Hungarian men’s head coach Zsolt Varga (below) gambled that his team could not win three major events in 2024. He rested his top seven players for the January European Championships, just missed the medals, and set himself up for a tough selection meeting heading into Doha. He thinks he has the mix right to not only retain his world championship but also carry that winning form through to Paris 2024 in July-August.

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

He named 12 gold medallists from Fukuoka with three newcomers who competed at the Europeans — Mark Banyai, Peter Kovacs, and David Tatrai.

Varga is pragmatic when it comes to retaining the crown when his ultimate mission is Paris. “Of course, we are the Hungarian national team, so our goal at the worlds cannot be anything else than winning it again, but there is no way to change our approach of going step by step, so our focus is on the group stage; we won’t look beyond.”

Spain is new European champion and on a roll as it gained the European berth for Paris. It might have something to say about reigning champion Hungary and other challengers for gold.

There was a lot of hand-wringing after the Europeans with many changes made to teams for Doha, thus making this a unique outing — especially so soon after Fukuoka 2023.

Qualifiers For Paris

France as the host nation
Hungary as world champion
Greece as world championship silver medallist
Japan as Asian Games champion
United States of America as Pan Am champion
South Africa as African qualifier
Australia as Oceania qualifier
Spain as European qualifier

What Happens In Doha?

Unlike the women’s competition, there are 12 teams in the men’s event of the Paris Olympics, with the top four non-qualified teams in Doha added to the roster for Paris.

Expect Croatia, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and Romania to lead the charge.

The Venue

Image Source: Russell McKinnon/World Aquatics

The Aspire Stadium is the largest indoor sporting arena in the world and two purpose-built pools have been allotted to water polo (competition and warm-up) and two to swimming and artistic swimming. There is room for 2000 spectators in the water polo arena.

How The Competition Is Structured

Four groups of four. Top team in each group wins through to quarterfinals. Second and third teams enter second-round crossovers with winners going to the 1-8 quarterfinals and losers to the 9-12 semifinals. Bottom team in each group crosses to contest the classification 13-16 positions. Winners of quarterfinals head to 1-4 semifinals and losers to 5-8 semifinals. Each team is allowed 15 athletes from which 13 will be selected for each match.

What The Groups Look Like

Group A: Australia, South Africa, Croatia, Spain.
Group B: Greece, Brazil, China, France.
Group C: Serbia, Montenegro, Japan, United States of America.
Group D: Kazakhstan, Romania, Italy, Hungary.

Expected Group Winners

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Group A: Spain and Croatia battled out the European final with Spain winning 11-10, although on day one Croatia beat Spain 14-12 in a penalty shootout. Croatia needs to win the group and make sure of Olympic selection. David Martin (above) will have his Spanish stars primed for the contest.

Group B: Greece will go through, but the group is intriguing.

Group C: Wow! You pick a winner. The Balkan teams have yet to qualify for Paris while the other two are continental champions who will be in Paris. United States of America will be out to atone for several big losses in Fukuoka after being well ahead and will be a solid match for the Europeans.

Group D: Hungary, with its reconvened team, will make it hard for Italy.

The Stars To Watch

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Hungary has Denes Varga (36) coming back for his 10th World Championship and looking for a third crown. Watch out for Gergo Zalanki (above), Marton Vamos and Vince Vigvari.

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Spain has the mercurial Alvaro Granados whose young head tops a body built for scoring goals. Add in captain Felipe Perrone (38, above), big centre forward Roger Tahull and superb goalkeeper Unai Aguirre and you have a complete team.

Croatia has Marko Bijac in goal, Konstantin Kharkov and Jerko Marinic Kragic in its arsenal.

Italy’s captain, Francesco Di Fulvio, delights at every opportunity alongside Edoardo di Somma and Andrea Fondelli.

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Greece has a pantheon of players, including Stylianos Argyropoulos, speedster Alexandros Papanastasiou and Angelos Vlachopoulos.

Serbia has Dusan Mandic, Nikola Jaksic and Strahinja Rasovic as seven newcomers get a foothold from last year’s team.

Montenegro looks to Kanstantsin Averka and Stefan Vidovic to do the damage on goal as the same team from the Europeans have been given the nod.

There are many more and others will emerge as they go about playing their part in history.

What About History?

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Hungary has four golds, an amazing seven silvers and one bronze.
Italy also has four titles, three silvers and two bronzes.
Spain has three golds, four silvers and two bronzes.
Croatia has two golds, one silver and five bronzes.
Serbia has two golds, one silver and one bronze.
Greece has a silver and three bronzes.
Montenegro has the one silver from 2013.
No non-European team has earned a medal at this level.

Opening-Day Draw

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

09:00, Group A, South Africa v Spain
10:30, Group B, China v Greece
12:00, Group B, Brazil v France
13:30, Group A, Croatia v Australia
16:00, Group C, Japan v Serbia
17:30, Group C, Montenegro v United States of America
19:00, Group D, Italy v Kazakhstan
20:30, Group D, Romania v Hungary