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2022 LEN Events News Slider Water Polo

Far from home, Ukraine’s U19 team is ready to do a miracle

Ukr-u19

Ukraine’s men’s U19 national team is set to start its quest at the European U19 Water Polo Championships qualification in Tbilisi. The teens have been away from their war-ridden home for long weeks, trained in Hungary, then travelled to Georgia for this weekend.

National Federations across Europe didn’t hesitate to offer a helping hand to the aquatic community of Ukraine – thanks to that, dozens of athletes of the various disciplines, seniors and age-groupers alike, managed to escape the horrors of the war, reached safe waters and could train regularly for the upcoming challenges.

The men’s U19 team arrived at Hungary in early March – partly because of great personal relationships which play a crucial role in these troubled times. Head coach Viktor Momot was able to contact the leaders of team Szentes in Hungary, where he had played a couple of seasons during his career. The deal was reached immediately: the juniors were welcomed soon, they got a fine accommodation in a nearby village, Mindszent, the Hungarian Water Polo Federation offered financial support, its president, Attila Vari – a two-time Olympic champion – personally greeted the young Ukrainians on site.

They could not only train in the Szentes pool, but the hosts ensured that they could have game-practices against Hungary’s age-group teams to gain some match routine. A joint training camp was held with the U17 team – led by another legend, Olympic gold medallist Gabor Kis.

“We are so grateful for Hungary and my former team Szentes”

Momot said.

“This opportunity is invaluable for the well-known reasons. The conditions were perfect, and our hosts made sure that we got everything we needed.”

Now it’s time for the big test – team Ukraine has been drawn to Group B where they face host Georgia, Turkey and Lithuania in Tbilisi. Georgia and Turkey have been considered the favourites to qualify for the championships to be held in September in Podgorica (MNE) – still, the young players from Ukraine were determined to cause an upset and advance to play on the big stage.

While they were flying to Tbilisi, the last remaining official in charge at the federation’s headquarters had to join the army – so there was no one who could send the proper entry form prior to the competition. In the given situation, LEN officials agreed that the team leader could file the entry list at the venue, and it would be accepted without the otherwise necessary stamping by the federation.

Their opening match against Turkey was the crucial encounter on Friday afternoon. The Ukrainian boys fought bravely and for three periods they looked to make a miracle, led 7-4 at halftime and 9-7 before the last quarter while showing some heroic defending, stopping penalties and denying a 3 on 6 man-down for example. However, in the fourth their reserves were completely burnt, and the Turks scored five goals to turn the game and win it 12-10.

Still, the Ukrainian boys deserve all credit for this brave performance – and have two more matches to do big things.