The roster for the men’s water polo tournament at the 2020 Olympics has been decided with the results of the Men’s Water Polo Olympic Qualification Tournament. The top three teams of the 12-team tournament qualified to the games. The format included a round robin group stage where the top four teams advanced to the quarterfinals. The event was held in Rotterdam, Netherlands from February 14th to February 21st 2021.
Group A was reduced to five teams due to Turkey having too many positive COVID-19 cases and were thus disqualified. The two favourites for this group, Greece and Montenegro were undefeated until meeting up on the fourth day of matches. Greece did get a scare on the first day of matches where a third quarter comeback by Georgia and a very defensive fourth quarter meant Greece narrowly won 11-10. In the match between the two top teams, Montenegro jumped up to a 4-1 lead in the first quarter and was able to maintain a lead on route to an 8-4 victory to top the group. Georgia finished third thanks to victories over Canada (14-11) and Brazil (12-8) while Canada also advanced to the quarterfinals as they won 11-7 over Brazil on the first day.
Group B was a much more competitive group which saw two draws and six one-goal victories across the 15 matches. The largest upset occurred on the fourth day of matches where 2016 Olympic silver medalist Croatia lost to Russia 14-13. Russia was able to prevent Croatia from scoring during the fourth quarter as they successfully completed their comeback to win by a single point. This victory allowed Russia to win the group with 4 victories and a 9-9 draw against Romania. Croatia finished second while France required a final day victory over Romania (16-7) to finish third. This allowed France to finish equal on points with the Netherlands, but with a better goal differential the former finished ahead while the latter finished fourth. Romania finished fifth thanks to a 12-7 win over Germany.
The quarterfinals saw the favourites secure victories. Montenegro began the day against the Netherlands by jumping up to a 4-0 lead after the first quarter on route to winning 13-7. The Greece and France matched turned out to be the most exciting match of the round. Despite starting with the lead, Greece was slowly overtaken by France who held a 12-10 lead going into the final quarter. Greece won the fourth quarter 3-1 to tie the game, forcing it to go to penalties. Greece won the shoot-out 4-1 to advance to the semi-finals. Croatia and Georgia began as a close match, but a strong second quarter by Croatia removed doubt within the match, allowing them to win 15-6. The final nation to advance to the semi-finals was Russia whose lead was never threatened as they went on to win 17-9 over Canada.
In the first opportunity to qualify for the Olympics the semi-final match between Montenegro and Croatia had both nations trading leads, finishing with a goal by Montenegro’s Miroslav Perkovic to end the game 10-10 and forcing a penalty shoot-out. Montenegro won the shoot-out 4-2 to become the first nation to qualify. Joining them was Greece who played a close game with Russia, but never gave up the lead to win 13-10.
The tournament was won by Montenegro who pulled off a successful fourth quarter comeback after being down 8-6 to win 10-9 over Greece. The third-place match and final Olympic quota was played between Croatia and Russia. In a repeat of Croatia’s semi-final match, Russia tied the game 11-11 with 16 seconds remaining thanks to Dmitrii Kholod. The ensuing penalty shoot-out turned into a marathon as 15 rounds were required before Croatia prevailed 14-13.
All three teams are considered mainstays in the men’s water polo tournament. Montenegro continues its streak of qualifying to this event as an independent nation where it will be looking to win their first medal after three consecutive fourth place finishes. Greece will also be looking to win their first medal after finishing sixth in Rio while Croatia will be hoping to win their fourth medal in the event as an independent nation.