Montenegro, Greece, and Croatia claimed the final three spots in the Tokyo Olympic men’s water polo field at last week’s World Qualification Tournament.
Tokyo Olympic Selections – Men’s Water Polo
The 12 Olympic teams are selected through a combination of various events. The host nation gets an automatic bid. The winners of the 2019 World League earn a berth. The top two teams from the 2019 World Championships qualify, and then five world regions select a representative, some through a regional competition like Pan Ams, the Asian Games, or the European Championships, and others through a different selection process.
Those 9 nations had already been selected, leaving three spots open for this week’s World Qualification Tournament.
|2019 World League||Serbia|
|2019 World Championships (2)||Italy|
|2019 Pan Ams||USA|
|Africa Selection||South Africa|
|2020 European Champs||Hungary|
|2018 Asian Games||Kazakhstan|
|World Qualification Tournament (3)||Montenegro|
2020 World Qualifier
Still considered the “2020 World Qualifier,” the men’s tournament actually took place in February of 2021. A field of 12 battled for the final three qualifying spots.
With three teams making the cut, the tournament essentially came down to two semifinal thrillers, plus a bronze-medal match.
Semifinal #1: Montenegro defeats Croatia 10-10 (4-2)
This one was arguably the thriller of the tournament. Croatia surged late in the match with four consecutive goals to take a 9-8 lead. But Montenegro roared back to tie the match with just 24 seconds remaining.
Things went into a penalty shootout, with Montenegro picking up a 4-2 win on a game-ender by Drasko Brguljan. That sealed an Olympic berth for Montenegro, while Croatia was sent to the bronze medal match needing a win to make the Olympics.
Semifinal #2: Greece defeats Russia 13-10
Greece punched its Olympic ticket on an emphatic 5-goal performance from Angelos Vlachopoulos. It was a pure offensive blitz, as Vlachopoulos took 12 shots himself and Greece outshot Russia 36-30.
That sent Russia to the last-chance qualifying bronze medal match against Croatia, while Greece officially joined the Olympic ranks.
Final: Montenegro defeats Greece 10-9
With both teams already locked into the Olympics, the gold medal match went back and forth, with Montenegro ultimately outscoring Greece 4-1 in the final quarter to seal a narrow 10-9 win.
Dusan Matkovic scored five times for Montenegro, while Stylianos Argyropoulos scored four goals for Greece.
Bronze medal match: Croatia defeats Russia 11-11 (14-13)
There was one more thriller yet in this tournament in the final round. With an Olympic berth on the line, Croatia went into its second-straight penalty shootout, this time a 14-13 marathon.
The Croatian team finally pulled out the win with five different players scoring in the penalty rounds. That was fitting after a balanced scoring attack in regulation, too – no Croatian player scored more than two goals, and eight different players scored. It was a Josip Vrlic goal that led to the 14-13 win in the penalty shootout.