lunedì 22 giugno 2015

Powerhouses set for first showdown

Here we are in another 'world championship year' and even more exciting, ahead of a phase in which several berths for the 2016 OIympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are up for grabs. Apart from a world championship title, three spots for Rio 2016 are available in Kazan, Russia late July. First up though is the conclusion of this year's World League and traditionally, that means the first option of obtaining a berth for next year's Olympics as the winner of the World League in pre-Olympic years is the first, apart from the host nation, to qualify. It means the upcoming 2015 edition in Bergamo, Italy is even more anticipated than it already was as usually some nice prize money can be won as well. The same situation occured for the last time back in 2011 when Italy lost a dramatic final of the Super Final also at home, in Florence, to Serbia who were the first to ensure their spot at the then 2012 Olympic Games in London. Now the powerhouses, although the Kazan world championships will be the main goal this international season, have been in full preparation with this World League Super Final as true first showdown with plenty to play for. 

That 2011 final could be repeated in this year's edition, theoretically, because the title contenders are expected to be close this year. In group A, on paper Hungary and Croatia look to be the favourites. The ranking after the group stage however will not decide anything just yet, as all teams will advance to the play-off phase where crossing matches will determine the semifinalists so that the Hungarians and Croatians will look to group B where their quarterfinal round opponent will come from. The Hungarians chose to stay at home sparring with the squad that is preparing for the 2015 Universiade to gear up for the World League Super Final. In the only outside matches the squad played they topped both USA and Italy in a the 4-nation Settecolli tournament in Rome two weeks ago but fell to Croatia for the tournament victory 9-5.

Debuting at an international major senior tournament for Hungary is emerging centre-forward Toni Nemet.
Photo: Sandor Stuber /

The Croatian side meanwhile started preparations at home in Sibenik and, after the tournament win in Rome, travelled to Rijeka where the USA national team was welcomed for joint training and one official friendly match, won by Croatia 12-9 this weekend. Brazil and China can be considered outsiders in this group. The Brazilians have spent the past week training together with the Italian team and lost the concluding match 12-3 on Saturday. China made headlines by eliminating Canada during the Intercontinental qualification tournament ensuring their spot at this World League Super Final tournament.

Meanwhile in group B the competition in the group stage is expected to be even more fierce. Here the 2011 Super Final finalists Serbia and Italy headline the group but see legitimate contenders in Australia and USA complete the four-squad group. The Serbs, already winners of 8 World League titles so far, can always be considered favourites but are coming off a shake friendly 4-game series in the United States losing all 4 matches to the US team. The players acknowledged they underperformed but at the same time stressed that they are in the midst of a preparation which should lead to excellence during the world championships and therefore it remains to be seen what to expect of the reigning European champion. Returning home after the US trip, Serbia hosted Russia for a two exhibition games each time emerging victorious. The squad will certainly miss veteran centre-back Nikola Radjen this summer who is provisionally suspended by FINA awaiting a verdict in his anti-doping violation case, much like Croatia's centre-forward Niksa Dobud, so Serbian head coach Dejan Savic selected promising youngster Nikola Jaksic as his replacement in a squad that is unchanged of the one who won the gold medal in Budapest last year.

Stefan Mitrovic missed out on most of the action during the USA trip due to a looming injuy, only to return in the 2nd of 2 friendly games vs. Russia last week but should be okay for the Super Final.
Photo: Johan Opperman.

