Hungarian men’s water polo coach Zsolt Varga’s plan was to rest the top players for the Europeans, give extra time to the “second” squad and then bring back the stars, blend in the newcomers and blitz the world championships.

The Europeans began with a 10-8 loss to Greece, followed by wins over Georgia and Italy. A three-way tie with these two teams had Hungary on top and into the quarterfinals.

A 15-14 sudden-death penalty shootout over Serbia seemingly justified the strategy as Hungary had made the medal round. However, Italy made amends for the 10-5 loss to Hungary in the rounds, winning 12-7, giving Hungary fourth position — not a bad result considering the stars stayed at home — including wing/shooter Krisztian Manhercz.

The Doha World Aquatics Championships  looked the same as Zagreb, winning the group with a penalty-shootout victory over arch-nemesis Italy.

Then things went awry when the most spectacular match of the tournament unleashed a French second-half onslaught that had Hungary on the ropes, losing 11-10. The heart had been torn out of Hungary and Serbia pounced in the five-eight semifinals with an 11-10 victory.

Hungary left with a victory, downing Montenegro for seventh — 18-16. The margins were miniscule when it comes to winning a medal and playing for seventh — two one-goal losses.

Image Source: Krisztian Manhercz celebrates with goalkeeper Somer Vogel after winning 2023 World Aquatics title/ Adam Pretty/ Getty Images/World Aquatics

Manhercz reflected on the recent results, saying: “Of course, it’s a bad result, but we need to learn from that; we made a lot of mistakes. But we have time to improve.”

By securing an Olympic berth from the Fukuoka World Aquatics Championships last year, Manhercz said it gave Hungary more preparation time for Paris while other teams still had to qualify.

What will be done to steady the ship ahead of Paris?

“The Olympics is the biggest thing in water polo, but we need to prepare for that as a regular competition. Nothing has changed since last summer when we won the world championship.”

Image Source: Krisztian Manherz playing against Australia at Rio 2016 Olympic Games/Quinn Rooney/Getty Images/World Aquatics

As a bronze medallist from Tokyo, how determined are you to win gold?

“My dream since childhood is to be an Olympic champion. It means everything for me. Hungary won nine Olympics and when I was a kid, I saw the older generations winning these competitions in a row. In that time, I decided I wanted to win it, too.”

What is it like playing club water polo in Marseille and now competing in the Olympics in the same country?

“We played the national final in that pool where we will play the group stage and it was amazing. To see how the whole country is preparing for this tournament is really incredible.”

Will any family be watching you in Paris?

“My daughter was born in May, so my wife will stay home with the baby. My parents will support us from home, also.”

Manhercz hopes that his name will be on the roster for Paris when it is officially named. A star of his calibre should not worry.

Footnote: A look back at last year’s World Aquatics Championships semifinal victory over Spain where Manhercz was the undoubted star.


While the first semifinal was a foregone conclusion early on, this semifinal was always in doubt, even though Spain seemed to have the edge more often than not. Krisztian Manhercz turned an exciting evening into a frenzy of delight for Hungary, in particular, as he sent his nation to the final in exceptional circumstances.

Hungary took a timeout with 16 seconds left in the encounter and the ball moved around, finally arriving at Manhercz in the wilderness of the left deep wing. With the seconds ticking to the last, he shot low into the waist of Spanish goalkeeper Unai Aguirre and just when it seemed Spain was through to the final, the ball popped off his right hip and spun back into goal. There were only a few seconds to check VAR to confirm that Hungary had gained yet another shot at the title it has won three times before with 10 visits, the latest 10 years ago in Barcelona.

This was magical stuff. To win a World Championship semifinal on the buzzer and with what could be regarded as a goalkeeper mistake, was the stuff of legends. Was he meant to take the shot? Who knows? But he could be relied upon as he scored the identical shot at 9-8 down. Yes, he probably was the target, but from what an angle!