Five of the world’s greatest water polo players ready to light up Eindhoven

Credit: European Aquatics

As the continent’s greatest players start to arrive in the Netherlands for the 2024 European Championships, we take a look at five stars to watch out for in Eindhoven when the highly-anticipated tournament starts on 5th January.

Sabrina van der Sloot (Netherlands)

With a player of Sabrina van der Sloot’s attacking talent among their ranks, it’s no surprise the Netherlands have enjoyed several podium finishes in recent years.

Last year, the Sabadell star was a key part of her country’s gold-medal winning run at the World Championships in Fukuoka, and her club’s Champions League final success against fierce rivals Mataro.

After winning national titles in Hungary (with Szentes in 2014 and UVSE in 2017), Italy (with Ekipe Orizzonte in 2019), and Spain (with Sabadell in 2021 and 2022), Van der Sloot finally added a continental club trophy to her long list of glittering achievements.

At the European Championships, the 32-year-old has won four medals with the Netherlands, including gold at the Barcelona tournament in 2018.

In 2012, when the championships were last played in Eindhoven, the Netherlands – with a young Van der Sloot in their line-up – finished sixth, so she’ll be aiming to make sure they don’t miss out on the medals at home again.

Rita Keszthelyi (Hungary)

One of the stand-out stars of Hungarian water polo for more than a decade, Rita Keszthelyi knows what it takes to win European gold after captaining the 2016 team that finished on top of the podium at the 2016 tournament in Belgrade.

The talented forward was the competition’s top scorer with 23 goals as she helped guide the Magyars to their third continental crown by beating the Netherlands 9-7 in a thrilling final.

Keszthelyi arrives in Eindhoven as one of the most decorated players in women’s water polo, with a recent highlight being winning the bronze at Tokyo 2020, which was the first time the Hungarian women’s squad had won an Olympic medal.

The 32-year-old has also already tasted success in Eindhoven, after topping the scoring charts (with 19 goals) and claiming the bronze at the 2012 European Championships, which was also held at the fabulous Pieter van den Hoogenband Swimming Stadium.   

Credit: European Aquatics

Elena Ruiz (Spain)

While Rita Keszthelyi maybe an established star of international water polo, Spain’s 19-year-old Elena Ruiz is following a similar path of success to her Hungarian counterpart.

Three years ago, aged just 16, Ruiz lit up the Tatsumi Water Polo Center at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with a string of sensational performances and looked firmly at home among Miki Oca’s squad that went on to win the silver medal.

In the Olympic semis, Ruiz even helped stop Keszthelyi’s Hungary reaching the final after scoring two spectacular goals from outside 5m in the third quarter.

Ruiz’s display was so impressive, team-mate Roser Tarrago commented after the game, “She’s such a good shooter, and such a great player, she is going to be amazing.”

Tarrago’s words are ringing true, as Ruiz recently won silver at the 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka, where she was also voted the tournament’s MVP.

In Eindhoven, Ruiz – who was part of Spain’s triumphant squad at the 2022 European Championships in Split – will line up alongside her older sister and Sant Andreu team-mate Ariadna, 21.

Roberta Bianconi (Italy)

Italy’s women’s water polo squad is packed with talent and will be among the favourites to win a medal in Eindhoven.

One player who has had a major influence over the national team’s success in the past 12 years is Roberta Bianconi.

Although she maybe entering the final years of her career at 34, Bianconi is still a major force to be reckoned with.

At the last European Championships in Split, she produced a magnificent solo performance in the bronze medal game against the Netherlands, scoring five goals to ensure Italy won a thrilling encounter 13-16.

In Eindhoven, Bianconi will be returning to the venue of her greatest career achievement to date – winning gold at the 2012 European Championships.

After collecting numerous other medals, including the silver at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Bianconi is someone head coach Carlo Silipo can rely on and her years of experience will no doubt help his squad in their pursuit of another European gold. 

Eleftheria Plevritou (Greece)

From a young age, it was always clear that Eleftheria Plevritou was going to be one of the world’s best water polo players. The Greece star made her debut for the national senior team when she was just 14-years-old.

Plevritou didn’t have to wait long to win her first medal, as shortly after turning 15 (in 2012), she won the bronze medal at the World League Super Final in Changshu.

The national team may have missed out on a few major tournaments and medals since then, but Greece are returning to winning ways and finished second at the last European Championships, with Plevritou also named the tournament’s MVP.   

As well as standing on the podium in Split, Plevritou enjoyed an outstanding 2021/22 season with her club side, Olympiacos, winning a memorable quadruple – the Euro League, Super Cup, Greek Cup and Greek Championships.

After also winning silver at the 2018 European Championships in Barcelona, Plevritou and Greece will be one of the contenders for gold in Eindhoven as they look to finish on top of the podium and book a ticket to the Paris 2024 Olympics and 2024 World Championships in Qatar.