sabato 25 luglio 2015

Kazan 2015 - group D

The 2012 European Championships final, 2012 Olympic Games bronze medal match or 2013 World Championships quarterfinal. Just a few occasions that comes to mind where Serbia and Montenegro met and produced instant highlights. It's almost as if one can say that match-ups between the two former countrymen never disappoint. And now they will square off already in the preliminary round of the 2015 World Championships in Kazan. Put in the Australian team, and complete the group by 2014 Asian Games runners-up Japan, and you got yourself some matches to look forward to in the group stage next week.
In the build-up to the tournament Montenegro got to learn that starters and veterans Nikola Janovic (needs rest but returns in 2016) and Antonio Petrovic (retired from international career) as well as back-up centre-forward Sasa Misic (injury) will miss out on the action in Kazan which should affect the depth of the current worlds runners-up quite a bit. But after a solid preparation that included joint training with Canada and Greece, the confirmation of the team's level and ambition came last week in Nis, Serbia where the Montenegrins managed to win the strong 8-nation tournament which included 2 wins over Greece including in the final. The return of Aleksandar Radovic to the team will help but even more so the other players realising they will have to step up when playing a two-week tournament such as the world championships, should have Montenegro being considered a title contender as much as they were in the previous big championships.
For Australia the miss of centre-forward Joe Kayes could be felt. The former New Zealander and member of Hungary's runner-up OSC just this week received confirmation from FINA that he is forced to sit out this world championship the change of sport nationality eligibility rules although Water Polo Australia strongly disagrees and even considers an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Yes, Kayes hasn't been part of the Sharks team in previous championships but did join and worked along during the long preparation towards the Kazan 2015 tournament. And as we're talking about a player who made a name for himself in Hungary by delivering strong performances in the teams of Szeged and recently OSC, the potential miss is substantial. But then again, the Sharks know how to play and have two more years under the guidance of head coach Elvis Fatovic under their belt. Now even more than in 2013, his approach of defence as a priority for this team should have Australia now making a strong case for themselves to not only reach the quarterfinals but get past that hurdle in what would mean tying the best-ever result for the Aussie Sharks (4th in Perth, 1998).
Both teams are joined in the group by arguably the highest title-favourite team, Serbia. After their year of international domination in 2014 which included gold medals at the World League Super Final, European Championships and FINA World Cup, and more recently qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games by retaining the World League trophy in Bergamo, Serbia is the team to beat in Kazan. And with still virtually the same roster, that role of favourite is legitimate. Only missing for Serbia is veteran centre-back Nikola Radjen who is provisionally suspended by FINA due anti-doping rules violation and is awaiting verdict. His spot is filled by promising Partizan youngster Nikola Jaksic who in Bergamo already proved to be a worthy replacement, despite his age of 18 years.


The story of this group actually lies more in their neighbouring group C, looking at the competition format. As this group D is one of the tougher ones, the crossover round, on paper, could turn out to be relatively easier for 2nd and 3rd ranked sides. And so the need to finish first and avoid that crossover round is not necessarily great. The only reason now could be that skipping a round is more than welcome in a two-week tournament in terms of possible fatigue at the end of week two. However every competitive spirit will play to win and finish first in this case. Therefore plenty of nice match-ups will await the crowd in group D.

Even with Serbia in the role of favourite, that does not mean they are likely to top the group after three rounds of play. Just last year en route to the Europeans gold medal, the Serbs lost to Hungary and drew level with Croatia only to beat Spain 8-7 in a must-win situation to reach the quarterfinals. So in week 1 in Kazan it could come down to the answer to the basic question: who is ready to play? In that picture, Australia could be included for a same portion as favourites Serbia and Montenegro. The Aussie Sharks in recent years have proven to be able to beat or make life very hard for European top teams on a good day. And since they've been in Europe preparing for quite a while, it could very well mean that the Elvis Fatovic coached side could be making waves in group D during the first week of the world championships. The same goes for Montenegro who will also look at the competition format and know in usual conditions, things won't be decided in the group stage so the matches could even be used to gain rhythm and form to carry into the second week. After their win of the 8-nation tournament in Nis, Serbia the confidence got a needed boost after the earlier news that three players of last year's squad won't be playing this summer. Ranko Perovic' team however showed determination and resilience, confirmed by the nice performance during the 'Nis tournament' and looks ready for another nice result at the world championships after the 2013 edition silver medal. 

