Winning the World Aquatics Championships is always a dream an athlete in the prime of their career. Claiming the world title right before the Olympics in the same year is by all means a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is why the World Aquatics Championships in Doha will make for an extra memorable men’s and women’s water polo tournament.
These World Aquatics Championships will be different, as since 1973 not once have the Worlds been held just months before the Olympics. In 2024, this will be the case.
On top of that, to increase the stakes, Doha serves as the last qualification chance for the Olympics. It’s high time for each team to perform their best; they have nothing to lose.
In 2024, 12 men's teams will compete in Paris, while 10 women's teams will play for the Olympic title. Four more men's teams could qualify in Doha, but only two women's team spots are still up for grabs for Paris. This promises a make for a huge battle for the last few tickets to the Olympic Games, especially on the women’s side.
WHO HAS ALREADY QUALIFIED FOR PARIS 2024?
The teams that played in the gold medal game in Fukuoka 2023 have already secured their tickets to Paris. On the men’s side, that means the reigning World champions, Hungary, and the runner-ups from Greece secured their spots to the Games.
On the women’s side, the Netherlands and Spain earned their participation at the Olympics through their Fukuoka performance.
Countries could also qualify for Paris 2024 through continental championship tournaments. And as Olympic hosts, France automatically received the right to participate in the Games. So far, seven men’s teams – France, Hungary, Greece, USA, Japan, South Africa, Australia – and seven women’s teams – France, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, China, USA, South Africa – have already qualified their countries for Paris 2024.
THE HUNGARIANS ARE HUNGRY FOR THEIR TITLE DEFENSE
As the reigning world champions, Hungary will aim to defend their title by showing a concentrated and well-organised game strategy - even if their main goal is the Olympics. Zsolt Varga, head coach of the Magyars, says that in Doha they will line up their best players in order to re-gain their glory.
“I don't think anyone goes to the World Championships with the loser mentality, everybody wants to win. We will go to Doha with maximum preparation and motivation. For us, this is a very important stage in our route to the Olympics. Not to mention that the World Championships always have prestige, winning it is a great thing.”
Last year’s men’s world silver medallist Greek team definitely want to win the World title in Doha. For most of the year, the decisive players of the Greek national team are in the same club, in the Olympiacos, so the Greek national team can become even stronger.
WILL THE SPANISH PHENOM PERRONE END HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER WITH A VICTORY?
It was a huge disappointment for the Spaniards that they did not reach the final in Fukuoka; their run to repeat their 2022 World title fell -- thanks to Krisztián Manhercz's last-second goal in the semi-final, so they definitely want to show their best in Doha to qualify to the Olympics. Spanish captain Felipe Perrone is preparing for his 12th World Aquatics Championships, and he has promised one thing - they will do everything to return home from Doha with gold.
“Our goal is to get the gold medal. We are always training as hard as we ca to get gold medal. Las year in Fukuoka we lost the semi-final by one goal, so we were very disappointed about that. We are going to do our best. After the Olympics the World Championships are the most important tournament in the world, it’s a glory to win it."
“We have no excuses about that we need to show our best within 5 months – the world is always changing; we need to adapt” – said the 37-year-old water polo player.
Perrone, who has already suited up for 11 editions of the World Aquatics Championships shared with us this may be his last dance, saying, “There is a big chance of this will be my last World Championships.”
DO NOT FORGET ABOUT: OLYMPIC CHAMPION SERBIA
The newly formed Serbian team already showed its teeth in Fukuoka, led by Strahinja Rasovic and Nikola Jaksic. Rasovic especially impressed last July in Japan, as he scored 25 goals in the tournament, making him the best scorer) and marched all the way to the bronze medal match.
They need to qualify to the Olympics, like the Spanish team. Fortunately for both teams, they will have a chance to earn their place in the Paris Games before Doha at the European Championships in Croatia in January.
The question is, how much do the qualified teams want to show their true form? There is nothing to lose for the teams who already have earned the right to play in Paris.
CAN THE USA WOMEN'S TEAM RETURN TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD?
As for the ladies, the Dutch managed to break the American hegemony (during Team USA’s dynastic run, they won four World Championships titles in a row: 2015-2017-2019-2022) and became the world's best in Fukuoka again after 1991.
The runner-up from Fukuoka was Spain, but it was a bittersweet second place, as silver was worth an Olympic quota. They'll certainly arrive in Doha with a calmer mind, with nothing to lose, so they'll be going for gold.
The question is what will happen to the Americans, who won the Pan American Games and secured their spot for the Olympics? Certainly, they don’t want to finish in fifth again like they did at last year’s Worlds. Can they show in Doha that they have climbed out of the hole?
What we are sure of is that a fierce battle for the last two quota places in the women's is in the cards. There are sure to be some very exciting matches between 4-17 February in Doha, Qatar.