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Water polo: the return of the French team after 26 years

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Men's High diving results: 1. Steve Lo Bue (USA) 397.15 2. Michal Navratil (CZE) 390.90 3. Alessandro De Rose (ITA) 379.65

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The French will have a return to the international field of men’s water polo as they are about to enter the 17th FINA World Championships for the fourth time only. Men’s water polo in France is developing and improving rapidly which was demonstrated by their qualification for the Olympics as well as their participation in the European Championships in Beograd. Many think the team may cause some surprise, the only difficulty for them is that their group in the World Champs will be a rather strong one.

The French national team has participated in the Olympics 11 times so far, what is more, in 1924 they became world champion in Paris and they claimed bronze both in 1900 and 1928. However, since World Championships have been organised (1973) and since the modern age battlefield has evolved the French could qualify both for the Olympics and the World Championships 3 times only.

They first attended the tournament in Guayaquilben, Ecuador (in 1982), then they participated in the following two tournaments and they disappeared. Up until now there was silence, so after 1991 this year will see the great return of the team. After 1992 they could qualify for the Olympics again in 2016 meaning that French water polo is writing its modern age gold pages of sporting history.

The fact that in 2015 the team lost one of its best players, Michael Bodegas claiming Olympic bronze with the Italian national team, Pro Recco could not hinder the French team in its progress. In spite of the lack of the center they could qualify for the Olympics in Trieste, April, 2016.

What a game it was! The team led by Florian Bruzzo at the time (now head coach of the women’s team coming to Budapest) defeated the Netherlands in the quarterfinal by penalties at the end of an incredibly exciting battle.

The team finished 9th at the European Championships in Beograd (this was the pledge of their participation in the World Champs) and 11th at the Olympics. In the group matches they went down against Montenegro 7-4-, Italy 11-8, US 6-3, Spain 10-4 and quite surprisingly in the last round they  defeated Croatia 9-8.

The French national team has been led by the Croatian head coach Hrvoje Hrestak since December, 2016. Previously he worked for Mladost Zagreb, in addition to the various achievements with the different age groups in Zagreb he led the U17 team to the European champion title, but he has a silver and two bronze, too. At international tournaments for the different age groups he got acquainted with French specialists including Florian Bruzzo and Julien Issoulie, and they organised training camps together. Finally, at the end of the year he accepted the invitation of the French thanks to these working relations.

„My very first and primary task is to make the players forget about the past. All that happened is behind us now, we must focus on the future. Secondly, I am looking for young players who are eager to get involved in our long term project. They must be aware of the differences between the national championships and the international field. If these two goals are achieved we can start focusing ont he third: winning international tournaments” – the Croatian head coach explained in his first detailed interview adding that the perception of French water polo is changing continuously, the international field acknowledges their improvements and all teams shall be prepared when playing the French. Yet winning international tournaments is in fact a long term goal.

The best player of the squad is Ugo Crousillat, who won the Champions League with team Szolnok this May in Budapest.  So he will return to Budapest and he is looking forward to the summer with high hopes:

„We have nothing to lose, out group will be a rather strong one, both the Australian and the Italian team are very good, not to mention Hungarians playing in front of their home crowd. We will fight until the end and we shall see. Our team is a young one, we hope to make it to the quarterfinals” – said Crousillat.

The French team had their training camp between 4 and 9 June in Herceg Novi, Montenegro, during the week of 11 June they trained in Vittel, they are going to train in Mulhouse from 17 to 23 of June, then they will fly to Paris and finally they will return to Mulhouse. At the beginning of July, they will attend a tournament in Krefeld, Germany and directly before the World Championships they will train in Beograd till 14 July.

The extended roster of the French team consists of:

Mathias Bachelier, Rémi Garsau, Michal Izdinsky, Manuel Laversanne, Sébastien Monneret, Cédric Rocchietta, Charles Canonne, Ugo Crousillat, Guillaume Dino, Arshak Hovhannisyan, Igor Kovacevic, Thibaut Simon, Hugo Fontani, Pierre-Frédéric Vanpeperstraete, Mathieu Peisson, Logan Piot, Rémi Saudadier, Mehdi Marzaouki.

France at the FINA World Championships:

8th placed (1986, Madrid)
12th placed (1991, Perth)
13th placed (1982, Guayaquil)