With one day remaining until the FINA Men’s Water Polo World League gets underway, three Water Polo insiders glare into their crystal balls to tell us who are the teams, players and performances to watch out for this year.
Before we jump right into 2022, here’s a bit about the experts FINA polled for this exercise in insight – not that any one of them needs much of an introduction in and around the world of water polo.
Denes Kemeny: Hailing from Budapest, Kemeny has been a fixture of Hungarian water polo: first as a player, then trainer, then as the Hungarian national team coach from 1997 to 2012. When Kemeny took over coaching duties, Hungary was in the midst of a 20-year Olympic medal drought. The coach soon helped turn the country’s fortunes around, seemingly having the Midas touch with every national team configuration he worked with as Hungary won the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, as well as gold medals at the FINA World Championships and World Cups.
Adam Krikorian: Joining Kemeny in the exclusive three-successive Olympic golds in water polo coaching tree is American Adam Krikorian, who just pulled off the trifecta with the Team USA women in London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. As a current national team coach, we’ve asked Krikorian to bring his astute sense of the sport to the men’s water polo scene. We didn’t want to bring any bulletin board reading material for those who Krikorian and Company will have to face this year in the women’s FINA Water Polo World League play, or at the FINA World Championships.
Ratko Rudic: A retired Croatian national team coach and former water polo player, Rudic is a sporting legend. Having coached Croatia to 38 medals at major events will do that as Rudic ranks as the most successful coach to walk the water polo deck in history. Easily identified with his burly moustache and animated coaching mannerisms, Rudic coached national teams in four countries – Yugoslavia, Italy, Croatia and the United States. For his native Yugoslavia, Rudic placed 297 national team games, helping them with European and World Championship medal-winning performances.
Water Polo Experts Tell All: Preseason picks before the start of the FINA Water Polo World League
Fill in the blank: This year’s FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final champions will be _____________.
DENES: Look for Spain and Hungary to have that extra bit of motivation this season as both teams had to sit with the delusion of losing in the semi-final at the Tokyo Olympics. I am sure of their high level of performance during the 2022 FINA World League Super Finals and at the FINA World Championships.
RUDIC: This year’s FINA Men’s Water Polo World League Super Final champions will be very interesting because after any Olympic Games most of the national teams include many young players preparing the new Olympic program.
Which team that had a rough-and-disappointing 2021 do you expect to rebound in 2022?
DENES: Italy and Croatia. As they both lost in the quarter-finals in Tokyo, I am sure they plan a spectacular comeback this season. You can rest assured that they do not consider themselves out of the top four at a major event – and they were on the podium at the end of the last FINA World Championships. They also have a good number of high-level youngsters, which we will get to see in Prague this year at the FINA Junior World Championships.
RUDIC: I think that Italy and Croatia now are working very hard and they will try to arrive among the top world teams.
Fact or Fiction: Defending FINA World Champion Italy’s 7th place last summer’s Summer Olympics was an aberration.
DENES: Small things in the games make huge differences in the end results. Italy was unlucky to face Serbia in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics due to a combination of their group results. Then, once you are out of the top four, it is very difficult to find the right motivation for the rest of the event.
RUDIC: Many factors influence sports results. The Italian national team probably had too many negative factors.
True or False: Following Serbia’s repeat golden performance at the Tokyo Olympics makes them the team to beat in 2022.
DENES: Serbia will rebuild the team, so can have a difficult year, they will miss a lot of players like Filipovic, Praljinovic, Pietlovic or S.Mitrovic because of their inside leadership and water polo value as well. But three years can be enough for coach Dejan Savic to rebuild the team with B.Mitrovic, Jaksic and Mandic to be among the favourites for the Paris Olympics.
RUDIC: It is always very difficult to repeat such a performance and some of the best players don’t play anymore for the team so they will have to fight with the young players to arrive on the top level again.
Do they do encores? Following Greece’s surprise silver in Tokyo, do you see them winning more precious medals at this year’s FINA Water Polo World League Super Finals?
DENES: Yes, Greece have to change their Tokyo roster much less than the other teams, so they can finish on the podium. They have some young-but-important players. They can continue to fight in the medal zone for the next three years.
RUDIC: The Greek team now has the quality of players and the psychological confidence to win any competition.
Name that guy: Which young gun will have the biggest breakout performance in this year’s FINA Water Polo World League?
DENES: Álvaro Granados of Spain – he is a complete player who can play in different positions and even though he is young, he is mature enough to have all the skills to become the leader of his team. Also, I have to mention Vendel Vígvári of Hungary. He is a typical fast-breaker player with all-around attacking skills. He’s an excellent shooter from any position of the perimeter, so if he can become more efficient on defense, he will be a top international player. SO BOTH OF THEM ARE MVP CONTENDERS!
RUDIC: I expect that the young French player Thomas Vernoux will become one of the best players in the world.
Krikorian: Álvaro Granados.
Name that team: ________ is ready to go from dark horse performer to top contender.
DENES: Russia has players competing in foreign European clubs and they have the chance to improve their performance. They can become a leader in the national team game. At any phase of 2022, Russia can explode and make surprises as they just missed making it to the Tokyo Olympics, losing to Croatia by penalties.
RUDIC: Croatia is ready to go from dark horse performer to top contender.
Complete this sentence: The FINA Water Polo Super League Player of the Year Award goes to?
DENES: Soma Vogel of Hungary is my pick. The importance of the goalkeepers rises year by year and he is very talented. Even if he’s young, he has international club and national team experience, he can be a contender for the award.
RUDIC: Thomas Vernoux
Krikorian: Krisztian Manhercz
Must Watch Alert: With the European qualifiers for the FINA Men’s Water Polo World League getting underway on Tuesday, which matchup are you most interested to see?
DENES: Hungary vs. Montenegro or Serbia vs. Italy.
RUDIC: Greece vs. Croatia
Krikorian: Serbia vs. Italy as both teams are coming off opposite experiences in Tokyo.