For Japan though, this draw is tough luck. The 2014 Asian Games silver medal winners are on the rise but find themselves in arguably the worst possible group. But after missing out on qualification for the 2013 world championships, the Japanese are back on the worlds stage by making it to this year's edition. And with several national team members playing professionally in Europe the past season in, among others, Hungary, Croatia and Italy, the squad is looking to boost its level on the way to the 2020 Olympics at home in Tokyo. But for the coming two weeks, the group stage will be daunting task as the squad faces fierce opposition against multiple favourites. In case of finishing last though, an expected match-up with group C's 4th ranked team is one to focus on and could very well mean success for the Japanese who most recently enjoyed common training with Hungary in Budapest, concluded by an official test match which was lost 18-11. 

Who to watch:

Aleksandar Ivovic (MNE) - In the absence of Nikola Janovic, Antonio Petrovic and Sasa Misic, even more will be expected from Ivovic among others, especially on the offensive end. A proven scorer and also stellar centre-back defender Ivovic is likely to be the foundation upon which the performance of Montenegro in Kazan is build on.

Photo: Johan Opperman.

Dusko Pijetlovic (SRB) - Centre-forward that is more and more becoming the highlight of the reigning two-time European champion Serbian team. His qualities at the centre-forward position are not disputed. His presence on the post-position in man-up is even more dangerous lately and enables Pijetlovic to be in the top ranks of the teams goal scorers classification, with the recent World League Super Final as one of the examples.

Photo: Marcel ter Bals.

Aaron Younger (AUS) - The biggest talent of the Aussie Sharks team. Just 23 years of age, Younger comes off a strong but gruelling season playing for Jug Dubrovnik in Croatia. The strong defender, in the absence of centre-forward Niksa Dobud from mid-April onwards, more and more got to work on his offensive skills as he was one of the team-mates to fill in Dobud's spot ocassionally. He did so more than often during the Champions League Final Six tournament in Barcelona late May and showed there that he currently is as allround as he will get. 

Photo: Johan Opperman.

2015 FINA World Championships
Kazan (RUS)



Group A
Croatia, Brazil, Canada, China

Group B
Greece, USA, Italy, Russia

Group C
South Africa, Hungary, Argentina, Kazakhstan

Group D
Serbia, Japan, Montenegro, Australia


Monday, 27 July (men)

09.30: Croatia vs. Canada
10.50: Brazil vs. China
12.10: Greece vs. Italy
13.30: South Africa vs. Argentina

17.30: Hungary vs. Kazakhstan
18.50: USA vs. Russia
20.10: Serbia vs. Montenegro
21.30: Japan vs. Australia

Wednesday, 29 July (men)

09.30: Greece vs. USA
10.50: Kazakhstan vs. Argentina
12.10: South Africa vs. Hungary
13.30: Australia vs. Montenegro

17.30: Serbia vs. Japan
18.50: Russia vs. Italy
20.10: China vs. Canada
21.30: Croatia vs. Brazil

Friday, 31 July (men)

09.30: South Africa vs. Kazakhstan
10.50: Hungary vs. Argentina
12.10: Serbia vs. Australia
13.30: Japan vs. Montenegro

17.30: Croatia vs. China
18.50: Greece vs. Russia
20.10: Brazil vs. Canada
21.30: USA vs. Italy

Sunday, 2 August (men)

10.50: A4 vs. B4 - M25
12.10: 4C vs. 4D - M26
13.30: 2A vs. 3B - M27

17.30: 3A vs. 2B - M28
18.50: 2C vs. 3D - M29
20.10: 3C vs. 2D - M30

Quarterfinal round

Tuesday, 4 August (men)

09.30: L M25 vs. L M26 - M31 (15th/16th place classification)
10.50: W M25 vs. W M26 - M32 (13th/14th place classification)
12.10: L M27 vs. L M29 - M33
13.30: L M28 vs. L M30 - M34

17.30: 1A vs. W M29 - M35
18.50: 1B vs. W M30 - M36
20.10: 1C vs. W M27 - M37
21.30: 1D vs. W M28 - M38

Semifinal round

Thursday, 6 August (men)

10.50: L M33 vs. L M34 - M39 (11th/12th place classification)
12.10: W M33 vs. W M34 - M40 (9th/10th place classification)

15.30: L M35 vs. L M36 - M41
17.00: L M37 vs. L M38 - M42
20.15: W M35 vs. W M36 - M43
21.45: W M37 vs. W M38 - M44

Final round

Saturday, 8 August (men)

14.00: L M41 vs. L M42 - M45 (7th/8th place classification)
15.30: W M41 vs. W M42 - M46 (5th/6th place classification)

20.30: L M43 vs. L M44 - M47 (3rd/4th place classification)
22.00: W M43 vs. W M44 - M48 (1st/2nd place classification)

N.b.: times mentioned are local time.

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