They will meet USA again in the group stage phase in Bergamo this week. The Americans after their successful series with Serbia at home travelled to Croatia where they joined the Croatian team for training and played a friendly match Saturday in Rijeka, which was lost 12-9. The US team is clearly progressing and under the guidance of Serbian head coach Dejan Udovicic hopes to make waves during the Super Final tournament but find itself in a though group. For 1 player in particular it will be a special tournament. Luca Cupido, born Italian but naturalised American is more and more emerging as the go-to-guy on offence for the US team and will be able to show his friends and family in Italy that his move to the US had been a successful one. He will meet several former teammates on the Italian team which he already was a part of on several occasions before deciding to shift to the US.
Next to Serbia another team eager to show off in front of the home crowd will be Italy. After their little surprising but deserved bronze medal at the 2014 European championships in Budapest, head coach Alessandro Campagna continued to build on the formation of his squad and has selected another nice group of players to start off the important upcoming summer. Here the experienced players like Valentino Gallo, Pro Recco players Pietro Figlioli, Matteo Aicardi, Alex Giorgetti, goalie Stefano Tempesti and Niccolo Gitto will see, compared to the 2014 Europeans, 'new' names such as centre-forward Tomasso Busilacchi and lefthander Giacomo Bini. The Italians, before hosting Brazil for join training, were part of the water polo tournament at the Settecolli aquatics festival in Rome the week before playing USA, Hungary and Croatia only beating the USA while falling to both Hungary (11-10) and Croatia (11-12) in close games. 

One of the rising stars of Italian water polo, Alessandro Velotto.
Photo: Pearse Photography.

Dangerous opponent in the group is Australia. The Aussie Sharks, boosted by the return of Aaron Younger who joins the squad for the first time since the World Cup and comes off a nice season with Croatian runner-up Jug Dubrovnik, will be looking to play their maximum and see where that leads to. The group travelled to Europe relatively early landing in familiair territory, Dubrovnik, Croatia, to make it to Bergamo via a stop in Serbia. It will be interesting to see what the Elvis Fatovic coached side will be capable of doing after being close to major upsets during the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships while winning this year's Intercontinental qualification tournament. For the teams in group B a good ranking will, on paper, even more important as the crossing matches in that case could turn out to be relatively easier and provide a good opportunity of making it into the semifinals; so close to the much desired first available 2016 Olympic Games berth.

Aaron Younger returns to the Aussie Sharks squad after a long but successful season with Croatian club Jug Dubrovnik.
Photo: Johan Opperman.

2015 FINA Men's World League Super Final
Bergamo, Italy

Group A:
Brazil, Hungary, China, Croatia

Group B:
Australia, Serbia, USA, Italy


Tuesday, 23 June

16.00: Serbia vs. USA
17.20: Hungary vs. China
18.40: Brazil vs. Croatia
20.00: Australia vs. Italy

Wednesday, 24 June

16.00: Brazil vs. China
17.20: Hungary vs. Croatia
18.40: Australia vs. USA
20.00: Serbia vs. Italy

Thursday, 25 June

16.00: Serbia vs. Australia
17.20: Hungary vs. Brazil
18.40: China vs. Croatia
20.00: USA vs. Italy

Friday, 26 June

16.00: 2A vs. 3B - game 13
17.20: 3A vs. 2B - game 14
18.40: 1A vs. 4B - game 15
20.00: 4A vs. 1B - game 16

Saturday, 27 June

16.00: L13 vs. L16 - game 17
17.20: L14 vs. L15 - game 18
18.40: W13 vs. W16 - game 19
20.00: W14 vs. W15 - game 20

Sunday, 28 June

16.00: L17 vs. L18
17.20: W17 vs. W18
18.40: L19 vs. L20 (bronze medal)
20.00: W19 vs. W20 (final)

N.b.: time mentioned is local time.

* In relation to the host broadcaster indications the matches of the Italian team we’ll always be played at 20.00 
** Following the indication of RAI TV on June 26 the Italian team will play the 3rd match scheduled for 18.40.

Tournament winner earns berth for 2016 Olympic Games.

Previous winners:

2002 - Russia
2003 - Hungary
2004 - Hungary
2005 - Serbia and Montenegro
2006 - Serbia and Montenegro
2007 - Serbia
2008 - Serbia
2009 - Montenegro
2010 - Serbia
2011 - Serbia
2012 - Croatia
2013 - Serbia
2014 - Serbia

Prize money distribution

Super Final

1st place - 100,000 USD
2nd place - 70,000 USD
3rd place - 50,000 USD
4th place - 35,000 USD
5th place - 30,000 USD
6th place - 25,000 USD
7th place - 20,000 USD
8th place - 15,000 USD

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