won the Champions League in 2016 in Budapest therefore quite a few players associate Hajós Swimming Complex with good memories. The Champions League Finals this year will take place in Budapest again (in Duna Arena) therefore Jug will play here again, apparently they are not as strong as a year ago, though.   

As for the last calendar year the Olympics saw the same finalists as in Kazan. Ivica Tucak, leading the team since 2012, prepared the team for the Olympics in Rio as an Olympic medallist head coach. It was Ratko Rudic who led Croatia to their first Olympic gold in London as an independent nation.   

In group matches they won against Italy, Montenegro and the US. Afterwards they were defeated by the Spanish, then quite interestingly in the last match the French could defeat them

In the quarterfinals they beat Brazil, the semi-finals brought victory to them against Montenegro but the final ended with the victory of the Serbian team.

The squad in Rio was composed of several experienced players including Andro Buslje, Maro Jokovic, Damir Buric and Josip Pavic world champions of 2007, the latter two will certainly not attend the championships in Budapest as they retired from the sport. As a matter of fact, 5 members of the current squad are above the age of 30. Maro Jokovic will turn 30 in October, Sukno is only 27, and the team features several youngsters, such as Luka Bukic.

The Croatian players are improving continuously making the most of their physical strength and shooting power and it is also quite characteristic of Croatian national teams that the ideal line up and conditions are achieved typically at the end of major world competitions.

Hence rivals may have worries, however, as Sukno admitted, at the Budapest world championships the level of teams will be quite homogeneous.

Croatia at FINA World Championships:

world champion (2007)
silver (2015)
bronze (2009, 2011, 2013)
4th place (1994, 2005)
8th place (2001)
9th place (1998, 2003)