What is it?
The water polo World Championship forms part of the FINA 2017 World Aquatics Championships, which also includes diving, swimming, open water swimming and synchronised swimming competitions (look out for more on some of these in the weekly review and in upcoming previews). It is a biennial competition, and is the name suggests, the aim is to crown the best water polo playing nation in the world. The 2017 edition will be the 13th women’s World Championship, having been established in 1986 (while a men’s competition has been running slightly longer, since 1973, with 2017 marking the 17th edition).
Where is it?
The 2017 World Aquatics Championships are taking place in Budapest in Hungary. Hungary has a long tradition of success in water polo, and the championships are expected to draw large crowds. The water polo matches are taking place at the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River flowing through the heart of Budapest. The pool is named after Alfréd Hajós, a Hungarian swimmer who won two gold medals at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens. Hajós was a versatile athlete, and as well as his swimming medals, he won Hungary’s 100m sprint, 400m hurdles and discus events in 1898, played football for the Hungarian national team, served as a football referee and coached the national team. After his sporting career, he then went on the become an award-winning architect and designed the stadium that now bears his name.
What is the format?
Sixteen teams have qualified for the 2017 tournament. These are split into four groups of four teams, which play each other in a round robin format in the Preliminary Stage. The top team in each group qualifies automatically for the quarter-finals, while the second and third placed teams have playoff matches to decide the remaining four quarter-finalists. From the quarter-finals onwards, the tournament is a straight knockout to the final on 28th July, although all sixteen teams play on after having been knocked out to give a full ranking at the end of the tournament.
Who are the qualifiers?
The groups for the Preliminary Stage are as follows:
- Group A: Brazil, Canada, China, Italy
- Group B: New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, USA
- Group C: France, Hungary, Japan, Netherlands
- Group D: Australia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Russia
Hungary qualified automatically as hosts. USA and Spain qualified thanks to their performance in the 2016 World League competition. Italy, Russia, Australia and China qualified at the 2016 Olympic tournament. France, Greece and the Netherlands qualified at the 2016 European championships. Brazil and Canada qualified at the Pan American Games. Japan, Kazakhstan, South Africa and New Zealand then qualified through their respective continental qualifying tournaments.
Who are the historical powerhouses?
Where men’s water polo has traditionally been dominated by Eastern and Southern European countries (predominantly Hungary, Serbia and Croatia in recent years), the women’s game has historically been less predictable, although in recent competitions the USA have begun to assert a level of dominance. In the twelve World Championship tournaments to date, the USA have four wins, Italy and Hungary have two apiece, and Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece have each won one.
What are the home team’s chances?
The Hungarian women’s team have struggled to match the success of their male compatriots, having finished no higher than 4th at an Olympic Games, and not having won the World Championships since 2005. Their best performance in recent times came in 2013, where they took the bronze medal.
Who are the players to watch out for?
- Maggie Steffens (USA) – the US captain led the way at the Olympic tournament in Rio, notching 17 goals as the team won the gold medal. Steffens also won gold in 2012 in London, at a tournament where she was also prolific, scoring 21 goals. Steffens was named the Female Water Polo Player of the Year in 2012 and 2014.
- Rita Keszthelyi (Hungary) – Keszthelyi will lead the Hungarian women in their home tournament, and her talent has long been recognised in her home country, as she was named Hungarian Female Player of the Year in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, as well as being named in the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympic Games.
- Giulia Emmolo (Italy) – Italy won the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and will be hoping to go one better in Budapest. If they are to do so, they will be relying on Emmolo to make her mark, as one of their key goalscorers.
- Rowie Webster (Australia) – Australia’s captain has played over 200 games for the national team, and won bronze as part of the Australian Olympic team in London in 2012. She also holds the record for the most goals scored in one Australian National League season, with 99 goals scored.
- Alexandra Asimaki (Greece) – 29-year-old Asimaki is the star centre-forward of the Greek team. She helped guide the Greek team to a gold medal in the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, and was named the FINA Female Player of the Year as a result of her goalscoring exploits. At club level, she has helped her team Olympiacos to the Greek title in each of the past three seasons, and won the LEN Euro League and LEN Super Cup in 2015.
What has happened already?
The Preliminary Stage of the tournament finished on 20th July. The quarter-finals will look like this:
- Italy will play the winner of the playoff between Russia and the Netherlands
- The USA will play the winner of the playoff between France and Australia
- Hungary will play the winner of the playoff between Canada and New Zealand
- Greece will play the winner of the playoff between China and Spain
The USA have looked particularly dangerous, scoring 58 goals in their three Preliminary Stage matches, although the majority of those goals came against minnows New Zealand and South Africa – the US team raced to a 6-1 lead at the end of the first quarter against eventual Group B runners-up Spain, but then lost the remaining three quarters 7-6, suggesting they may not have everything their own way over the rest of the tournament. Italy have progressed with limited difficulty, winning 10-4 against Canada, 18-4 against Brazil and 15-8 against China. Hosts Hungary also qualify as group winners, mainly thanks to a hard-fought 10-8 win over the Netherlands.
Where can I watch it (UK only)?
Sadly, I have no idea – I’m yet to find any coverage anywhere, including online. If anyone knows anything more, could you let me know please!