Serbia continues its dominant streak at the 2016 Men’s European Water Polo Championship by winning its third title in a row. The 16-team tournament was split into four groups of four teams. This round was used to determine the seeding for the teams as everyone advanced to the knock-out stage. The highest ranked not yet qualified nation qualified to the Olympics. The Men’s European Water Polo Championship was held in Belgrade, Serbia from January 10th to January 23rd 2016.
Montenegro and Spain were the expected leaders of Group A. On their encounter no team had much of a lead as the match ended tied 8-8. Spain would go on to win the group due to a better goal difference. The Netherlands finished third in the group with a narrow 6-5 win over Slovakia.
Serbia would go undefeated in Group B which included a match against rival Croatia. The match wouldn’t live up to the hype as Serbia went up 7-3 by half-time and won the match 13-6. France would take third in the group as they defeated Malta 17-7.
Italy was the clear top team in Group C as they won all of their matches with relative ease. Georgia almost caused an upset against Germany as they took an early lead in the match. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter where Germany was able to put the match away to win 11-9. The fight for second place of the group was the final match in the group between Germany and Romania. The teams were essentially equal throughout the match. A 3-2 win for Romania in the second quarter ended up being the difference maker as Romania would take second in the group with a 14-13 win over Germany.
Group D had three teams that could potentially win the group. The group began with an 8-8 draw between Hungary and Greece as both teams were essentially equal throughout the match. While Russia took an early 4-1 lead over Hungary in the first quarter the rest of the match belonged to Hungary as Russia only scored two more goals while Hungary scored eleven to win the match 12-6. The final match of the group between Greece and Russia began with both teams going even. Greece took an 8-6 lead going into the final quarter, but a 3-0 performance by Russia gave it a 9-8 win. This would mean Hungary won the group, Russia finished second and Greece would advance as the third place team.
The round of 16 was rather uneventful as almost all of the higher seeded nations won their match. The only seeding upset was Greece’s 15-9 win over Romania though on paper Greece was easily the favourite to win that match.
In the quarterfinals Greece did just enough to extend its lead to defeat Spain 6-2 while Serbia scored the blowout of the round, easily taking out Russia 15-5. Both Montenegro and Hungary were able to stay one step ahead of Italy and Croatia respectively to advance to the semifinals with a score of 10-7 and 8-5 respectively.
The semi-finals had Serbia power through Greece in a 13-7 win as the nation reached its fifth European Championship final since it became an independent nation. The other semi-final match had big implication for the Olympics as the winner of the match would also book their spot to the Olympics. Montenegro would grab a narrow lead, winning 4-3 at half-time. Hungary was able to keep the match close until the final quarter where Montenegro was able to extend its lead and book a spot to the Olympics as they won the match 8-5.
The final would see Montenegro take an early lead though Serbia made sure to never let Montenegro gain too large of a lead. Going into the final quarter the match was tied 6-6. In the final quarter Serbia would score three unanswered goals though Montenegro would answer back by cutting the lead by two. With 26 seconds remaining Serbia would score another goal to put the match out of reach, winning the championship 10-8. Hungary won the bronze medal by navigating a 13-10 win over Greece.
Serbia is currently on a 30-0 winning streak across all major competitions, the last time they lost was back in the 2013 World Aquatic Championships. No doubt Serbia will be the heavy favourite going into the Olympics. This will be Montenegro’s third Olympics in a row as an independent nation. They will be looking to win their first medal after finishing fourth over the past two Olympics.
As for the other European nations many of them will get a second opportunity to qualify at the final Olympic qualification tournament. Initially only the top four not yet qualified nations plus hosts Italy would qualify, namely Hungary, Spain, Russia and France, however, withdrawals from other continents have given more spots to Europe. While not officially confirmed it is likely we will see Romania, Germany, Netherlands and Slovakia compete in the final qualification tournament.