2013 Youth Men’s European Championships: Experts’ Comments

The European championships for U17s was recently held in Malta. The maturity of performance by the players of this young age – in particular by top teams – impressed many specialists. It also showed that the “old continent’s” water polo is still the strongest and the level of competitiveness among its nations is cut-throat. This event also serves as qualification for the next world championships where young players get an excellent opportunity to gain the invaluable international experience and both test and technically & tactically enrich themselves in a most serious competition. The teams ranked from 1 to 9 have qualified for the next WC for the born 1996 and younger age group to be held Turkey next year.

The final standing: 1. Montenegro 2. Serbia 3. Italy 4. Hungary 5. Croatia 6. Russia 7. Spain 8. Turkey 9. Greece 10. Romania 11. Germany 12. France 13. Georgia 14. The Ukraine 15. Malta 16. Belarus

Montenegro's extra-man defense

Montenegro’s extra-man defense

We have gaged the opinions of several experts – among whom were both young coaches and well-known identities – about the event and asked everyone the same questions: ‘What is your impression from this championship and the level of performance by the participants and which teams impressed you? How do you assess your team’s performance? Which players impressed you? What do you think about the new rules – will they improve the game?’ We are grateful to our respondents for their time and comments which are extracted below.

Petar Porobic – Montenegro federation’s technical director. Petar was head-coach of the Yugoslavian team which won the 2005 world championships:

It was a very good tournament with many good teams. The top 8-9 teams demonstrated quality water polo.  I like the progress of the Russian and Turkish teams. If you analyze the Spanish team closely, they also have good potential. – The Montenegrin team played consistently well from day 1 winning all matches. We have 3-4 players for the future who could be making our senior team. – Every team had good players. I liked Hungarian centre-forward, Kristof Toth, and versatile player, Krisztian Manhercz. Italian Edoardo Di Somma impressed me too. – It is difficult to comment about the new rules as I have not seen them in practice. I would like to see how the 5-meter shot will affect the game now since defenders have to move back. Generally, it is important that the rules should be clear not only for water polo players and coaches but also for general public as we play for them. At present, people often don’t know what is going on.

Montenegro's head-coach, Mirco Vicevic, in action

Montenegro’s head-coach, Mirco Vicevic, in action

Zoran Milencovic – Serbian head-coach:

All present the Balkan teams, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Greece were the teams to be noted. Russia and Turkey have also come up into this group which made the tournament more interesting. The other teams were at a level lower. But if we want this sport to evolve in future ‘smaller’ water polo countries need to develop. Turkey is a good example in this regard. – In general though it was a tough competition with 8 teams capable of beating each other on any given day. We lost in the preliminary matches to Croatia and Russia but, in the end, played in the final having won the important quarter-final and semi-final matches. Yes, we happen to have an easier path but nobody planned for this. In the match with Croatia we lost in the last 3 minutes playing badly in that segment of game. With Russia, we did not play well in any segment. However, later on we started to think better and step by step improved our performance. In this vein, at the senior world championships in Barcelona this year Hungary also started slowly but played very well in the second week winning the title. – The players who I liked are Krisztian Manhercz from Hungary, Daniil Merkulov from Russia, Marko Konatar and Bogdan Durdic from Montenegro, Alejandro Bustos from Spain, Ozbakis C. from Turkey, Rino Buric, Ivan Zovic and Antonio Duzevic from Croatia. My player, Ognen Stojanovic, is very good but he broke his finger earlier in the tournament and could not play. – I am not sure if the new rules would make the game better. In water polo referees are very influential and that is a problem. The rules have been changed frequently but a lot still depends upon how they are interpreted by a referee. Generally, I believe some tactical schools and teams will benefit from these amendments but some would have to adjust to them.

Serbian players before the final

Serbian players before the final

Massimo Tafuro – Italy’s head-coach:

The level of water polo displayed by first 11-12 teams was very good. I liked the teams of Montenegro and Serbia most. Russia was a good surprise too considering  their teams did not play well in recent years . – I am satisfied with my team’s performance. I think we showed good skillful water polo. – Goalkeeper from Montenegro, Milos Konatar, Serbia’s Ognen Stojanovic and Hungary’s Krisztian Manhercz. – First of all the current rules should be applied in the right way. It is not good to change the rules every 2-3 years. As for the new rules, I want to see how they are applied before making any judgment.

Massimo Tafuro talks to his players between periods

Massimo Tafuro talks to his players between periods

Gyorgy Horkai – Hungary’s head-coach. Gyorgy is 1976 Olympic gold medalist. He was head-coach of Hungary at the 1996 OG.

The level of play was very high with Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Italy, Hungary, Russia, and Spain capable of achieving the best result. But somebody has to win and there has to be some element of good luck. I can say that at a senior level the competitiveness is the same with many teams able to win. – My team has been improving with every game and it is fair that Hungary made the top four here. I would say that the level of teams and players was much higher than that of the referees. We deserve much better treatment in this regard as a lot of effort and material resources are put in only to be at the mercy of some incompetent officials – it is unfair! – Impressive players have been Krisztian Manhercz and, goalkeeper, Vogel Soma from my team, centre-backs from Montenegro, Croatia and Russia, Bogdan Durdic, Rade Joksimovic and Vladimir Zaikin, and Serbian player, Ognen Stojanovic. – As far as teams’ performance is concerned, I like the Italian style, Montenegro played well as a team, and Russia showed signs of their good old school. The Balkan countries’ style is generally strong. – I have not seen how the new rules are applied yet. I have to see them in action before passing any judgement.

