Doha 2024: Men’s water polo tournament turns into a European Championship

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

European teams are dominating the water polo tournaments. For the first time since 2007, there will be an all-European field in the men’s quarterfinals, while all five powerhouses made the top eight in the women’s meet.

Europe has been historically dominant at the World Championships – unlike at the Olympics, the Old Continent occupied the podium at each edition among the men since 1973, with no-European teams failing to claim a medal in that time. And that won’t change in Doha, as European sides swept all spots in the quarter-finals.

That also means that all four remaining Olympic berths went to Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Italy who will return to the big stage in Paris.

The group stage – the last one according to the ‘old’ rules with the two-division format  making its debut in 2025 – didn’t see any upset. In the big clashes, Spain defeated Croatia once more, though this time a lot easier than in the European Championship final in Zagreb two weeks ago. Serbia downed arch-rival Montenegro convincingly and also upended the United States in a heated clash to finish top of their group.

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Hungary staged a big comeback against Italy to score twice in 17 seconds and send the match to a shootout where the world’s best penalty killer Soma Vogel made the difference once more. Greece had to overcome some problems against France before netting a late winner and securing the top spot in its group.

Thus Spain, Greece, Serbia and Hungary booked their respective spots in the quarters as group winners and soon they were joined by Croatia, France, Montenegro and Italy. The Croats had the easiest task to beat China. France broke the Australians in the fourth period with a 3-0 run while Romania forced a really tough battle against Montenegro, but the favourites prevailed.

In the most-anticipated clash, the individual skills and their vast experience gave the edge for the Italians over the US. It was a big clash with 31 major fouls, red cards, load of tensions where the Settebello kept fighting to push back the Americans’ renewing surges.

This sets up a fine European Championship feeling for the quarters where Spain will play Montenegro, the clash of Greece and Italy is just as mouth-watering as the classic showdown of Serbia and Croatia. The last one is due between title-holder Hungary and Olympic host France.

Credit to: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

As for the women, surprises eluded the tourney so far as the same eight sides made the quarters as in 2022. Here there is a lot more at stake for a couple of teams since only two more Olympic spots are up for grabs (with four available for the men) and Hungary, Italy and Canada still in the hunt.

In the quarters, Italy faces Greece in a rematch of the bronze medal game from the Europeans where the Greeks upended their rivals to book their journey to Paris. Hungary and the Netherlands also met in Eindhoven where the hosts came up victorious in the group and made it all the way to the top.

Since Canada is to play Spain and that one seems to have only one outcome which is a win for the World and European silver medallist, victory for Italy and Hungary would send them to the Games. If the Netherlands win (and/or Greece), the matches played for the 5-8th places will have a special weight.

Here Europe won’t have a clean sweep of the semi-final spots as Olympic title-holder USA will meet Australia in the fourth quarter-final.

Quarter-final match-ups

Women: USA v Australia, Spain v Canada, Hungary v Netherlands, Italy v Greece

Men: Spain v Montenegro, Greece v Italy, Serbia v Croatia, Hungary v France