Italy won gold in men’s water polo at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships. Overall, the two highest ranked eligible teams qualified to the Olympics. In total, 16 nations competed with the winners advancing directly to the quarterfinals while second and third place advance to the play-off matches. Water polo at the World Aquatics Championship was held in Gwangju, South Korea from July 14th to July 27th 2019.
In Group A, 2019 World League champion Serbia began the tournament with a 10-10 draw against Montenegro, but wins over South Korea (22-2) and Greece (9-3) allowed the nation to win the group and advance directly to the quarterfinals. Montenegro would go on to draw Greece (10-10) and defeat South Korea (24-6) to advance as the second-place team while Greece’s 26-3 win over South Korea allowed them to advance as the third-place team.
Group B was topped by 2017 World champion Croatia whom went undefeated. Second place was decided on a very defensive match between Australia and the United States. The match was won by the United States 12-11. Australia also advanced thanks primarily to a 17-8 victory over Kazakhstan.
Hungary and Spain were the top teams in Group C where they scored easy victories over New Zealand and South Africa. Despite a strong fourth quarter rally by Spain they were unable to complete the comeback against Hungary as they lost 13-11 and finished second in the group. In their match, New Zealand drew South Africa 8-8 to finished tied on points. South Africa advanced as the third-place team due to a better goal differential (-38 vs -40).
Italy won Group D by going undefeated with wins against Brazil (14-5), Japan (9-7) and Germany (8-7). A draw between Germany and Japan meant goal differential decide which nation finished second. Thanks to Germany’s 15-8 victory over Brazil they were able to get a +6 differential, bettering Japan’s even goal differential.
The play-offs saw Australia and Montenegro go into a shoot-out after the nations tied 9-9 with Australia winning it 4-2. After being tied at the end of the third quarter, Greece won the final quarter 3-1 to win 11-9 over the United States. The other two matches saw victories by Spain and Germany against Japan (15-7) and South Africa (25-5) respectively.
A strong first half by Spain where they led 7-3 was the difference maker in the quarterfinals as they defeated Serbia 12-9. The other matches all saw narrow victories by Croatia, Hungary and Italy over Germany (10-8), Australia (10-9) and Greece (7-6) respectively.
The semi-finals essentially doubled as the Olympic qualifier. Spain appeared to be heading for an easy victory, going into the final quarter with a 6-2 lead, but three unanswered goals put Croatia within reach. Spain was able to hold on to win the match 6-5. A strong second quarter from Italy where they went 5-1 during that period ultimately proved to be the difference maker as they defeated Hungary 12-10 and grabbed the second Olympic quota.
The final began as a close affair, but over time Italy was outperforming Spain, scoring goals at a faster rate until they won the tournament via a score of 10-5. The bronze medal was won by Croatia who defeated Hungary 10-7.
Overall, this is Italy’s fourth title at the World Championships. Italy will be looking to win their third consecutive medal at the Olympics while Spain will hope to win its first medal since 1996. The next opportunity for nations to qualify in men’s water polo will be at their respective continental qualifier.