For a record fifth time, Budapest will stage the European Water Polo Championships from Sunday. The two-week spectacle takes place in the renowned Duna Arena and it’s going to see tremendous battles as one Olympic berth apiece is at stake in the men’s and the women’s tournament.
“We are always happy to come to Budapest, it’s a true home of water polo where great atmosphere and successful events are guaranteed” said LEN Vice-President Fernando Carpena who, on behalf of the LEN Family and President Paolo Barelli, welcomed the attendees at the opening press conference of the 34th European Water Polo Championships.
“With the Olympic qualification is at stake, this event is one of the most important tournaments this year and we are delighted that our teams can play in such a terrific venue as the Duna Arena” Mr Carpena added.
Budapest welcomes the best water polo teams for the fifth time after 1926, 1958, 2001 and 2014, which is a record in the history of the event (until 1997 water polo was part of the ‘big Europeans’). Though this is going to be the first time when the event is held indoors in the Hungarian capital after memorable editions staged in the legendary Alfred Hajos complex on the Margaret Island.
“Thanks to ten months of dedicated work, it’s going to be a successful meet and hopefully one of the best-ever European Championships” said Attila Vari, President of the Hungarian Water Polo Federation. “We hope our guests will be satisfied what we can offer here. We are kind of obliged to do our very best, based on our traditions and the experiences we gained in the recent years while organising one big event after the other.”
The press conference offered a rare scene, as LEN Operational Manager Marco Birri highlighted it, since five Olympic champion of different ages sat next to each other: LEN Bureau Liaison Aleksandar Sostar (Seoul 1988 with Yugoslavia), LEN TWPC Chairman Gianni Lonzi (Rome 1960 with Italy), HWPF President Attila Vari (Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 with Hungary), Hungary’s head coach Tamas Marcz (Sydney 2000) and team captain Denes Varga (Beijing 2008). “This demonstrates the strength of our sport and the quality and appreciation of our champions” Mr Birri added. He also noted that both the expansion of the event to feature 28 teams (16 men, 12 women) and to hold the Olympic-year editions in January proved to be an enormous success. Varga said that even if 2020 was an Olympic year, their focus was on entirely on the upcoming event. “We are yet to qualify and we need to finish in a good position to obtain the quota. But we go for more, we want to win the title here. I feel the strength in the team to achieve that” the captain said.
Hungarian men’s last win came in 1999 (President Vari and head coach Marcz were part of that side in Florence), the gap of 21 years since the last triumph is the longest one in the history for the Hungarians who top the all time medal chart with 12 golds.
This is a record, however, title-holder Serbia is seeking to tie Hungary’s other long-standing record of winning five editions in a row. The Magyars hunted down the first five titles in history (between 1926 and 1938) – the Serbs are set to repeat that feat now as they triumphed in the last four championships (Eindhoven 2012, Budapest 2014, Belgrade 2016, Barcelona 2018).
The Serbs come to the Hungarian capital with their Olympic berth already secured, just like in the case of World Championships finalists Italy and Spain – either the champion or the highest ranked team behind any of these three sides will also qualify for Tokyo. The other teams will also have a lot at stake as among the non-qualified participants the five teams with the highest rankings earn the right to play in the Olympic Qualification tournament. The same applies for the women’s competition, though there only Spain has booked its place in the Olympics.
The European Championships kick off on Sunday with the first round of the women’s preliminaries, the men start their competition on Tuesday. The finals are due on 25-26 January.
LEN shall offer free live streaming on its website (www.len.eu) from each game with English commentary. Photos, game highlights and exclusive interviews will also be available on the social media platforms during the next fortnight.
Press release from LEN, images courtesy of Deepbluemedia