Ivica Tucak, the head coach of the Croatian men’s team and the goalkeeper, Marko Bijac shared their thoughts with us less than two months before the start of the Games in Paris 2024.

Croatia last attended the Olympics as a world champion in 2008, and then they finished a disappointing sixth place. Obviously, this year is a bit different than 2008, but it is a good question whether the World Championship title motivates or stresses the Croatian team.

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

As the head coach of Croatia, Ivica Tucak says, “There is no stress or any additional pressure. We are going to the Olympic Games just like any other national team. The fact that we are the current world champions means absolutely nothing. It is an honour for us to go from that position; of course, it is an excellent result, but I don't think about it at all. We are just one of the teams that have its chances, and we will clearly articulate that. We only have our chances, and what the Olympic tournament will show, we will see.”

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

The players have the same mentality as Tucak. Marko Bijac, the goalkeeper of the Croatian National team added: “We must be mentally prepared for the Olympics, we have no pressure on us at all. We would like to enjoy the tournament, but of course, we will do our best.”

Up to Nine Teams Could Compete for a Medal

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

The best will fight against each other in the Paris Aquatics Center during the group matches, and then the Paris La Défense Arena will host the knockout stages. The Croatian national team's goal is to reach the final, but first, they must get through the group stage, where their first four matches will be against Montenegro, Italy, Romania, and Greece.

Croatian Coach Tucak underlined: “It’s an extremely tough group; both are. There is nothing to talk about; maybe ours is slightly tougher than the other, but that's my opinion. There is no easy opponent, no easy match, and throughout the entire tournament, you will truly need to be at a top-level performance for those two weeks if you want to achieve a good result.”

Furthermore, Tucak added: “As for the opponents, I have no favourites; there is a circle of nine teams from which any can beat any, where every match can be won or lost, so one needs mental stability throughout the entire tournament. We have that experience of playing finals. In the last four competitions, we were in the final three times, so we probably possess that mental and psychological stability. We will do everything on our side to achieve the best possible result.”

‘We Are Hoping for a Medal’

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

This Olympics has the potential to be the most exciting Olympic Games editions of all. The differences between the teams are tiny. The daily performance will decide the outcomes between them all.

Tucak exactly knows this.

“Achieving any good result, any medal at the Olympic Games, is a magnificent result," the Croatian head coach said. "We will do everything to win an Olympic medal; the shinier, the better. But as I said, there is no burden, no pressure. Only the desire to play the best tournament possible, and where that will take us, we will see.”

The density of the field makes it harder to make it to the final, but it is good for the sport's popularity.

Marko Bijac believes it makes for better water polo.

"For all the people who love water polo, it's very good. I think it is also good for the promotion of our sport," Bijac said. "There will be no easy matches at the Olympics; the quarterfinals, semifinals and, of course, the final will be extremely exciting and close. For the fans, it will be great, but for us, for the players, it will be a little bit more difficult in the water..."

‘The Club Season is Extremely Important’

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

Marko Bijac is the player who always wants to be the best, he trains a lot and learns a lot about how his opponents shoot.

Bijac shares some of his secrets with us: “I think every player has some automatism, so I have a pretty good idea of who usually shoots the ball where and how. I play for a long time; I have some experience as a goalkeeper… I must say, our level is a very high level, it’s hard to predict how and where they shoot.” 

But how can he be the best goalkeeper in Croatia?

Bijac says: “The club season is very important. If you have a great club season, you will have confidence. If you don't have any injuries during the season, you'll be healthy and you'll have stamina. There are a lot of factors that you have to have, and you have to improve during the club season to be the best in the national team.”

Croatia, Hungary & USA: Let’s Prepare for the Olympics Together!

Image Source: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Tucak shared with us the preparation plan for the Olympic Games of the Croatian national water polo team: “Preparations will begin on June 10th in Brdo near Kranj, where we will stay for 2 weeks, then 2-3 days off, and we will gather again on June 27th in Zagreb, where the Hungarian team will join us for sparring. After that, we will travel to an international tournament. Then a little free time and the final preparations in Šibenik, where the USA team will join us.”