With Croatian players Petra Bukic and Olympic and world champion Sandro Sukno making the selections on the women’s side and coaching standouts Ratko Rudic and Zlatko Dalic doing the honors on the men’s side, the 2019 World Championships field was drawn into four groups each on April 9. Both tournaments are set to begin July 13 in Gwangju, South Korea.
On the women’s side, the United States, which is the two-time reigning Olympic (2012, 2016) and World champion (2015, 2017) and owned of five-straight World League titles, is in Group A with the European champions from the Netherlands.
Olympic runnerup Italy is in Group D, while bronze medalists Russia will headline Group B alongside fourth-place finisher Hungary, which the Russians edged 7-6 in a penalty shootout.
South Africa, New Zealand, Netherlands, United States
Note: The Americans are the favorite in the group, but must face an unpredictable Dutch side, which struggled (finishing ninth) at the 2017 World Championships, but 2 years later are now the reigning European champs.
Canada, Hungary, South Korea, Russia
Note: The “Group of Death” features the third, fourth and fifth place teams from the 2017 World Championships in Russia, Canada and Hungary. As a result of this group, at least one team that is a medal contender is going to have to really dig out of a hole in the elimination stages.
Cuba, Greece, Kazakhstan, Spain
Note: 2017 Worlds silver medalists Spain should have an easy road in the group, although international upstart Cuba is a bit of an unknown. They were upset by Greece in the European semi-finals last season, though, so they can’t be too lackadaisical in the opening round. Kazakhstan, which placed 15th, round out the group.
Japan, Italy, China, Australia
Note: Italy was fifth at the last World Championships, while Australia was eighth followed by China (10th) and Japan (13th). This group is full of unpredictable teams that at their best are top 5 in the world, but at their worst are losing in blowouts to top 5 teams in the world.
On the men’s side, the defending champions from Croatia will face the United States, Australia and Kazahkstan in Group B.
The 2016 Olympic champions and World Championships bronze medalists from Serbia are in Group A with fourth-place Olympic finisher Montenegro, South Korea and World Championships fourth-place finisher Greece.
Serbia, South Korea, Montenegro, Greece
Note: Former countrymen Serbia and Montenegro are now rivals in the “Group of Death” with Greece. Serbia was third at 2017 Worlds, while Greece was fourth and Montenegro finished fifth.
United States, Croatia, Australia, Kazakhstan
Note: The highlight of this group will be the rematch of Australia and Croatia from the World Cup quarterfinals, which the Aussies won 9-8 en route to a silver medal. The Croatians were without their top scorer, Andrija Basic, in the match, though, and they remain big favorites to come out of the group on top. The US will have to fight to even win a match, let alone advance to the knockout stages.
South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Hungary
Note: Hungary, which was runner-up at 2017 Worlds, and Spain, which finished ninth, are the big favorites to advance from this group.
Brazil, Germany, Italy, Japan
Note: Italy, which finished sixth at the 2017 Worlds, has the easiest path to the quarterfinals among the contenders, though there are some ‘rising’ powers in the group in Japan (10th) and Brazil (12th). The Germans were fourth at the FINA World Cup in 2018 following an eighth place effort at the 2016 Olympics.