Dubrovnik and Zagreb are ready – just like the teams

Credit: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

This is going to be the fourth January edition of the European Water Polo Championships, but there will still be history in the making as the tournaments shall be hosted by two countries in three cities – something that\’s never happened before. The women will play in Eindhoven, from 5 January, while the men’s event kicks off on Thursday (4 Jan) in Zagreb and Dubrovnik.

Despite the ‘absolutely’ last-minute re-allocation of the championships (due to the war in the originally appointed host Israel), the Croatian organisers did a tremendous job.

The good old pool of Mladost has been transformed into a superb venue, thanks to the smartly constructed temporary tribunes and the high-standard venue-dressing. The same goes for Dubrovnik where the famous Gruz pool – a lot younger complex – will also be an outstanding host.

This was also emphasised by European Aquatics First Vice-President Josip Varvodic at the opening press conference in Dubrovnik, in the presence of Croatia’s legend Perica Bukic, Vice-President of the Croatian Water Polo Federation and Mato Frankovic, the Mayor of Dubrovnik.

“The idea that Croatia could host the Europeans after the situation in Israel was only born two months ago” Dr Varvodic recalled. “We are testing some new things and formats such as organising the men\’s and women\’s events separately.

“We are also testing the possibility of using two locations for the men’s event. World Aquatics has done it, we haven\’t so far. We wanted to give opportunity for Dubrovnik to be one of the hosts given its importance and its tradition in water polo along with Zagreb.”

Credit: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

The First Vice-President appraised the respective leaders who stood firmly behind the idea to bring the Europeans back to Croatia, just 15 months after a magnificent edition in Split.

“I would like to thank the Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic for supporting us from the beginning, the City of Dubrovnik, the Mayor Mato Frankovic did his best, too. It isn\’t easy. Two months are a very short period.

“The European Championships is the biggest water polo event next to the Worlds and the Olympic tournament. I would also like to thank the Croatian Water Polo Federation for always having an open mind to new ideas.

“I am proud to be Croat. Hopefully this event will be as successful as it was in Split.”

The championships will also be historical from another aspect – the two-division format debuts now. In the first division, the top eight sides from 2022 will play in two groups, while the eight teams having made the cut in the qualifications have also been drawn into two groups of four.

This ensures more attractive, exciting matches in the group stage while the 15-20-goal differences are expected to disappear.

The top two ranked teams in the first division will directly qualify for the quarter-finals, the third and fourth will face the teams finishing 1-2 in the second division in crossover matches, for a place in the quarter-finals.

Further highlights from the press conference

Representatives of the teams playing in Dubrovnik have also been invited to share their expectations at the press conference.

Florian Bruzzo, Head Coach, France

“We have had some good results in last two-three years. I would like to thank Euroean Aquatics, the Croatian Water Polo Federation and the City of Dubrovnik for organizing this Championships in such a short time.

“We really feel at home here, everything is great. We are happy to play at two \’temples\’ of water polo, Zagreb and Dubrovnik – I think they have 11 Champions League titles combined.

“The last two seasons were good for us. We are not a traditional water polo country, but we want to give the best we can.

“Everyone is focused on that. We want to take points in all three matches in the group phase. We start with Montenegro and we will see how far we can go.”

Vladimir Gojkovic, Head Coach, Montenegro

“We are happy to be playing so close to our home and are hoping for a big support from our fans during these matches in Dubrovnik.

“The team is similar to the one from Fukuoka with minor changes. We want to repeat the synergy and the performance we showed last summer. We still have to qualify for Doha and Paris, and that is our goal.”

Credit: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

Petar Tesanovic, Captain, Montenegro

“I’ve been recently awarded the title of the best water polo player of Montenegro for 2023. I am happy about that and see it as a recognition of all the work I’ve done in and out of the season.

“Now I am fully concentrated on the European Championships. We have worked well during preparations although the time was short.

“We are all in good shape and healthy first and foremost. We are glad that we are playing in Dubrovnik. We hope for a big support from our fans.”

David Martin, Head Coach, Spain

“We want to play our best water polo and hopefully win our 5th consecutive medal. We have an opportunity to win gold which we never achieved before, so we want to make history as we have a strong team.

“This pool is legendary. The last time in Split the atmosphere was fantastic. I\’m sure it will be the same here. I would like to thank Croatia and its government for stepping in.”

Credit: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

Felipe Perrone, Captain, Spain

“I am happy to be here. It wasn\’t easy to organise this event, given the circumstances. I would like to thank European Aquatics, the Croatian Water Polo Federation and the City of Dubrovnik for doing so.

“It is beautiful to be here again. I see everybody is living for this tournament, the organising committee is working all day. My wife (who is Croatian) will be cheering for me of course and we are happy to be here.”

Ivica Tucak, Head Coach, Croatia

“It is a great pleasure to be here. We are waiting for the start of the Championships with positive tension. These are really extraordinary circumstances for Croatia to host two Championships in a row.

“Split was amazing and I expect sending amazing images to the world once again. The preparations went well. Now we must show in the pool what we can do.

“There are still a lot of teams which haven\’t qualified to Paris yet. One berth from Croatia is up for grabs. We open the Championships with the most difficult match followed by France and Montenegro which will be just as difficult as every following match.

“The tournament is long. One match doesn\’t mean anything. Cohesion, aggression must be our qualities. We know we have the quality to go far and do great things. But tomorrow we have to be at our maximum at that moment.”

Credit: Bozo Radic / CROPIX

Marko Bijac, Captain, Croatia

“I am especially satisfied to play in my home town and at the pool where I grew up. The training period went well even though it was short. We are opening the Championships with toughest opponent, one of the favourites for the European title.

“We hope we can keep the energy and the momentum from Split going. It won\’t be easy. I can\’t wait for it to start.

“It will be another water polo spectacle. We would like to repeat Split where we had an aggressive defence, we helped each other out, which made me more secure and made my job easier.

“Split however was different in a sense that we had somewhat easier start with Malta, France and a key group match against Greece.

“Now, it\’s Spain right away. They play at a very high level and pace. They also punish every mistake you make. We will see how we will be able to keep up with that.

“Fast swimming, shrewdness and audacity is the key. We will see what the final result will be.”