Gyorgy Horkai and his team

Gyorgy Horkai and his team

Jacsa Buljan – Croatian head-coach:

Six teams have been similar here. Perhaps, Montenegro was a bit better playing a bit smarter than others. – I am happy with how my team played but not happy with the technical result as we had a bit of bad luck in a quarter-final match against Hungary. – To me, Hungarian Krisztian Manhercz is the best player at this event. There are several players in my team who have a chance of making our senior team in future. – I have not seen how the new rules are applied yet so can’t say anything.

Ratco Rudic – Croatian federation’s high-perfromance manager. Ratco was head-coach of 3 different national teams winning four Olympic gold medals:

U17s is a young age and these players are just starting their careers. The teams that finished from 1 to 5 have repeated the success of their senior teams by being the top teams here. So, we can expect that those senior teams have good future. – The medium level teams have improved. It looks like Russia is coming back. Georgia and the Ukraine displayed good water polo at times which shows the efforts that these federations are making. – We are not quite satisfied with how the Croatian team performed. The main reason is that this team did not have a proper preparation due to organizational issues and we are hoping that the next event will be better for us. – Each team had good players. I would name Krisztian Manhercz of Hungary, Italian Edoardo Di Somma and Russian Daniil Merkulov. – We tried the new rules and believe that it is a positive development: they would save time during counter-attacks, it would be a faster game since more movement would be possible, and there would be more goals from a 5-meter shot after a foul. Generally, I expect the game to become more dynamic, less physical with less emphasis on centre-forwards. So, it is a good step forward as far as I am concerned.

Swimming pool in Malta where the tournament was held

Swimming pool in Malta where the tournament was held

Vladimir Fedorin – Russia’s head-coach:

I like the level of water polo displayed by many teams. But most of all I like how Hungary played, their dynamic style and improvisation. It is great to watch not only for people who understand this sport but, I believe, by others as well. – For us it was a very useful tournament as we had the opportunity to play with several top teams. Our players were able to both compare themselves to their peers from other nations but also learn from the whole event. In this regard we are very happy. Certainly, we would have liked to be on the podium and that is why I am not quite satisfied with our result however the dynamic of our current development is good and we just need to continue the hard work. – I would name Krisztian Manhercz of Hungary who was playing very skillfully and enjoyed the game rather than performing a chore. Bogdan Durdic has an impressive shot. Our goalkeeper, Vitaly Statsenko, was one of the key factors that enabled us to make top six here. – I am not ready to pass an opinion on the new rules as I have not seen them in action.

Russian team: back row from left: Dmitry Dugin (coach), Daniil Merkulov, Denis Kolbenov, Konstantin Harkov, Vladimir Zaikin, Vladislav Zaitsev, Andrei Balakirev, Vladislav Egorov and Erkin Shagaev (coach-advisor). Front row: Vladimir Fedorin (Head-coach), Egor Vasilyev, Alexandr Berezutskiy, Adel Giniiatov, Arslan Zakirov, Vitaly Statsenko and Ivan Gusarov.

Russian team: back row from left: Dmitry Dugin (coach), Daniil Merkulov, Denis Kolbenov, Konstantin Harkov, Vladimir Zaikin, Vladislav Zaitsev, Andrei Balakirev, Vladislav Egorov and Erkin Shagaev (coach-advisor). Front row: Vladimir Fedorin (Head-coach), Egor Vasilyev, Alexandr Berezutskiy, Adel Giniiatov, Arslan Zakirov, Vitaly Statsenko and Ivan Gusarov.

Ferran Plana – Spain’s head-coach:

The ‘classical’ teams – Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro stood out among the top 12 teams who also showed a good quality game. Overall, I liked the level of water polo showed at this championship. – My team is a good team but many players are of younger age without any international experience. They often lacked confidence and were not mentally strong. That is why we only played 3 or 4 matches well with the rest of average quality. – Montenegro’s goalkeeper, Milos Konatar, impressed me most as did his team-mates, Marko Konatar and Bogdan Durdic. I also noted Italians, Edoardo Di Somma and Jacopo Alesiani, Hungarian, Krisztian Manhercz, Serbian, Nicola Jacsic, Russian, Vladimir Zaikin, and Croatian, Ivan Domagoj Zovic. – The rules won’t be a real change because the refereeing is still subjective. These changes are about application of the rules. A lot will depend upon how they will be applied – that is a problem.

Italy's dry-land warm-up

Italy’s dry-land warm-up

Viorel Rus – Romania’s head-coach. Viorel is a legend of Romanian water polo. At the Olympic games in Montreal in 1976 he scored 2 centre-forward goals against the USSR in a 5-all match for the right to make top 6. Romania achieved 4th placing which is still their best result ever:

It was a good tournament for the participants. There were 6 strong teams, in my opinion; others were at a level lower. – The Romanian team that played here was not as good as the generation who were born in 1994. I would divide the teams that impressed me into 2 categories: the Slavic teams – Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and Russia, with somewhat similar style of play, on the one hand and Italy & Hungary, with their own distinctive style of play, on the other. – The players who I liked are Italian Edoardo Di Somma, Russians Andrei Balakirev and Daniil Merkulov, Greece’s centre-forward, Iordanis Masmanidis and Romanian goalkeeper, Marius Tic. – The new rules in general give too much power to referees, too many time-outs, it is not clear when to use two hands and when one. A good amendment is not to touch opponents with ball possession on their half of the field.



About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

2 Responses to 2013 Youth Men’s European Championships: Experts’ Comments

  1. Chris Hook says:

    Hi Erkin.
    As always an interesting post for Australian water polo lovers to read. I and I’m sure other readers of this blog would be very interested to read your views on the new rules and in particular their implications for Australian teams.


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